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The Scent of Madness

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

There was a time when I believed that I was possessed of a particularly keen sense of smell -- and because of my ultrasensitivity (I admit, up front, that this is the only form of sensitivity I've ever noticed in myself) I could, invariably, identify psychotics by their body odor alone! This sensation was so powerful that, when profoundly reality-challenged individuals were in close quarters with me, I often found it difficult to breathe.

Needless to say, this was a very useful ability in the sixties.

I wondered how this valuable atavistic skill, the ability to smell insanity, could have become so rare. Surely, it offered great survival advantages to anyone who had the gift of "second smell." It flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about Darwinian principles. Not being one of the crazies myself, I realized that I should keep this bizarre talent a secret (even in the sixties there was a low tolerance for pronouncements of this sort).

I decided to test my new-found super-powers.

It was truly amazing! Wacko after wacko was revealed in the bright light of smell-o-vision. I knew that our little town attracted more than its share of strange beings -- people who believed that all the great rock stars' faces could be found through close scrutiny of Italian Renaissance paintings, people who believed that the terms used by quantum physicists (strangeness, charm, etc.) reflected the emotional states of sub-atomic particles, people who believed that the our local river and the Nile were the only two rivers in the world that flowed north (and hence were sources of immense psychic power) -- you know the types -- but I was awed by the predictive power of my nose. Even more impressive was the sheer number of crazy people living in this fairly small town.

But, alas, the miracle was not to last.

My ability to perceive the characteristic reek did not fade. Nor was it a case of olfactory fatigue brought on by dwelling in this living museum of lunacy. No, my own researches led me to the source of this phenomenon. No, that's giving too much historical weight to the discovery -- I actually found the answer by accident. 

In the health food store, I chanced upon a little bottle, its cap slightly askew, an odd oily residue clinging to its sides. 


No -- patchouli.

All the craziest people in town wore it.

My sheltered life, in the dark little basement I called home, had protected me from the very knowledge of patchouli's existence. This missing fact had led to my grand delusion. 

Now, there may have been a case for an examination of the relationship between possession of an insufficient number of marbles and the urge to smear this foul-smelling stuff on one's person -- but, by then, like you gentle reader, I had lost interest in the whole thing.


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