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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Mark Jabaut: The Odor Museum

95_ym_theodormuseum_mdavis.jpg
Art by Michael D. Davis 2022

The Odor Museum

 

Mark Jabaut

 

 

          I’m 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 seems too intense, a little too enthusiastic about his job.  I mean, he really gets his nose in there.

          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 whoosh 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 motto: “Come 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 of 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 Candy O.P.s.

“By the way,” I say, “the museum has a rule against food being 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,” he says.

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 O.P.s. 

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 late.”

It’s then that I notice that smirky Roy is holding something in 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,  “What 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 for not 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 triumph.

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.”

“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 and splits 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 half-torn 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 me.

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 no-go.

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.

 

# # #

Mark Jabaut was a playwright and author who lived in Webster NY with his wife Nancy. Mark’s play IN THE TERRITORIES, originally developed via Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Workshop and Festival of New Theatre, premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in Beverly, MA. His 2015 Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entry, THE BRIDGE CLUB OF DEATH, went on to be featured at an End of Life Symposium at SUNY Broome County and is listed with the National Issues Forum for those who wish to host similar events.

Mark also had entries in the 2016, 2017 and 2019 Fringe Festivals, THE HATCHET MAN, DAMAGED BEASTS and COLMA!. Mark authored several short plays performed by The Geriactors, a local troupe of older performers. Mark’s fiction has been published in a local Rochester magazine, POST, as well as The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spank the Carp and Defenestration. 

Mark Jabaut passed away on November 3, 2021.



If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Willy Wonka sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing strangers. Michael started drawing cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved with his humor, which isn’t saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only ever crediting the help of one great high school art teacher. His art has been shown at his local library for multiple years only during October due to its macabre nature. If you want to see more of Michael’s strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022