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smell test 1Washington Post, October 20, 1912. This is the kind of science I can get behind. I’ve never understood the perfume thing. None of them smell good to me, and the urge to colonize other folks’ olfactories with a cocktail of floral essence, whale puke and volatile biological substances extracted from the buttholes of rodents strikes me as passive-aggressive or sociopathic, depending on the intensity of the pong. Never in my life have I gotten out of bed and said to myself, “Yes indeed, everybody’s gonna smell me coming and going today!” Maybe the notion made slightly better sense before the democratization of soap, hot water, flush toilets and other techno-hygienic blessings, but there’s just no excuse for it now. Anyway, it’s been shown to cause hysteria and neurasthenia. smell test 2

(Forgive the ungraceful, mid-sentence break here: WordPress suddenly isn’t offering me a workaround for this kind of gap-splicing.) “Banana oil!” I always thought this was just an excellent piece of archaic slang, but I’m delighted to know there actually was such a commodity. In the ’20s, “banana oil” was a redolent popular synonym for “bullshit.” There was even a Tin Pan Alley song by that name, recorded by Ethel Waters among others. smell test 3

Again, I am totally down with Dr. Maxim: Just the other night I was exposed to a single tuberose and I thought my head was gonna split. I’ll take a tire fire or a road-killed skunk at high noon over that stank any day of the week.
smell test 4 Here’s where I part company with Dr. Maxim: If people wanna huff smelly substances (e.g. Charlie or Drakar pour homme), I say let ’em. So long as it’s not in public, and especially not in restaurants. I don’t know how many meals I’ve had ruined by the proximity of some reeking neurasthenic.


    • Thomas Westgard
    • Posted September 6, 2009 at 12:45 am
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    You speak of smelling like a rodent’s anus as if it were a bad thing, and yet rodents keep themselves cleaner than a lot of people I’ve encountered on the train.

    • Yeah, but worst of all is the combination of human stink plus perfume.

  1. I thought ‘banana oil’ referred to the actual oil of the banana. thanks for the enlightenment.

    I think that wearing cheap perfume should be a reason for ostracizim and that some expensive perfumes should get the wearer a pass go home, bathe and change clothes so that they are less offensive to others.

    • I guess I’m uncomfortable with the class implications of this two-tiered scheme. Couldn’t we just turn a firehose on them all, regardless of the price per ounce?

  2. I like the author’s confidence that “[w]e are all familiar with the sweet smelling odor of the solvent in liquid bronze used for gilding radiators and other metal works.” Dr. Maxim appears to be addressing a general audience in this interview. Was radiator gilding such a widespread activity that Joe Average in 1912 would nod in agreement with this sentiment? I mean, it’s one thing to declare your love for the smell of napalm in the morning, quite another to follow it up w/ y’knowwhatImean?

    • Well, pert’near everybody would have had a radiator, at least in a middle-class urban context, and I guess if the pong hung around a while it would leave an impression, even if your rads were gilt but once in a coon’s age. Noamsayin, Oh Bewdivern?

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