Worst scent ever. Who thought of llama-musk deodorant? Who thought of beanie weenie personal spray? Who did this to our collective aromasphere? Were they maddened by the Powder Fresh vs. Thundergod miasma we’ve been stewing in, these many years?
In many Buddhist centers and other assorted sensitive places, anything but unscented is considered the worst scent ever. I forget and show up with my rose-and-geranium face cream, with my thundergod deodorant, and feel exposed. Do I hold my armpit hygiene to be more important than others’ well-being? Or am I the sort of person happy to develop her own, biological worst scent ever, in an effort to keep the space free of dangerous chemicals? There’s actually no winning. It doesn’t need to be llama-musk to be bad. It can be standard path-of-purification, and still send a blunt prow up the noses countless silent meditators everywhere.
Travel with only three shirts in a tropical climate where it rains all the time, and you are well on your way to cooking up the worst scent ever, as day after day you pull on shirts mostly – but not quite – dry from the previous afternoon’s washing. Some sort of rich composting takes place in the fibers of your clothes, some powerful alchemy of mold, muck, and hotel soap. Eventually you find a slender pearlized roll-on in a village shop. Now it’s worst-scent-ever, plus mango-tango, and the situation’s subjectively better. The tango has entropy-reversing properties. The shirts are still probably biohazards, but now there’s an overlay of grooming that lands someplace valiant and busy. You’ve spent money on this project, and so from your perspective, it’s no longer a straight slide into irreparable decay.
The worst scent ever is sidewalk-crushed ginkgo berry.
The worst scent ever is the first flush of two dogs skunked in the face by the same fuzzy assassin.
Something died here, but I can’t find it.
It blows over and comes back.
Sniff Elliot’s head, and depending on the day, you might find pink SweetTarts, old skunk, fritos, or sunlight. Elliot’s scent is rarely the worst ever. Sniff Chloe’s head, and you’ll find something a bit more primordial: fox turds, peat, urine of wild animals, moose-breath, and bark. Chloe’s scent isn’t the worst ever, but you won’t find Unilever or Dior working diligently to synthesize it, either.
Scratch and sniff. Those matte, inch-wide stickers were a base magic of my childhood. I don’t remember learning where or how they were bought and sold – for me, they just appeared at the doctor’s office or on friends’ notebooks. Watermelon. Peanut butter. Peach. I found them all intoxicating, mysterious, evocative of the same hypersensual universe from which bubble gum flavors and shiny Trapper Keepers emanated. There was the world that yielded meatloaf and whole-wheat bread, and then there was the scented, glittery, saturated realm that sometimes breached my mom’s defenses of good health and good taste to come find me. Some children seemed to live almost 100% in that state. Their superhero lunch boxes were its diplomatic suitcases. Their brightly colored shoes and hair-ties were its regalia.
Meanwhile there were brown things to be eaten. Meanwhile there were beige corduroys. Meanwhile TV was for Nova, not Wonder Woman. I bided my time.
Here are some of the shoes I have subsequently bought or worn in attempts to become a citizen of the scratch-and-sniff, fluorescent-legwarmer universe:
Maybe in truth the worst scent ever is the smell of striving to be what we are not. At the moment, my feet are still cold from my morning snow-romp with the dogs, even though they are stuffed into fake-shearling boots with real-shearling insoles. I know my pointer-toe on the right foot is probably white right now, but I’m not pretending anything more inspiring is going on. I’ve worn these knee-high socks for the past few days, and I’m pretty sure they’re at a comfortable no-stink. No stink of extra effort. No stink of neglect.
The Zens, who have a lot of pungent expressions, sometimes accuse one another of stinking of Zen. What exactly this means probably varies from case to case. Are you on such an austerity kick that you’re bathing once a month? Stink. Are you convinced that beating your ego into submission is going to trigger the emergence of some transcendent butterfly of awakening? Worst scent ever. Are you boring others with tales of the Great Meditators? Pee-ew! Stinking of Zen is something that can actually be accomplished from within any belief system. You can stink of Catholicism, Republicanism, progressivism, parenting, social justice, and just about anything else you pick up in desperate hope of keeping others off the jackal reek of your own self-loathing.
Have you ever smelled durian? People like to go on about either how gnarly it is, or how refined. To me, it’s just sort of comforting, like stinky cheese, and I love the way you have to crack through the fruit’s armored casing to get to the soft, slippery, sweet camembert inside. That particular worst scent ever is a reminder of what all our bodies are, and thus, a gift.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now