Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Stink That Stunk Less

When I was young and short, I thought skunkstink smelled worse than anything else in the world. That statement carries weight, you see, because I grew up in the country, where four-legged things produce bad smells constantly until they die, at which point they stink worse than they did when they were alive, and that gets worse until bugs eat their remains and they finally, permanently cease to offend. Above all the smells an animal can make — yes, even those of stinkbug or dog-who-ate-Cool Whip — skunkstink smelled worse.

You city folks may be interested to know that skunks like to live in the country. They trot merrily about the bucolic splendor, at one with grass and, I suppose, the rocks. But it’s in that rural-born joy that they meet their doom: Cars also live in the country and they frequently run over them. (Cue scavenger bugs.) So through live skunks — attempting to sneak away with our dog’s food and spraying their way to safety when the dog noticed — and though dead skunks — rotting on hot asphalt, their stink glands laid bare for the world — I had many opportunities to experience their olfactory effects. And it was the absolute worst in the summer. We didn’t have an air conditioner, so on hot nights our only relief came from open windows. At the first sign of a skunk doing its skunk thing, someone would yell in a manner typically appropriate for housefires and home invasions, and the windows would one by one slam shut. But it didn’t matter. That smell would get in — and I can remember direct hits that burned in my throat and made my eyes water. I can remember holding my breath in car rides. I can remember touching the dog a few days after a thorough spraying and then having to scrub and scrub to get the skunkstink off my hands.

Tonight, I skunk got in a fight with an alley cat outside my window. I heard the fight before I smelled it, and I actually saw the skunk take the cat down — stomping, tail raise, full blast to Mr. Whiskers. (No one shall be adopting this cat i the near future, I’m wagering.) And the smell got everywhere, but here’s the thing: It didn’t smell that bad. Like, it stinks, but it wasn’t as intolerable as it was when I was a kid. And now that I think about it, it doesn’t really bother me when I drive past some roadmeat skunk and catch a whiff.

So this leads me to a question: What the fuck have I been smelling in the years between my childhood and now that has made the worst odor in the world somehow more tolerable? Like, seriously, what have I been doing? Where have I been living? Who have I been associating with that had body odor that numbed by sense of smell to a stink that is essentially a biological weapon? I’m aware there’s the tendency for kids’ since of taste to dull as they get older and that smell and taste are two closely related senses, but I feel I have done serious damage to my sniffer if skunks no longer offend.

I admit it’s possible that I have made some terrible, sense-deadening decisions in my life so far. However, for now I’m going to assume it’s actually the skunks’ faults, and that they’ve either changed their diet for better or worse, depending on your perspective. If anyone wants to do the research on that, I’d be happy to read a summary of it.

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