When Steven Halbreich was 9, and at summer camp, some skunks invaded a cabin. He was the one who was sent in to shoo them out.
When he was 14, his mother was hardboiling eggs one day. But she forgot and left them on the stove for hours. Our man never noticed a thing.
He can chop onions without crying. He can eat limburger cheese without flinching. If he chooses - and he admits he often does - he can wear the same pair of socks for days without making himself sick.
"Every time I go by a sewer," says Halbreich, "I just go ha-ha-ha."
Steven Halbreich has a nose, but it doesn't work. He has no sense of smell, and never has.
They say that being without one sense heightens another. In Halbreich's case, the supersense is humor. He has turned his handicap into a laughathon for Those Who Know.
One of his favorite stunts is to go to dinner with friends at a fancy restaurant. He will order a bottle of wine, then convulse those at the table by sniffing the cork and telling the sommelier that the wine's bouquet meets his exacting standards.
Another show takes place when Halbreich visits his parents on Long Island. A family friend is a florist, and Halbreich rarely misses a chance to drop in. He offers customers advice on which flowers smell freshest and claims he has never been "discovered."
This is one of the few men in captivity who is capable of driving past Secaucus, N.J., on the New Jersey Turnpike with the windows rolled down. One of the few who doesn't know a Winston from a Salem. Perhaps the only man who can tell his girl friend that her perfume looks great, and not insult her.
For those who call him Beaver, well, it's pure whimsy.Beavers, you see, have keen senses of smell.
This Beaver, an assistant buyer for the Hecht Company and a graduate business student at George Washington University, was born 23 years ago into a family of "real good smellers."
His parents first noticed his handicap "when I was 7 or something." Many things were tried by many doctors - removal of his adenoids, examinations of his nerves, all sorts of sprays and medicines. Finally, the medics decided Beaver had simply been born with incomplete olfactory nerves.
As a kid, "Yeah, I was teased, but I don't think it was all that profound. I'd always tell them 'Well, some people can't see and some people can't hear. It's definitely the best sense to lose.'
"I never really felt like I was missing so much. It's not like I cry in front of the mirrow and say, 'Oh, God, I'm a freak'."
In fact, Beaver's handicap, combined with his predilection for showmanship, has often made him a center of attention.
"Sympathy, it's like free," Beaver said. "I don't have to go out and break my leg in ten places."
He admits he plays up his handicap at times, but only in fun and seldom to total strangers. "I never write it down on job applications because I just can't imagine it being that important," Beaver said. "And I don't come up to people and say, 'Hi. How do you do? My name is Steven Halbreich and I can't smell.'"
Even those closest to Halbreich, including his parents, "are constantly forgetting. But they'll always apologize," Beaver said.
Smell is not the only one of Beaver's senses to have taken a vacation. He can taste in three broad categories - sweet, bitter and sour - but can't distinguish beyond that.
He would know an orange lollipop and a raspberry lollipop were both sweet, but he would not be able to tell them apart without looking.
"I wouldn't put ketchup in my coffee or anything like that," Beaver said. "I have put spoiled milk on my cereal because I couldn't smell it was spoiled or taste it was spoiled. But usually, if I can see it, I can taste it."
Not being able to smell has made Beaver a bit overcareful at home.
His two Bethesda housemates often walk in the front door and start gasping. Seems Beaver has spilled something, and rather than take chances, he has sprayed half a can of room freshener around. He can't tell how much is too much.
For much the same reason - trying to stay on the safe side - Beaver averages two showers a day. He claims he has never been told that he smells, and he proposes to keep things that way.
But, yes, he would like it if his nose suddenly sprang to life.
"I won't deny there are times I'd like to smell," he said. "Just to check it out. Just to see what it's all about. I'm the kind of guy who'll try anything once. Why not smelling?"
First on his list would be a rose, "because, you know, everyone always says how nice they smell. Roast beef would be number two. And incense. I'd really like to check out incense."
But Beaver worries that if he were granted a sense of smell tomorrow, "it might all be too much." He isn't sure he'd remember that turkey is turkey, or that yams are yams. "And what if I didn't like the way a rose smelled? Jeez!"
Still, he knows that's just so much pipedreaming. Steven Halbreich will never smell, but he has made the best of a bum deal, and has even grown to like it.
"What the heck," he says, with an impish smile, "if I wanted, I could be the first garbageman who never complained."