What’s that smell?

December 17, 2001

Things have been very hectic at work so no one has had time to play “What’s that smell?”

In fact, it’s been so long that I thought perhaps it had become a thing of the past.

Sadly, I was mistaken. I guess this is a sign things are slowing down a little.

Background: There’s something wonky about our HVAC system at work. At least once a week a very faint bad smell – sort of like sour milk – drifts through the building. It goes away fairly quickly, and it’s not overpowering.

Nevertheless, nearly every time the smell wafts through someone notices it and begins wandering around asking everyone else about the smell.

All work must stop while we go through the motions of a little performance piece I like to call “What’s that smell?” You only need 2 people to stage this piece, but 7-9 seems to provide an optimal cast.

Costuming and sets are at the discretion of the director.

“What’s that smell?”
“Do you smell that?”
“I don’t smell anything.”
“I smell something.”
“Wait…Yeah, I think I do.”
“What’s that smell? Do you smell it?”
“Is that sour milk?”
“Hey, why are you guys sniffing? Is the smell back?”
“I don’t smell it.”
“I smelled it last week.”
“This is a new smell.”
“No, I think it’s the same smell.”
“It seems different to me.”
“No. It smells like milk.”
“But it smells like maybe different milk.”
“Are you sure.”
“Yeah…No…now it seems different.”
“Different than last time?”
“No. Different than a minute ago.”
“It doesn’t smell as strong.”
“Do you think it’s going away?”
“What’s going away?”
“The smell.”
“I don’t smell anything.”
“Do you smell anything?”
“Does anyone smell that?”
“Should we call someone?”
“Do you think it’s coming from the airvent?”
“No. It’s not from the airvent.”
“Hey, do you smell that?”
“Yeah. It sort of smells. Do you think it smells?”
“I don’t think it’s coming from the airvent. It’s over here.”
“Isn’t that the airvent?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“I smell something. Do you smell something?”
“What IS that smell?”
“Should we call someone?”
“Does anyone smell something?”

Adults. Walking and sniffing. Sniffing and walking.

“It’s sort of like rancid milk.”
“It sort of smells like baby”
“Yeah. That old milk smell babies have.”
“Babies smell like old milk?”
“Why are you talking about baby smells?”
“Because it smells in here.”
“Does it?”
“Don’t you smell it?”
“Try sniffing over here.”
“Hey, you’re right. It smells. What is that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Should we call someone?”
“I don’t really smell it anymore.”
“It still smells over here.”

Are you picturing lots of people wandering around, sniffing the air? This is followed 10 minute debate about what it smells like. Consensus: sour milk. Every. Time.

The smell is usually long gone before the conversation ends.

Apparently, we’ve been playing “What’s that smell?” since the building was built. Over 20 years ago. And it’s the same people who get wound up about it every time.

Did I mention these are all actual snippets from real episodes of “What’s that smell?” that I’ve jotted down over the years? Because they are. Verbatim. Ad infinitum.