The Downsides of Having No Sense of Smell

I can’t smell. I take it back – I can only smell three things: rain, coffee, and hand sanitizer. Not gonna lie, this lack of a sense does have its perks. I can’t smell lingering cigarette smoke in a hotel room or rental car. I can’t smell when someone overdoes their application of perfume or cologne. I can’t smell the famous B.O. surrounding the men’s hockey locker room.

However, there are some definite downsides. I can’t smell pine needles, despite the best efforts of nature lovers to help me. I can’t smell when my refrigerated leftovers are no longer fit for consumption, so I have to ask my roommates. And as I found out yesterday, I can’t smell the smoke when I accidentally set something on fire in my apartment.

Here’s the scenario: one of my roommates and I recently learned how to make homemade tortilla chips. You cut up your tortillas, lightly coat the pieces in oil, and broil them a bit on a baking sheet in the oven. So yesterday, after several hours of feverishly studying for finals and watching Arrested Development on Netflix by myself, I realized that I wanted to eat chips and salsa. Being in possession of a large quantity of salsa but no chips, I set out to make homemade chips for the second time. I put my lightly-oiled tortilla pieces in the oven and set it to broil. Then I sat down on the couch to squeeze in a little bit more reading for my final Spanish essay.

I don’t think that much time passed. I mean, it wasn’t like I got lost in this book that I’m only reading for school. After a few paragraphs, I got up to check on my chips. It was then that I noticed the smoke seeping out of the closed oven door, and out of all the stove burners as well. I immediately turned off the oven and tried to open the oven door, but that just made the smoke go from seeping to billowing. I shut the oven door, ran to the window and opened it as wide as it would go, then ran back to the oven, opened it and grabbed my smoking chips as fast as I could, and ran to the window. I held the baking sheet out of the window for a few seconds, polluting the clear Colorado air with tortilla smoke. Then I set the sheet down and began running around the kitchen swatting the air with my towel, trying to coax the clouds of smoke out of the window on the other side of the room.

It was at this point that the fire alarm went off. My ears were pierced with the sounds of the shrieking alarm and a computerized woman’s voice calmly repeating “Fire. Fire.” (This was a sophisticated fire alarm.) Filled with shame, I grabbed my keys and entered the hallway, preparing to take the stairs (not the elevator) down to the front office to confess that I was the arson. As soon as I reached the stairs, the alarm and the computerized woman’s voice mercifully shut off, before anyone had a chance to seriously consider evacuation.

A few hours later, after the smoke had wafted out my window and into the sunset, I twirled and spun around my apartment spraying a body mist into the air to get rid of the smoky scent that I assumed my roommates would be able to smell when they got back. I don’t know what the body mist smells like. Hopefully better than burned tortillas.

(Originally posted 11/12/13)


5 thoughts on “The Downsides of Having No Sense of Smell

  1. Pingback: Why Squirrels Are My Worst Nightmare | Witty or Not, Here I Come

  2. Cassie,

    I found your blog by way of a Google search, “wit and a lack of a sense of smell.” Your “The Downsides of Having No Sense of Smell” post was the top hit. Lo and behold there you were: someone with a wit but without a sense of smell (almost). This is me, too. I have often wondered if there is any connection between the two.

    But before we go on I should say that I’m glad you didn’t burn your apartment down.

    Now a disclaimer of sorts: As far as a guy is concerned, as soon as he says he’s funny or witty, he’s probably not. I am sensitive to that. However, I am “not good” at so many things, so I think I can accurately self-evaluate my strengths. Really, by my estimation I’m good at just two things: wit and managing complexity. The latter is not a surprise, since my background is computer science (MSCS), and I was probably drawn to it because somehow I knew I had an innate ability. It could be that wit and information management are related (I think there is a connection), but that rumination is for some other time.

    The sense of smell is such a deep rooted and primitive thing, which is why it can so quickly invoke memories. But what happens when you don’t have a sense of smell? Does that hyper-fast brain wiring get reapportioned for something else—say wit? I really believe this has happened with me. I can establish these verbal connections, that is, wit, at a surprising speed (almost always the fastest in the room).

    No doubt you are witty inasmuch as writing goes. I have really enjoyed your posts. Does your skill translate into what would be considered conversational wit?

    Are we part of a small subset of humans? Perhaps there is a neurobiologist fan of your writing who could render an opinion.

    As an aside, the one thing I can smell is my dog’s paws. Apparently there is a distinctive smell that dogs give off related to yeast and bacteria “brewing” in the paw pads. It smells like saltine crackers to me. On the web you can find it referred to as “Frito Feet.” Can you smell dog paws? My dog certainly finds it strange when I drink in her “essence of paw,” but there are so few things I can smell that it’s comforting to have this one consistent aromatic pleasure.

    If you could choose only one, would it be wit or sense of smell?


    P.S. I like it that you use the Oxford Comma. I feel like we’re kindred spirits.

    • Hi James!

      Were you trying to find research into a correlation between the two when you typed those words into Google? That is certainly a unique search phrase! However, I am very glad it led you to my blog – thanks for commenting.

      I’m not a very creative person in general, meaning a whole range of things prove to be difficult for me: solving complex problems, drawing/painting/sculpting, thinking of what to do on a lazy Sunday…etc. So like you, I prefer to think that my wit has been given to me to make up for the areas where I’m lacking. However, it only translates to conversational wit when I’m feeling comfortable/confident in the conversation; if I’m in a large group or in the presence of an intimidating person(s), I sometimes mix my metaphors, stammer, or even collapse into complete nonsensicalities… (Is that a word?) This happened once in middle school: I was dragging my suitcase down the hallway at summer camp when I realized I was heading towards 6 boys my age who were sitting against the wall on either side of the hallway, with their legs stretched out into my path. I began to work up the courage to say “Excuse me” when, at the last possible moment, they all scrunched up their legs to make way for me. I began to change my response to “thank you,” but it was too late… The sound that came from my mouth was something like “urgtchwl.” Needless to way, the boys stared at me in speechless horror as I passed, before bursting into nervous laughter. I haven’t spoken to a male since.

      Just kidding!

      In response to your aside, I admit I have never attempted to smell a dog’s paws. I’m curious as to how you discovered their scent in the first place?

      If I could choose only one, I would choose wit, because maybe ignorance is bliss when it comes to sense of smell??


      P.S. Thank you! Take THAT Vampire Weekend – at least TWO people give an F about an Oxford Comma!!

  3. Cassie,

    Yes, I did intentionally type that search string into Google to see if anyone had made a connection between wit and a lack of a sense of smell. My intuition tells me there is a relationship. However, from a scientific standpoint, it appears this area is devoid of research.

    In my work I deal with spinal cord injury, ALS, and other neuromuscular injuries and diseases. I believe research in this area is demonstrating that there is some plasticity to the brain, and it has happened in individual cases where a part of the brain that science had mapped to a particular motor/language/sensory function has taken on a wholly new function.

    Is that us?

    It could be the basis for a new television superhero drama. You and your father travel the country disarming the bad guys, not with bullets, but with big smiles and hearty guffaws brought about by your wit and his hilarious shenanigans. I would be honored just to be a secondary character that you call upon when the evil-doers enter the fray with an uncontrollable level of frown-inducing behavior.

    Who would play you? Who would play your father? It would be a nice day job if they let you write the script. You certainly would give the show a comedic boost.

    One thing that drew me to you after I landed on your page is that you remind me of my youngest daughter. And, your goofy father reminds me a little of me (and I say that as the highest compliment with his fake mustache-nose-eyebrows disguise in mind). Will he be disappointed to be relegated to the role of your sidekick in the new show?

    It was my ex-wife who first noticed the “cracker paws” smell. (Speaking to your comment about drawing/painting/sculpting, she’s artistic in every way that I am not.) I imagine she could smell our Australian Shepherd’s paws from across the room. Perhaps they are extraordinarily pungent, and this is what allows me to so easily “smell the cracker” when I press a paw against my nose (or when she presses her paw into my face during one of her dreams).

    Very good point about “ignorance is bliss” inasmuch as the sense of smell is concerned. Some things are better left unsmelled! Some family members have claimed my aforementioned dog, Cammers, is a bit gassy. I wouldn’t know.

    I sent my original comment to you without “sleeping on it,” which is contrary to what I consider the number one rule for writers: Put your work away and read it a few hours later—or the next day. It will read as if you didn’t write it, so it’s so much easier to give it a critical review, as if someone else wrote it. That said, I would change one sentence in my post to you (do you have editing powers?), where I misfired on two important words. It should be:

    “Sense of smell is deep rooted and *primal*, which is why it can so quickly *evoke* memories.”

    Wouldn’t you agree? Don’t you love the nuance in language?

    I hate it that I’m the least bit vain when it comes to my writing. You can wring the life right out of your work if you’re too picky. By the way, your writing reads easy and conversational. I hope your readers know it’s harder than it looks. I hope they fully appreciate the entertainment you provide.

    That’s funny about the Vampire Weekend song. Sadly, the Oxford Comma seems to be out of vogue. I don’t care; I won’t let it go.

    Like you, I have lost my wit in the company of the opposite sex. But I eventually recover my super powers after the “Kryptonite” moment. In the end, the stammering, the shaking, and the weak knees remind us that we’re human, right? I would love to find someone who exposes my weakness and makes me “lose my wit at first sight.”


  4. Cassie,

    It occurred to me that I probably exceeded the maximum word count in my last comment. It’s probably an unwritten rule that a comment shouldn’t exceed the length of the original blog. Sorry for that.

    Thanks for the intro to Vampire Weekend. I’d seen them on SNL, but hadn’t really appreciated them until I watched the Oxford Comma video. I’ve listened to a lot more since then.


    P.S. OK, yes, I am fishing for a response. I’m worried that I bored (insulted? bothered!) you with my previous comment, but you probably know this from your father: There is no age limit on being goofy. Ciao.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s