National Sense of Smell Day is Saturday, and scientists toiling in the olfactory works will revel. Their day in the limelight is my embarrassing dark cloud. I'm odor-disadvantaged.
No doubt of this remained as oenologist Joel swished the white Grand Cru Burgundy, brought the rim of his glass to his nose, and inhaled deeply. "Ahhh!" he exclaimed, asking novice tasters of the Aix-en-Provence tour, "What aromas do we sense?"
"Hmmm," ventured Ed, oozing confidence: "Perhaps a trace of new-mown grass." Other novitiates, now cocky disciples, discovered hints of citrus, pear and honey. Envious me? With dismay I smelled none of nature's bouquet.
So I clammed up.
My aroma detector for years has been slowly leaking away like helium from a birthday balloon. Walking into the house from a three-day absence, my wife shouts: "The house reeks!"
"Yes, it's musty from being closed up."
"Of course," I lie. "I was going to say that."
Think. Your vain aunt holds her book at arm's length to avoid wearing bifocals. Your hard-of-hearing macho uncle struggles with lip reading to escape a hearing aid. So why not a little fib from the odor-impaired?
Oh, I can smell a pig farm if it's in sight. And gasoline. Also roadkill skunk. Most people know in a flash when they've been steered to a smoke-zone hotel room. But I could spend the week there, oblivious. Christmas seasons come and go as I feign goodwill over the scent of pine I can't detect.
But who cares?
At the Olfactory Research Fund they say that smell is sort of "the forgotten sense."
Their annual Scientific Sense of Smell Award is a nice gesture. But it's mostly for researchers who track down the positive effects of odor on people.
What about the downer of being unable to scent cedar in Shiraz? Or the overlooked danger that I might touch off an undetected gas leak, sending the household skyward with the kitchen stove?
Who knows? With treatment I might wake up and smell the turnips. Or the cigar aroma in Cabernet Sauvignon. Alan Hirsch, director of Chicago's Smell and Taste Research and Treatment Foundation, has said if people are properly diagnosed and treated, sometimes with Vitamin B-12, or even removal of blocking tissue, their smellability may improve.
But I'm standing pat. After all, there's something to be said for chatting uninhibited with the trash collector. And dawdling in the locker room after others have fled. And if experts sense a whiff of lemon and oak in the Chablis, I'll just nod. Lacking a sense of smell doesn't mean I lack the sense to shut up.
The people who promote National Sense of Smell Day urge you to stop and sniff the roses, or whatever else strikes your olfactory fancy, on Saturday. You can get in touch with the mysteries of the sense of smell at science centers around the country, including the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, which will have programs to dramatize how aromas influence our daily lives.
A retrospective of last year's museum events appears on the Sense of Smell Institute's Web site: www.senseofsmell.org/about/senseofsmellday.asp