Some people have a sixth sense. I'm one of them, if you count my nose - twice. Even as a child, I was called upon to assess the fitness of various foods in our house. The milk was either fresh or sour, a stew was beyond its prime, muffins were ready to be tossed. Not that I had mature judgment at age 6, but I did have an uncanny sense of smell.
Nor is that meant as a boast. I came into this world nasally gifted. This is neither an acquired skill, nor one that garners much reward. Truth is, there are more foul smells than pleasant ones, making a keen sense of smell a mixed blessing. When a scent appeals, the pleasure is greater for those of us able to enjoy it. When an odor is just that, the displeasure is multiplied.
To look at me, one would never know that I possessed this rare skill. If one imagines a discerning nose to have a certain length and reach, thereby allowing it to take in the full range of scents, mine would go unnoticed. My nose is modest in size: thin and straight - perfectly ordinary in appearance. Whatever it may lack in size or stature, however, it gains in sheer cunning.
I can walk into a building and discern that the walls were recently painted, floors refinished, or rugs installed. All that's missing from my assessment is the exact dates. I can sniff out cleaning agents by brand and type, and sense the residues of products that never quite vanished - think moth balls.
While many of these smells are less than attractive, I have come to think of my nasal talent as a sort of early-warning system. Certain common fumes and chemicals are problematic for many people. But a simple whiff is all I need to anticipate larger trouble and to remove myself from the premises. (Tom Ridge, are you listening?)
Similarly, I can detect newly paved roads from afar, a gas leak before it's apparent to others, and countless sundry smells before they reach a critical mass. Friends have long marveled at this knack, as if I were prescient; it's my nose that deserves credit.
Over the years, I admit to having developed nasal envy: I can only aspire to the track record my nose has achieved.
There is also a downside to this arcane skill. Certain fragrances don't merely waft in my direction; they seem to plant themselves right under my nose. Thus a flowering narcissus can seem an assault; "air fresheners" are anything but; and a cup of tea, brewed too long, can smell and taste like bacon.
Such dislocations of scent and sense come with the territory. Taste and smell are inextricably linked; without a sense of smell, there's little taste. But that still doesn't explain the mystery of coffee, whose flavor can't begin to match its aroma.
Fortunately, food and nature supply some of the more winning scents. Among them are apples, cocoa, and bread; autumn leaves, newly cut grass, and barbecue.
While most people can properly identify the smell of an outdoor grill, few can accurately name the food that's cooking. That's where noses like mine come into play - seasoned, agile, precise, ready for the job at hand.
Is anyone hiring?