Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hi-oh, Nasal Ranger!

The Nasal Rangers

My mommy was a very nice person--everybody thought so--and I never once thought she was trying to kill me, until the day we visited a couple old ladies whose apartment reeked of ammonia. My little nose twitched in vain for pockets of oxygen. We were probably only visiting for the length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, but it seemed possible I would perish before then. I looked at the three women's faces the way you check the flight attendants for signs of panic when you hit turbulence. No one else seemed to be concerned.

When I was little I could be done in by smells. Anything out of the ordinary might be fatal. Not cigarette smoke, of course. That was everywhere. But odd cooking smells in other people's houses, people who used olives and fish and sauerkraut instead of canned green beans and chicken and Minute rice--those struck fear in my heart. Or the devastating fug my brother left in the bathroom, a lingering toxic stew of Camels and Aqua-Velva and farts that would send me to the basement to use the toilet with the cracked seat and the spiders.

We tromped off to junior high saturated in Ambush and Shalimar, and later to college in Patchouli and Body Odor, and didn't think a thing of it. You get used to stuff. Now I find cigarette smoke rare and sickening, and any kind of perfume. But I can't think of any bad food smells. Dave's worked in so many mill towns that he thinks paper mills smell like money.

For some reason, though, the folks who live around the place where the whole city of Portland sends its food scraps for composting--meat and bones and everything--are putting up a stink about the smell. Even though we deliberately stuck it out in the boonies where we won't have to listen to anyone complain. We all think they're terrible whiners, and we should know, because we live miles away and it smells fine from here. It's such a subjective thing, odors. At least I used to think it was subjective, until I found out about the Nasal Ranger. When the Nasal Ranger comes through, he can document just how smelly something really is. He can assign smelliness numbers to it, and put the numbers on paper and roll it up and smack lawyers with it and everything. He is a hero.

I assumed that the Nasal Ranger used some kind of device. A box, maybe, that sampled air and analyzed it and spit out spiky colored graphs indicating parts per million of an assigned group of noxious odor molecules. And if there was a particularly high spike of Rotting Meat molecules at the compost facility, the neighbors could make themselves a nice case.

But there is no such box. In fact, the Nasal Ranger is the device, not the person. It looks like a boot and the person puts it on  his nose and breathes in. This isn't what I expected at all. It's like when Dave takes the milk out of the fridge and gives it a sniff and his whole face pleats up and he says "here, smell
Coffee Roaster On Fire
this." No! I do not want to smell that. You can wave it at my smell detector box and wait for the readout, but I do not want to smell it. But here these guys are putting their Nasal Rangers on their snoots and breathing in deep.

The way it works is they have one tube for the obnoxious air and one tube that filters all the obnoxia out, so it smells like nothing. And there's a little dial you can turn so that you get more and more of the filtered air, and at the point you can no longer (personally, subjectively) detect the icky air, you have a usable number, a dilution factor. We could use the Nasal Ranger on our block, where a coffee roaster has moved in, producing an acrid burnt smell that nobody really likes. In fact when it looked like the roasting facility was burning down the other day, the neighbors stood around and cheered. Although that might have been for the firemen going up the ladder with names on their butts. The smell from the donut shop around the corner is equally strong, but nobody pitches a fit about that.

It's too bad I didn't know about this back at the Post Office. I spent a couple years sorting mail next to a
bean-burrito eater who was disinclined to part with any of his video poker money for soap. I would love to have called in the Nasal Ranger. And his sidekick, Snotto, too.

46 comments:

  1. I once had a temp job at a building in North Portland that was out among some fields that were regularly spread with manure. Take the Nasal Ranger out there, it would have melted.

    You'd think that to test for intensity of smells they could use a dog, since dogs have a sense of smell much keener than ours. Their judgment is suspect, though, given that their favorite thing to smell seems to be each other's rear ends.

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    1. If you used a dog you'd have to monitor how bad the smell is by how fast the tail is wagging. Would YOU roll in a dead salmon?

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  2. I recently read a question that asked what was the readers strongest sense. I thought for a moment, No not my eyes or my ears. I must be related to a bloodhound.....my nose. I can identify a person by their scent. No claim to fame there. Ha

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    1. I can't even identify Dave by smell. Except sometimes for brief periods.

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  3. My wife does a similar thing to Dave. If she
    sticks her nose into something that stinks she goes,"Pheeww!!" and then sticks it near my nose and says,"Smell!" to which I recoil quickly. Why does she want me to suffer too? Why is it so important for me to share the disgust?

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    1. I think, at least in my case, it's more important for them to be able to chase you out of the room with something without actually touching you. It's like when you played with magnets when you were little.

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  4. Our daughter=in=law can't smell. Nothing. Not sure why or what happened. She just never had that sense, apparently, and couldn't figure out what everyone meant by smelling things as she was growing up. I never realized how much we rely on smell until knowing her. She feels very bad about not being able to have smelled her newborn babies. She can't smell our son's...well, you know. But it does come in handy at the kids' diaper changing time or when one of them pukes. A rather common occurence with kids.

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    1. Oh, the poor dear must snooze through dinner!

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  5. Very very funny! I registired 3 audible laughs and several undetectible chuckles from my laugh detector.

    Smells? I don't need no stinking smells. I live in New Jersey!

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    1. Maybe you could get in the export business?

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  6. "and his sidekick, Snotto." My husband loves booger jokes. I've got to share this.

    Just went through a brief spell of being unable to smell. The awful thing? Food. No taste. It made dieting easy. Now, I am reveling in flavors again. Fresh basil! Bacon! Chocolate!

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    1. The bare sense of taste is very crude. What we think of as "taste" is actually largely smell. Without it, you can't even enjoy a dead salmon.

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    2. I remember if you held your nose and someone popped a potato piece into your mouth you couldn't tell it from an apple.

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  7. I hope they hire super-smellers to use those Nasal Ranger things. The difference among peoples' abilities to smell things is huge. I wish I didn't smell things so keenly!

    We have a neighbourhood pulp and paper mill, and we use Dave's quote too, as we're gagging from the smell ...

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    1. Seriously, you aren't used to it yet? Or--does it come and go with the change of the breeze so that you'll always have a recovery period before the new assault? Bleah.

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    2. It comes and goes; depends on the air pressure, winds, humidity and probably some other weather-related stuff. When it's strong, it sometimes makes me actually queasy, but as I said, I have a keen sniffer. Most of the time the smoke stacks send it high enough in the atmosphere that it doesn't come down. Well, not here, anyway. And not, to my knowledge, anywhere else. We've been smelling that particular kind of money for close to fifty years in our area.

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  8. Smell is the most primitve sense and one that can evoke very early memories and also can provoke very strong reactions!

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    1. That's so true. Many years ago, when I was home on break from college, I said to my mother, "Mom--you smell like Nana!" (Nana was her mother, who'd died 10 years earlier.) She was startled, then said, "I washed this bathrobe in Ivory Snow. Nana always used Ivory soap." My conscious brain had forgotten that, but apparently my nose hadn't. One sniff and it was instant recall.

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    2. Supposedly the smell compartment of the brain is rubbing right up against the memory compartment. I think mine is rubbing some of the memory away.

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  9. I grew up surrounded by farms, dairy farms, berry farms, all kinds of farms. I always loved the smell of silage - rotting hay - I thought it was sweet. But friends at work think I'm weird because I will not under any circumstances eat refried beans. They smell yucky and look like something that came out of the south end of a north bound dog.

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    1. I like the smell of silage too. Reminds me of Grandma's farm. Refried beans look like you already ate them yesterday.

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  10. Some smells make me sentimental (cinnamon) and others make my eyes water. We had a cat who woke me all too often with an eye-waterer. If he used the kitty litter in the small hours I would have to get up and change it. Mad woman in dressinggown changing kitty litter at three am. The skinny one slept on.
    The nasal ranger and his side kick need medals to pin on their jackets. They do very important work...

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    1. New product idea: Kitty litter box with exhaust fan to the outdoors. Must be adjustable so as to not suck kittens outside.

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  11. I abhor cigarette smoke and it is bad for me as can start an asthma attack.

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    1. Many things about modern life are better than they were thirty years ago.

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  12. There is a dry, hot attic smell that takes me instantly back to childhood, playing in my Nana's attic with her old clothes and discarded jewellery. The smell of old books is one I've had around me my whole life, so it says home and comfort. The woods across the road smell of crisp fresh cedar when it rains {inhaling deeply}. But get me in an elevator with someone wearing Eau de Bug Spray and I gag. Same with heavy smokers who smell like bar room carpets. My nose ranger is in fine working order but, like yours, young Murr, it's awfully picky about what it wants to allow inside.

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    1. Hot dry attic smell! It's a good one!

      Young Murr? Oh you mean way back when.

      I just remembered another one I like. From the way-back machine. I used to put my nose right on the wet screen door when it was raining. Taste the ozone, or something. Or whatever the screen door was made of--maybe I wasn't tasting thunderstorm, but I was picking up some great toxic metals that are working their magic on me to this day.

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  13. I wonder why, as a species, we react to smell so strongly? It's evocative, nausea-inducing, comforting - so many things to us. And why do our own farts smell ok to us and awful to other people? I'm just fascinated by smell!

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    1. They do, don't they? Even the kinda sick ones are interesting.

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  14. My sense of smell is also very poor. Jenny is always referring to some exquisite or disgusting smell and I can't detect a thing. If the house was burning down, I'd probably be choking on the smoke before I actually smelt anything.

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    1. Jeez. I was almost asleep the other night when I smelled smoke. I had the windows open, and I got up and peered out everywhere, and couldn't find anything. I think it finally came down to the neighbor across the alley smoking a cigarette in his back yard.

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  15. I have a nose that is able to detect when things have gone "off" or are just beginning to turn. Meat, fruit or veg, milk. It came in handy at the checkout, I'd be scanning a customer's groceries and a whiff of something would hit my nose, so I'd pay more attention until I found the culprit, usually chicken or beef, then I would point it out to the customer and recommend they not purchase that item. They always thanked me. I could smell mould where others couldn't, and ozone in the air when a thunder and lightning storm was approaching.

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    1. I can smell a thunderstorm coming. It smells like wet screen door.

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  16. We drove across country on Rte 80 one summer without having been forewarned of the factory pig farms in Iowa. Only respirators could have been helpful against a stench that went on for miles only to be repeated at regular intervals until we reached somewhere in Nebraska.

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    1. Thanks for linking me to that very neat article I hadn't found before. You are an amazingly talented satirist.

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  17. Great post and fascinating comments. Clearly some bad smells are indicators that we are inhaling something nasty and perhaps even toxic. So I sometimes wonder about things we treat only as "bad smells" but which might in fact be dangerous. I tell ya, it's always something.

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    1. Bad smells are nature's way of telling you someone's making too much money.

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  18. LOL. My husband is the sniffer in this family. The only smell I can think of that bothers me now is the smell of fertilizer when they're doing the farms around our house. Whew-wee, you can smell that stuff all over our little town and I'm glad it only lasts a day or two.

    Visiting today because Manzanita is spreading rumors about you over at her place (all good, of course). :)

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    1. Excellent! I need some good rumors to counteract all that bit about how I only write about poop. You are not to believe that. Although I do write about poop with regularity.

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    2. It's always good to be 'regular' when talking about 'poop.'

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  19. "When I was little I could be done in by smells."

    Ditto. When I was little, my mother and I would go walking through the downtown area and browse in the shops. My mother always insisted on going into a perfume shop, which reeked of clashing perfumes and chemicals. I DESPISED that nauseating smell with a hatred only a child can muster.

    I still can be done in by certain odors. Car air fresheners and scented candles are immediate migraine triggers for me.

    "Dave's worked in so many mill towns that he thinks paper mills smell like money."

    No, they smell like bad Brussels sprouts! There's a paper mill a few miles from where I live, and the entire area stinks when the plant is boiling wood pulp.

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    1. I once rode seventy miles in a car with an over-cologned woman and a fresh pine air freshener. Did you know you were supposed to peel the plastic back off those things a bit at a time, and not all at once? She didn't either.

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  20. Perfumes are so deadly but lately even the friers at hamburger joints make my nose unhappy.
    But fresh cut grass or the smell of wet after rain make me smile.

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    1. The first grass cut of the year! Summer's on the way, that's what that smells like.

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