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The Non-Expert

What We Are When We Are at Home

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we field a tough question about why Americans are so obsessed with smell, and demonstrate how Americans’ odor concerns know no borders.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: Why do Americans think everyone else except themselves smells bad? Is it just part of their arrogant foreign policy? —Charles

Answer: The best part of watching a lot of television is that all of our secret fears are revealed in the commercials. It doesn’t matter if the insecurity is born of a fad or not: Like people living under a fascist government, everyone figures the campaign of terror will fade but eventually it just becomes a gruesome routine. Advertisers aren’t stupid and they know insecurity sells—especially if it’s repeated every 20 minutes on 130 different channels. Want to feel like a rugged American individualist despite your robotic cube job? Go berserker in a crazed gas-sucking SUV and drive, man, drive! Wonder if you are up to it in the sack, even if you don’t have erectile dysfunction or even someone to have sex with? Well, that breezy couple fluttering around the bedroom sure raves about the quality of response from the newest, greatest penis pill, and so will your hand! Are you a little bloated after pigging out during the holidays? There’s a wealth of sinister diets, quack medicines and medieval exercise machines to get you tanned, toned, and beautiful, even if the holidays were seven months ago!

Perhaps the strangest products being pimped to Americans now, however, are those aerosol air fresheners and scented plug-ins. The relentless ads run all the time throughout all the demographics—whether watching the game on Sunday (with the intentionally knuckleheaded beer commercials) or the latest “I thought my husband was nice but he was secretly a killer whale” potboiler on the Lifetime channel, we’re being offered a cornucopia of fragrant anodynes. Apparently Americans stink, but we’re mad as hell about it and not going to take it anymore!

The question begs: Are our homes truly filled with stench? Would the odor of carpets, pets, shoes, underarms, toilets, kitchen grease, and babies—each with their own individual nullifying products—be intolerable if not for that electric, fan-driven apparatus that sends a melody of fragrances wafting throughout the house? The best part about the plug-ins is that, aside from adding to your power bill, they run 24/7 for somewhere around 65 years. Repugnant smells are defeated overnight, and no longer will anyone be tormented by the pernicious reek of sunrise. The sprays have not been left in the dust, though. Back in the olden days the choice of scents was pretty basic: potpourri or plain old lemon. Now the air-freshener aisle at the grocery store is like the most fabulous place in the world, offering the likes of Caribbean Breeze, Peppermint Magick, Lapsong Rain, Apple Spice Delight, Linen Freshness, Vanilla Cookie Sweetness, Wild Flower Folly, Babbling Brook, and Bitter Almonds. Not even Willy Wonka could devise such alluring titles. Obviously the old-fashioned remedies are simply nostalgia talking: Perfumed candles set the cat on fire, while open windows invite thieves, and incense leads to hippies. Like it or not, we are at the mercy of fumes, vapors, and sprays.

Are Americans alone in our battle against stench? Do the peoples of other countries worry constantly about how their yurt smells, and if so, do they get off their lazy stinky asses and do anything about it? When they turn on the forbidden radio broadcasts at night after curfew, are they barraged with announcers claiming a spray called Shah’s Splendor will knock out the pesky odor of landmine grime? Sure, everyone loves Spot the family shoat, but Spot stinks to high heaven so be sure to purchase a can of Uzbek Steppe the next time the blackout is lifted and the bazaar safe to enter. Little Ali and his soccer buddies love to hang out after rioting, but starvation farts can get pretty ripe in a bomb shelter, so crank up the generator and plug in Open Sesame Treats. Nothing festers like depleted uranium in an open wound—thankfully there’s new Fire of Freedom aerosol deodorant—ask your local black-market gangster today!

As an American deeply ashamed of how bad my house may or may not smell, I am determined to fight against the tyranny of stench no matter what the cost. I only pray to sweet baby Jesus that others around the world are doing the same. In fact, my hopes for a odor-free world have driven me into the lemony-scented embrace of the far right-wing. So, as a conservative, I really wouldn’t know because I never go anywhere except the mall and the liquor store, but my compassion tells me global odors must be stopped where and when they start. Maybe the next time my hard drive melts and I call a service technician working in Nepal for 35-cents a week, I’ll ask how the battle is going.


Tobias Seamon recently published the novella The Fair Grounds. More can be found here. More by Tobias Seamon