Humor Non-Fiction posted December 3, 2023

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Unenviable traits

Wife and Daughter's Superpowers

by Jim Wile

“What is that horrible smell?” asked my wife as she came into the kitchen one evening.

I sniffed my pits. Ugh!

“Sorry. I’ve been sweating away in this hot kitchen all afternoon making dinner.”

“I didn’t want to insult you, but I meant that other horrible smell. I think something’s burning.”

“Thanks a million for not insulting me.”

Of course, when I opened up the oven, the parsnips were just starting to brown nicely, but I guess it was about time to take them out before they went much further. Who needs a timer or an oven thermometer when I’ve got my wife to smell when the food is done? She’s pretty incredible that way.

But there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Just as I described her as being a supertaster in a previous essay, I would also describe her as a supersmeller. I’m guessing that, like a supertaster, who has twice as many taste buds as the average person, she probably also has twice as many scent receptors as the average person, if not a lot more. I would say she’s closer to a bloodhound than a person in her ability to smell odors. But unlike bloodhounds, or any dog for that matter, who seem to enjoy all manner of smells—including other dogs’ butts—my wife does not. Not only does she dislike smelling butts, but she can’t even stand smelling something as innocuous as tuna fish.

Now, I like tuna fish, but here’s what I have to do whenever I get the desire to make a tuna salad sandwich. After opening the can with a can opener, I have to wash that off thoroughly in warm, soapy water. After draining the can in the sink, I empty the contents into the mixing bowl, then rinse out the can and the top. I put the empty can and top in a seal-top plastic bag and bury it deep under the garbage in the kitchen garbage can. Then I must wash the sink out with cleanser and run the disposal for 10 minutes. After that, I go and take a hot shower, using plenty of soap and shampoo, and put on fresh clothes. (Actually, I’ve streamlined this lately by removing all my clothes in advance and making the tuna salad in the raw. Some say that’s a cure for writer’s block too, but I’m skeptical.)

Despite all that, more often than not, when she enters the house three rooms away from the kitchen, she’ll say, “You made tuna salad today, didn’t you?” Needless to say, I don’t make tuna salad very often.

The other day, she asked me if I could get the hose down from the attic, where it was drained and neatly coiled for the winter. “Why?” I asked her.

“So I can wash out the garbage bin.”

“Why?” I asked her again.

“Because it stinks.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I opened the lid and sniffed it.”

“Why?” I asked her yet again.

“To see if it stinks.”

“But if you hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t have known. Who sniffs a garbage bin to see if it stinks? That’s like going to the doctor complaining of headaches and saying, ‘My head hurts when I knock it against the wall.’ Besides, is it that beyond the pale for a garbage bin to stink a little?”

“Please?” she asked again, coyly. She was so cute about it; how could I refuse her?

It seems like half of her day she is engaged in activities to eliminate stinks, which I can’t even smell. And yet, there are certain smells that I find highly objectionable that don’t bother her at all—like the smell of a sweet potato that she bakes in the microwave. I can’t stand that smell, which seems to linger for days, but she doesn’t mind it.

I wouldn’t wish this affliction of being a supersmeller on anyone. I don’t think it enables her to enjoy good smells any more than other people, but she sure smells smells she thinks stink more than most. (Try saying that last part five times fast.)

I think my daughter’s superpower is even worse, though. She is a superhearer. The official word for this condition is misophonia, and it’s characterized by an extreme dislike for normal noises people make in the process of living. I don’t mean just gross sounds either, like farting and belching, but things like sniffing, throat clearing, soup slurping, chewing, finger drumming, a clock ticking, paper rustling, or water dripping will drive her up a wall. (We’ve got the tire marks to prove it!)
And she hears them, no matter how quiet they might be. I mean, come on! A clock ticking? She only has tickless clocks in her house. Did you know there’s an option to turn the sounds off on a microwave oven? She doesn’t even want to hear the keys beep when she presses them. But this also turns off all sounds, including the alarm, notifying you that the food is done heating. To her, that’s a small price to pay.

She kept waking up late because she had turned the sound down too low on her alarm clock. Luckily, she doesn’t need an alarm clock anymore; her cat wakes her up at 7:00 AM every morning by stepping on her face and biting her nose. She wakes up and feeds the cat then, but I’m a little miffed; cats can be noisy eaters, but she never tells the cat to chew with her mouth closed!

When my daughter was little, I developed a post-nasal drip condition, and she insisted that I go see the doctor about it because I tended to sniff a lot. He prescribed a medicine that I take to this day, so I’m thankful to her for that one, but she didn’t suggest it from the goodness of her heart so that I wouldn’t suffer, but only because it bothered her.

She calls us once a week on Sunday nights, and when we hear the phone ring, I immediately go into a different room, blow my nose, and clear my throat a few times so that I won’t have to do it while talking to her. I’m kind of scared of her. When in her company, she tries to be polite about it, and if I sniff once or twice, she’ll ask if she can get me a tissue. I no longer eat soup in her presence. In fact, I try not to eat at all in her presence, which makes having a meal with her problematic. If I’m just starving, though, I’ll ask her to put on headphones.

As superpowers go, the women in my family have no great advantage over the rest of us. As with most things, I’m all for moderation. Well, except maybe for ice cream, Toll House cookies, and sex in that order.


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