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Thursday, January 3, 2013

On Navigating Stink

Posted by on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 at 12:57 PM

As Paul mentioned yesterday, he recently spent time in Peru. We were chatting about his trip, and he mentioned that Peru is a place where toilet paper is not flushed down the toilet, and that he learned he has a surprisingly sensitive sense of smell.

This reminded me of testimony I'd heard/read from people who'd done immersive work with the homeless, who confirmed that navigating the scent of the prolonged unwashed is the first and one of the toughest obstacles for outsiders.

Both of these things bring up the boundaries created by smell, which can seem like they're insurmountable (deep disgust feels like Truth). But of course they're not. Smells can't hurt a person, and finding a way to familiarize oneself with upsetting new smells seems as valuable a human task as becoming fluent in a second language or learning HTML.

I'm not kidding. I don't want my world constricted by my prissy sense of smell, and I want to know the best way to become accustomed to/tolerant of off-putting stink.

Does one just suck it up and eventually get used to it? Does taking a huge, deep whiff right off the bat speed up this process? Are there helpful things to smear on one's upper lip, ala Clarice in the autopsy room in Silence of the Lambs? Share theories/make fun of my first-world problem in the comments.

 

Comments (33) RSS

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wisepunk 1
Next show that David puts on we should all vow to go. And not shower or use any scents for the week prior. Showgirls, now with stank-o-vision!
Posted by wisepunk on January 3, 2013 at 1:04 PM · Report this
2
Mouth breathing. It's not just for Fox News viewers. Breathing through the nose makes you smell smells stronger.
Posted by originalcinner on January 3, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this
3
You can use clove oil for the worst smells (necrotic/dead tissue).
Posted by Fuji_Apples on January 3, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this
emma's bee 4
Try to become a mouthbreather. I went to see a long-deceased beached whale with some biologist friends in NoCal a few years back. The Clarice trick worked there on what must be one of the worst smells on earth.
Posted by emma's bee on January 3, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this
treacle 5
I would think that simple frequent immersion would be the only way. But I'm not a smell researcher.

I know sleep researchers can re-normalize your jet lag within 2 days with special techniques, so perhaps scientists types can quickly acclimate your smeller too.
Posted by treacle on January 3, 2013 at 1:18 PM · Report this
6
Just put your faith in olfactory satiation.
Posted by Narbles on January 3, 2013 at 1:18 PM · Report this
7
Good luck. Scent nerves go directly to the brain. They're more fundamental to animal life than any other sense.

That repulsion you feel is as instinctual as your fear of the dark or the gut-churning sense of falling (a sensation that can wake you from dreams).

My trick with the homeless and the filthy: breath through your mouth. In my experience, the worst (common) smells are:

1. rot / necroses
2. natural decay from decomposition / death
3. concentrated human urine
4. concentrated cat urine
5. unhealthy shit
6. normal shit
7. bile / vomit

My sense of smell aids me well in all these cases, as all these cases represent very real potential for danger to me and my well-being.

Oh, and don't allow your gag reflex to engage more than once. And tease ruthlessly anyone who does. Turns out the fear of humiliation can (easily) trump the fear of illness.

Which, now that I think about it, is why most of us don't rot in our own piss / take showers / wear scents if we can afford them.
Posted by six shooter on January 3, 2013 at 1:19 PM · Report this
J. Lasser 8
@1 - Perhaps David's next show should be in Smell-O-Vision?
Posted by J. Lasser http://www.tux.org/~lasser/ on January 3, 2013 at 1:36 PM · Report this
The Max 9
My sense of smell came back with a vengeance when I quit cigarettes a few years back. I coped (in part) by growing a supervillian mustache which I laminate with eucalyptus-scented beeswax. It might look every bit as silly as Vick's VapoRub on the upper lip, but looks less like someone spooged on my face.
Posted by The Max on January 3, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
10
Ah, sensory/neural adaptation. The smell fades as your brain decides its source is not a threat. Usually the stronger the initial impression on the brain, the more resources the brain allocates to sorting this out, the quicker it will quit sending you stink signals. I'd cite to links but I'm on a mobile.

BestI can tell, If you're not going to mouth breathe, and I bet you wouldn't, just breathe deep so your brain can hurl itself at the problem.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 3, 2013 at 1:43 PM · Report this
11
Vics Vapo-rub will work fine, along with mouth breathing.

I spent a summer cleaning out flood ravaged basements. you wouldn't believe a) the shit people leave in their basements and b) how bad that shit reeks after being soaked in foul river water and left to stagnate for 2-3 months. Dead pets, old freezers full of meat, weird chemicals. The worst was a 50 pound bag of blood meal for an organic garden. it had soaked in about 100 pounds of water, reconstituted, then started to rot from the inside. I got the bag about 1/2 way up the stairs when it split open. I threw up a whole bunch, threw away my clothes, then got hit on by the homeowner. Weird day.
Posted by Chris Jury http://www.thebismarck.net on January 3, 2013 at 1:46 PM · Report this
J. Lasser 12
(Thinking back on my previous comment: seriously, why doesn't theatre make more use of strong odors?)
Posted by J. Lasser http://www.tux.org/~lasser/ on January 3, 2013 at 1:49 PM · Report this
David Schmader 13
Thank you Gus! And J. Lasser: A theatermaker made a big stink (HAR!) in Europe last year with a show that pumped shit smell into the theater at key moments.
Posted by David Schmader on January 3, 2013 at 1:51 PM · Report this
Rotten666 14
You know there are legitimate biological reasons why you are repelled by really bad smells. right?
Posted by Rotten666 on January 3, 2013 at 1:56 PM · Report this
TVDinner 15
I dunno, I spent two and a half years in Latin America, and I got used to the toilet paper thing in a matter of days. I remember on my first day wondering how I was going to get over it and on the third day wondering why it no longer bothered me. It's just one of many things that just is, maybe?
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 3, 2013 at 1:57 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 16
paul also said that the inca trail had "saddlebacks higher than mt. rainier". the highest point on the inca trail is <14K'. mt. rainier is 14,410'.

and WTF is a "saddleback". a high pass?
Posted by Max Solomon on January 3, 2013 at 1:59 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 17
When we were kids my father used to do the SBD's and, believe me when I say this, you run. I don't think you ever get used to stink. History is replete with examples of people trying to avoid stink. It's basically bacteria doing what bacteria do. When there's stink, there's bacteria.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 3, 2013 at 2:12 PM · Report this
18
Cheap cigars as a defensive measure?
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on January 3, 2013 at 2:19 PM · Report this
19
Thanks for the article. I think I'll stay out of Peru and the Stranger's offices. And orifices.
Posted by Mister G on January 3, 2013 at 2:29 PM · Report this
Michael of the Green 20
The fuse had gone out on the large freezer in our garage where we stored our fish from summer trips. Not sure how long it had been out, but all the salmon, trout, etc. was well ripe. It was like being punched in the face with rot.
Posted by Michael of the Green on January 3, 2013 at 2:34 PM · Report this
onion 21
yeah the toilet paper thing is no big deal. you have to get over this weird reflex that makes your hand drop it in the toilet...you just learn to relocate the drop. they do that in a lot of latin american countries. and it doesn't really stink. an unwashed human or rotting animal stinks waaaaay worse.
Posted by onion on January 3, 2013 at 2:56 PM · Report this
STJA 22
Lived in CR off and on while doing work there, and it's the same (everywhere, almost). One way they seem to deal with it is aggressive policing of the little trash bins where one sticks one's dirty TP. They also tend to do a good job (I think) of covering over their TP, rendering it much less smelly. Finally, you just get used to it. You're doing it, everyone's doing it, stop being so fucking sensitive. Be glad you're not the guy who had to empty the bin.
Posted by STJA on January 3, 2013 at 3:03 PM · Report this
Amalink 23
I cleaned my stove the other day with Easy Off and I swear to God I thought I would gack up my internal organs. It wasn't just that it smelled bad (oh Lord did it smell bad) but it also literally burned the crap out of my nose and throat. It took hours for the burning sensation to go away.
Posted by Amalink on January 3, 2013 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 24

Vaporub if you got it, usually a surgical mask, or better yet an N95, mouth breathing and willpower will get you through it

7 pretty much nailed it, I have a feeling we may work n a similar industry.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on January 3, 2013 at 3:36 PM · Report this
25
If you shave your face, shave with a strong-smelling shaving cream, or maybe use a strong aftershave (strong enough for you to smell, but not so strong as to annoy those around you - you know who you are).
Posted by Sterno on January 3, 2013 at 3:44 PM · Report this
26
I just noticed that this article is right above the pictures of the fella showing his armpits.
Posted by Mister G on January 3, 2013 at 3:53 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 27
I don't buy that it's not harmful. Someone's personal stink from not bathing? That's not harmful. The smell of mold from... mold? That is harmful; I know for a fact that I've gotten fungal infections from mold in the past, which is why I'm extremely careful about it now.

I've also had a lot of experiences like #23's where chemical smells caused me physical pain that lasted well after I distanced myself from the smell or aired out the room.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 3, 2013 at 3:53 PM · Report this
28
Military learnin' the hard way:

1. cigarette butts up the nostrils. Used butts for the worst smells
2. stay so busy you can't think about it
3. pure real vanilla can eliminate some of the worst smells out there including mortuary stink (don't even ask ...)
Posted by Salutati on January 3, 2013 at 3:53 PM · Report this
sirkowski 29
Lighter fluid and fire.
Posted by sirkowski http://www.missdynamite.com on January 3, 2013 at 3:56 PM · Report this
30
#27, are you also gluten intolerant?
Posted by Mister G on January 3, 2013 at 4:02 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 31
@23
IIRC Easy Off is lye, pretty much the most hazardous household shit there is, and causes instant irreversable blindness. I use goggles and a resperator, or a gas mask for that shit.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on January 3, 2013 at 6:24 PM · Report this
32
</stink>
Posted by PaulBarwick on January 3, 2013 at 6:56 PM · Report this
KingofQueenAnne 33
Lived in impoverished areas of Santiago chile for two years. Yes, you suck it up and get used to it.
Posted by KingofQueenAnne http://blingeejesus.blogspot.com on January 3, 2013 at 10:28 PM · Report this

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