October 13, 2009

What the Hell is that Smell?

You know the smell I’m talking about. It permeates the workplace in an almost ritualistic manner around high noon on a daily basis. There’s no escaping its reach, for it has inescapable boundaries. Like a liquid or gas, its scope is bound only by its container—the outer walls of the office. It never takes a holiday. It never calls in sick. It never has a family emergency. Nope. It just floats above you, invisible to the naked eye, wreaking havoc on every nostril in its path. The only warning of its presence comes in the form of a barely audible three-beep sequence emitted by the break room’s grease-encrusted microwave.

It’s hard to point the finger at the company microwave for not triggering a more appropriate warning, maybe something like what you hear when a tornado has touched down within 10 feet of your precise latitude and longitude. That poor bastard is repeatedly bombed into submission one disgusting entrée at a time.

What’s that Mr. Microwave? Did you have something to say about my lunch? I didn’t think so. Here, explode this meatball for trying to be cute.

The company microwave is definitely an accessory in the nose killing conspiracy, but it certainly doesn’t act alone. Broadly speaking, the main culprit is leftovers. If you want to get specific, it’s leftovers with a dash of multiculturalism and a pinch of domestic terrorism. What do you get when you heat a third-pound of three-day old spaghetti, four of yesterday’s matzo balls and eight ounces of last week’s curry chicken in rapid succession? You get an olfactory pipe bomb capable of destroying the productivity of an entire office floor. That’s what.

There are at least a handful of days each month when I half expect to peek around my cubicle wall and discover my neighbor eagerly going to town on a turd sandwich. So imagine my surprise when I determine it’s just an authentic chicken dish that’s been fermenting in a sealed plastic container for the past five days. Other times, the odor originating in the cube across from me is so ripe, so pungent, that I’d regret not asking what the hell they were eating. In these extreme cases, you have to yield to morbid curiosity. I’ve found you have to be tactful in your investigations so as not to insult, so I paste on a smile and a fake inquisitive expression.

Man that smells good over there. What’s that you’re eating?

Oh this? This is just some meatloaf I marinated in armpit sweat overnight. You want the recipe?

If the aforementioned trio is the olfactory pipe bomb, its atomic counterpart is a pot luck lunch. In case it isn’t clear at this point, yes…I hate pot luck lunches. Here’s what goes through my mind every time I hear about one:

Come on…come on. Where’s the damn sign up sheet. Whew. Okay, here we go. Shit. Some asshole already claimed plastic cutlery. No sweat. Let’s just move to Plan B. Everything’s going to be fine. Don’t panic….oh my god…this can’t be happening. Not today. God why? Why now? Somebody else already staked out drinks and cups. How is this possible? Who are these monsters?

Panic is setting in.

Sweet Jesus, I’m going to have to cook something. Relax. Get a hold of yourself. Think. Come on. Think dammit. Hmm…I don’t see a spot for napkins. We have to have napkins. It’s definitely going to be messy. They’re essential. I’ll just make a spot on the sheet for them. Yeah. I’m going to write it in. Whew. Close call.

Another qualm I have with pot lucks is that nobody ever sends out a reminder the day before. I’m just supposed to instinctively remember that I signed up to bring napkins to tomorrow’s holocaust. Some of these pot luck signups take place a week or two before the feast. This is unacceptable. In hopes of fixing this massive disconnect in human interpersonal communication, I’d like to recommend that the following template be used henceforth to remind indifferent participators everywhere of an impending pot luck lunch:

Don’t forget everybody, pot luck tomorrow! Don’t forget to cook your disgusting ethnic dish tonight and bring it to the office tomorrow so we can all un-enjoy it. And remember, we have no way of heating up any of your entrees, so they’re all going to be as cold as a dead monkey’s nutsack. So plan accordingly. Come hungry and leave starving!

But I digress. I’ve wandered into the realm of taste—a beast of a different color. The theme here is smell. It’s hard to assess the damage done from the outright nasal onslaught a pot luck lunch creates. My reaction to the symphony of scents resembles the blonde chick’s reaction in a thriller when the killer smothers her face with a white handkerchief laced with something that makes her pass out. My knees do get weak and begin to buckle, but unfortunately I’m usually able to maintain consciousness. I’m pretty sure inhaling either kills the same amount of brain cells though.

One of the great things about living in America is that there are few certainties that come with the privilege. And that’s the product of choice. You can choose to learn skills that will get you ahead. You can choose to apply those skills towards a brighter future. You can choose to be like me and wallow contently in mediocrity, half-assedly applying your talents just enough to get by. Or you can choose to do absolutely nothing. For the most part, you’re born with an opportunity and you can do with it what you will. That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m a tad perturbed with what you can’t choose. With what is certain.

You’re going to die.

You’re going to pay taxes.

And your workplace is going to smell like shit at lunchtime.

I’m a realist by nature, so I’ve accepted two of those three with only the slightest hint of reluctance. But I’m pretty sure we could all do without the shit smell. It won’t be easy, and it’s going to require sacrifices. I’m not suggesting that you go hungry. I’m just asking that you think twice before heating up your frozen shrimp alfredo delight.


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