August 25, 1991

Of Dollars and Scents

With perfumed toilet paper; do you smell it before or after?

Jakov Smirnoff

I recently tried a new dishwasher gel. It works very well; much better than what I had been using. The problem is that it is perfumed and leaves an odor on melamine dishware. I phoned the company that makes it and was treated very well. The very pleasant woman I talked with told me that more people seem to be preferring odorless household products. She also refunded my money and sent a coupon good for one of their other products.

I can't understand how corporate America can ignore the fact that an odor that smells good to one person can be irritating to another.

There is a substance called PTC(phenyl thiocarbamide) that tastes very bitter to some people, and to others it has no taste whatever. If you give pieces of paper impregnated with the stuff to a class and ask them to chew it, you will see about three quarters of the students making a wry face and the others looking at them as if they were peculiar. The ability to taste PTC is genetically determined. There are many other substances which affect people differently, including odors. The ability to smell many substances is mostly genetically determined.

Most clothes washing detergents are loaded with perfume. When I put on clothes that have been washed with scented detergents or fabric softeners, I feel as if I am dabbing a bit of perfume behind each ear and my maleness is in jeopardy. To me, a real male odor is fresh sweat.

Odors affect people differently. The smell of garlic in cooking makes some people's mouth water. Others are turned off by it. Few people are indifferent to odors unless they have had their sense of smell impaired. Here is how some odors affect me:

Lysol and pine odors (such as in Pine Sol) makes me think of hospitals, illness and death.

Vanilla reminds me of children.

Lilacs go with very old ladies.

Gardenia smells disgusting.

The perfume in Johnson's baby oil reminds me of soft babies.

Lemon scent doesn't remind me of lemon. It reminds me of lemon oil furniture polish and cleaning day. It is not particularly pleasant.

Cooking garlic and onion odors makes me hungry.

That's just a small sampling.

There are sexy odors which suggest a female in estrus. Perfume manufacturers capitalize on this. It is possible to tell women from different countries and from different age groups just from their odor. With some practice, a person with a good nose could probably learn to tell the age of someone by their odor.

Just as Pavlov conditioned a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell, it is possible to condition a person to odors. Some women turn-on to the smell of the shaving lotion that their father or first lover used. Men may turn on to the odor of their mothers or the first woman they ever got sexually excited with. Perfume makers are very aware of this fact.

The very same odor that is pleasant in trace amounts can be oppressive in quantity. The faint odor of wood smoke can be pleasant to those of us who have pleasant memories of campfires. In quantity, smoke is air pollution. One narcissus blossom can make a room smell nice. A bouquet of them is overwhelming.

What the hucksters of soaps and household products seem to ignore is that the odor that is pleasant to one person may be unpleasant to another. When they catch on, they will sponsor a TV commercial where a woman holds newly-washed towels up to another woman.

"Smell my wash" she says. The woman smells the towels.

"I don't smell anything!" she says, looking puzzled.

"Exactly!" the woman says with a broad smile on her face.

One side effect of the reduction in the number of smokers is that more people are becoming sensitive to subtle odors. A smoker, or someone in a smoke-filled room can't smell much of anything except the tobacco smoke.

I am very sensitive to odors. I get both pleasure and irritation from them. I resent people inundating me with unwelcome odors. I always buy products that are labeled "unscented"; if they exist.

If you share my irritation, there is an 800 number on the back of your box or bottle of detergent.

If I want perfume, I'll buy it myself, and it will be an odor that I like. --And I won't spray it, I'll dab it.

Where will I dab it? That's my secret.

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