preparing for my day: I shower for a
minimum of twenty minutes, using the state-of-the-art scentless soap and shampoo
provided by my employer at a discounted cost.
I dry myself with a clean cotton towel, comb my hair, shave with the
same soap I used in the shower, and apply scent-free, heavy-duty deodorant. I
brush and floss with unflavored paste and
wax-free floss. I dress in my docent
uniform – navy slacks, white shirt with the museum’s crest on the left breast,
red museum tie, and dark gold jacket.
The uniform, of course, has been delivered earlier that morning from the
drycleaner hired specifically by the museum to clean our uniforms without the
use of any chemicals. They clean the
museum uniforms and nothing else. We are
their sole customer.
I have only been a docent at The Odor
Museum for two months. It is quite an exciting
job for me, but being the newest employee, I am constantly fearful that I will
make a mistake and ruin everything. There
is such a delicate balance in the exhibits.
I love my job.
As you approach the Odor Museum, the first thing you notice is
the total lack of odor. It was
specifically designed this way. The
shiny metal and glass building sits like a post-modern prison in the middle of
its manicured lawn, and you don’t even smell the grass clippings as you walk up
the flagstone path – it’s like they somehow deodorized the lawn, too.
The front doors are hermetically
sealed, and there is a whispered whoosh and a feeling of pressure-change as you
enter the museum. The main lobby is as
empty of smells as the outside – they really try to confine all odors to the
exhibits themselves. You don’t even get
a lemon whiff of glass-cleaner or anything.
It’s as if you’ve lost your sense of smell; you’ve gone nose blind.
I, of course, come in through the
employee’s entrance, and immediately submit myself to a sniff test. This
week Mr. Warren’s got duty. I’m not very fond of him because he
intense, a little too enthusiastic about his job. I mean, he really
gets his nose in
Luckily, I pass with no objections
from Mr. Warren. I learned quickly that a bland dinner the night before can
save you a lot of time in the sniff test.
I enter the public portion of the museum
and as always, I am enthralled by the place.
It’s brand spanking new for one thing – gleaming and looking futuristic like
some sort of a spa for robots.
Numerous Halls spread outward from the
lobby in a tantalizing array of choices (again, like a maximum-security smell
penitentiary, each Hall is separated by hermetically sealed doors, keeping the
odors on permanent lock-down). My favorite
is the Hall of Vittles. It’s a homey
display of scents from the kitchen: fresh-baked
apple pie, warm, homemade bread, meat sizzling on a grill.
The walls are lined with Odor-Booths, and each Odor-Booth has an
adjustable stool in front of it, padded for the customer’s comfort. To
experience the smells, what you do is this:
you find a display that intrigues you, and you take a seat on the stool
in that booth. Each booth is supplied
with sanitizer, which you spray onto the Olfactory Projectors to remove any
vestige of the previous customer. You
adjust your stool to the precise level for optimal odor reception, and then you
lean your face into the display, setting your nostrils onto the twin black
nozzles of the Olfactory Projectors.
Unless you have oversized nostrils, the O.P.s fit snuggly into your
nostrils, creating a seal to prevent any Odor Slippage (the museum provides
user-friendly adaptor-rings for those sad few with large or saggy
nostrils). Once situated at the proper
level on your stool, nostrils snug on the O.P.s, you are ready. You push the
button conveniently located at shoulder-height
and a small puff of odor is slung directly into your nasal cavity.
Everything after that is just nature. Your olfactory receptors gather the
atomic-sized odor particles and pass the information to your brain. And Bingo!
You’ve smelled Mom’s Sunday Meatloaf!
I stroll over toward the main entrance just in time for a loud
as the main doors open and the first customers are pushed through from the air
lock. They always stumble a little bit from the air pressure change, and there
are smiles and giggles.
“Greetings!” I say, and then I proclaim the museum’s
Smell the Fun!” The people smile, and
one or two wave at me, and they slowly meander toward the center of the room.
(P.S. – the motto reflects quite an investment on the part
the museum’s board of directors. They
paid 1.3 million dollars to an advertising firm to develop that motto. Woe to
the docent who forgets to shout it proudly.)
I spend the morning wandering through the various halls,
brushing dust from railings, and generally making myself available to any
customer who might have a question. No
one has a question. I pass Roy Smittle in the Hall of Molds and Fungi and he
gives me a little smirk like, can you believe these rubes and their
smelling? I don’t respond.
Roy has been on staff since this place
opened, and he seems to think little of the museum. He feels, I think, that
the work is beneath
him. I have even caught him out by the loading dock finishing a poorly
concealed doobie during a break. This is
a huge no-no, as residual smoke from said doobie could enter the building and
interact with the exhibits. In summary,
I don’t like Roy.
I continue my rounds and come to one of the most popular Halls,
the Hall of Holidays. People line up to
smell Christmas Balsam Fir, or Thanksgiving Turkey (also available in the Hall
of Vittles), or Easter Egg Dye Vinegar.
I myself have particularly enjoyed Birthday Candle Smoke and Burnt
Jack-O-Lantern. My kids have a special
fondness for Sparkler Blaze.
While circling Holidays, I see a boy, maybe twelve or thirteen
years old, dragging a younger boy by one hand and eating a stick of beef jerky
from the other. (I note with a certain satisfaction that the younger boy is
clasping a Little Odor-Maker’s Scenterrific Laboratory toy, purchased from the
Gift Shop.) The older boy rips into the jerky with his teeth and pulls the rest
away with his hand, and I can imagine the microscopic jerky particles flying
into the air like a wet spray of brown doves.
I can almost smell the offending food from where I am standing.
I quickly approach the children to attempt to rectify this issue. I could call security, but they’ve been
getting somewhat overzealous lately, and I’d hate to see this kid get tazed or
worse just for eating where he shouldn’t.
Plus, I have faith in my abilities to deescalate any situation.
I walk up to the older boy, and in my most official-but-friendly
museum voice, say “Hey there, son. Enjoying
the museum?” He nods noncommittally and
returns his attention to the display in front of him and takes another chomp of
jerky. He is next in line for the Valentines
“By the way,” I say, “the museum has a rule against
consumed by customers.” I smile as I say
this, so he doesn’t get offended.
The kid looks at the jerky and then back at me. He is clearly annoyed. “This isn’t food,”
I am slightly startled by this declaration, but I know better
than to let it show. “It’s not?” I
say. “Then what is it?”
He folds the remaining jerky into a size that will just barely
fit his mouth, and he stuffs it inside.
Through a mouthful of jerky and saliva he says, “it’s gone.”
Then he smiles and steps up to the
I keep the smile on my face and leave the boy to his odors. Inside I am seething. I did not take
this job to be an object of
ridicule of twelve-year-old children.
That is the exact opposite of why I took the job.
When I have free time, or when my rounds allow it, I tend to
gravitate toward the less popular Halls.
I’m not one much for crowds, and I like to leisurely enjoy an odor
without someone at my elbow waiting for their turn, or a group of noisy kids
jostling my back and smushing my nostrils lower onto the O.Ps.
One of these less-visited Halls is the Hall of Humanity. There you can sample all the myriad odors of
your fellow humans without even having to board a subway. Granted, not all these
smells are pleasant,
but it’s all part of the Great Odor Experience! © There is never any wait at the
Flatulence display, and the Armpit booth is likewise generally empty. Ditto
the Ballpark Urinal display.
Another is our newest exhibit: The Hall of Farming. (It used to be the Hall of Athletics, but
people got tired of smelling Joe DiMaggio.)
It tends to draw a lot of old-timers, the overalls crowd: guys nostalgic
for the days when family farms
outnumbered car dealerships. You have
to be a farm-lover to go to that exhibit.
Aside from stale, musty hay, all the odors
are truly objectionable and seem to be directly related to animal
excretion. Cow excrement is only
out-stenched by pig excrement, and you’d be surprised how bad a chicken smells
– not chicken poop, just a plain, feathery chicken. It’s nearly
enough to make you a vegetarian.
I am about to head into the Hall of Farming when I see Roy lurking
about rather furtively just prior to ducking through the doors into the Hall of
Nature. (This is the Hall where you can smell the most animals. I never had
any idea what a hedgehog smelled
like before I came to the Museum. It’s
not bad! These animals will surprise you. Or how about this: smell a bee!
Ever thought about doing that?)
I decide to follow Roy and see what he is up to, as I
specifically don’t trust him as a docent, and in general don’t trust people who
lurk. I try to enter the Hall silently,
but of course there is the obligatory air whoosh that announces my presence.
Roy is already turned and looking at me by
the time I get into the room.
“Spying on me?” he asks.
“No,” I say as if insulted, although of course
this is exactly
what I am doing.
“Well,” says Roy, in his smirky way, “you had
better decide if
you want to join me in this little endeavor or get out now before it’s too
It’s then that I notice that smirky Roy is holding something
his hands, and it is not something authorized for merchandising by the gift
shop, and so it must be contraband brought in from outside. Roy knows better
than this. This is a huge no-no. His
“get out” option immediately sounds like
the best choice. But I hesitate.
“What is that?” I say,
are you doing?”
Roy looks at the small package in his hands almost as if he has
forgotten it was there. He holds it up.
His eyes look angry.
“It’s a smoke bomb,” he says.
“A -- smoke bomb?” I stutter.
“Roy, no! Whatever reason you
think you have; you don’t have to do this.”
“I don’t have to,” he says.
“I want to.”
“But, Roy,” I say, and I feel close to tears. “Why?”
“No one appreciates me here,” he says.
“Well,” I say, trying to provide a reasonable argument
appreciating Roy, “you don’t seem to enjoy your job very much. Also,” I add, “you
smirk a lot.”
This comment doesn’t have the effect on Roy I was hoping
for. Instead, he seems to be even more angry.
“That’s just what I would expect from you,” says
Roy. “You’ve thought
you were better than the rest of us ever since your first day.”
“That’s not true,’ I say.
In fact, I only think I am better than Roy.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not,”
says Roy, “cause I’ve
been telling management since Day One that you were up to something and weren’t
to be trusted. And after I set off this smoke bomb, everyone’s going to think
it was you. And then you’ll be out of
here.” He smiles at me in smirky
I stare at Roy with a combination of shock and horror. How could
he do this to me? This is my dream
job. Maybe I haven’t been like the best friend
to Roy while I’ve been here, but I haven’t outwardly attacked him or insulted
him (except for the “smirk a lot” comment of a minute ago). What would provoke
him to do something like this, and blame me? I feel a heat rising in my chest,
and I clench my fists.
“Don’t do it, Roy,” I say. “Whatever your
problem with me, you
don’t need to damage the museum. Can you imagine how long it will take to clean
up after a smoke bomb? It’s not worth
“It will be if I get you fired,” he says.
I stand straight and look Roy in the eye, and I put my right hand
over my heart. “I retract what I said
about you smirking a lot,” I say.
“Too late,” says Roy, and he flicks the lighter he
has in his
other hand. Before he can light the fuse, however, I go mobile. I spring at
him like some odorless jungle cat,
and we both go crashing into the Wombat Display. The fiberglass shielding cracks
apart, and we tumble inside the booth.
O.P.s go flying. Somehow the
button gets pushed, and Roy and I find ourselves wrestling in a miasma of wombat
stank. This is not helpful to either of us.
I hear a tear and see that the museum’s sewn-on crest is
from my shirt. While I am distracted with this, Roy manages to put his feet in
my stomach and give a great push, and I go tumbling out of the Wombat Display
Booth, slide across the almost frictionless vinyl floor, and slam into the base
of the Camel Hump Booth. (Yes, the hump smells differently from the rest of the
animal.) Some magnetic signage falls from the display and bonks me on the head.
As I am laying there half-dazed, Roy stands and brushes himself
off. I watch as he picks up the smoke
bomb and the lighter which he dropped during our battle, flicks the lighter
wheel, and touches the flame to the fuse. And then I can’t see him anymore
because the room has filled with smoke.
The next thing I remember, I am seated on the curb outside,
coughing smoke from my lungs, while two stern policemen ask me questions I can’t
answer. I look at the museum and see
that every possible window and door is wide open as little wisps of bluish
smoke trail from some of them. Tears
come to my eyes. I try to tell the
policemen that I would never do such a thing, that I loved the museum, but
their eyebrows only go lower, and they keep mentioning terms like “terrorist”
and “anti-social a-hole.” It occurs to me that they are not really listening to
The last thing I remember before passing out again is seeing Roy
shaking hands with the museum’s director, and both of them smiling. I’m
sure Roy has told him that he tried to stop
me and painted himself as some sort of smirking hero.
I can’t go to the Odor Museum anymore. I’ve been permanently banned. I spoke with an
attorney who said that the case was basically my word versus Roy’s, but he’d be
willing to take the case if I would pay the filing fees. However, as I am not
working, that is a
The museum is due to reopen sometime next month, after five months
of Hepa-cleaning and the replacement of every linear foot of door and window
seal. I wish I could attend the Grand Reopening, but that won’t happen – the
permanently banned thing.
The life of a docent is much harder than most people know.
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