I thought I had progressed nicely in the area of nasal stimulation - you know, the way you’re supposed to start kids on the path to taking care of a pet starting slowly and working their way up to more complicated and demanding pets only after they’ve mastered the simple tasks.
The fragrant equivalent to a house plant for me was Berkeley, or as I like to call it, The Pearl of the Odorent. Not that I don’t like the town, but if Bott’s Every Flavor Beans were scents, Berkeley would be a jumbo-size bag with almost all the varieties.
In the same way that children then move on to care for a goldfish or guinea pig, after Berkeley, I worked in salt marshes and estuaries. Sulfurous farts were perfectly undetectable whenever I was on the clock. Returning home from work, I was guaranteed the personal space of ten large men when I stopped by the supermarket or stood in line at the voting booth. Friends and family became responsible for a surge in UFO sightings.
Many children would be content with a cat or retriever. I’m one of those who insists to mom and dad that a Savannah Monitor is really no more difficult to keep than a rabbit and the gerbil only died because Jimmy wanted to see what would happen if it drank Pepsi and yes bubble gum does stay in your guts for seven years cause David says when the doctors treated his aunt they needed to use a plumbing snake for three days. So I pushed my aromatic envelope as an EMT in emergency rooms. The envelope contained dead bodies, and I’d have rather moderated a debate between the proverbial infinite monkeys and that most windy of dinosaurs, the thesaurus, than suffer that redolence of despair, blood, and feces. But I did suffer it.
I thought these things had prepared me. I believed my defenses were strong. I was like a Caesar or a MacArthur of fragrance, master of all I surveyed while Chinese hordes crept up out of view.
Six weeks ago the porpoise remains fell into my lap (figuratively. Stop scanning the skies!) The theory is pretty simple - a carcass can be turned into a skeleton for educational display through maceration, allowing the carcass to decay and be digested by bacteria, until many bits of the flesh part from the bone like small republics from a totalitarian superpower. This comes with side effects.
When I opened the small cooler containing the head, it was like the wave of unpleasant heat and humidity that hits you as you leave Miami’s airport in summer. I could handle this. Not good, but I can hang.
Then I opened the larger cooler containing the porpoise’s body and fins. This was like being plucked from Miami’s heat into the waiting maw of Godzilla’s atomic fire. He’s recently eaten a batch of jalapeño peppers, you see, and believed that rubbing the inside of his belly with Tiger Balm would complement the flaming magma main dish. I tried breathing through my mouth. It gives you the insidious feeling that your taste buds are now coated with the mucus of the Old Ones. My knees turned to jelly, my stomach to stone, and a career in podiatry became increasingly attractive.
What could I do? I pulled out the body and began to slice away for couple hours.
On the way home (I carpool with wevetlady), I expressed my dubious thoughts on the wisdom of going straight out to a restaurant for dinner. I wanted to clean up. Wevetlady is also very sensetive to bad smells, and I wanted to shower as soon as possible to spare her the horror.
She insisted on a hug and a kiss before I washed. When I stretched out my arms to her, she sniffed and looked at me accusingly: “Were you wearing latex gloves today?”