I must admit, when I read this recent news item about an unfortunately abandoned meat processing factory in South Dakota...
44 tons of rotting meat stink up S.D. town
[The] 44 tons of bison meat managed to hold its own for months, masked by the brutal chill of two South Dakota winters. Once the power was cut and spring thaw arrived, nature took over. And enough rotting meat to fill a high school gym did exactly what you'd expect: It stank.
The mayor said he spent two tours of duty in Vietnam and could not recall smelling anything as bad.
...I was more than a little thrown by the little hints of horror my imagination was able to muster. But after just a few moments of reflection, I decided that while I don't envy the poor saps who had to clean up this place, it wouldn't be a totally new experience for me, for several reasons.
Here are just a few of the things I've been lucky enough to smell that were more nauseating than this place would be:
1. A swollen ball of a disposable diaper that was somehow accidentally disposed under the radiator for a couple days. This one had a few sequels, which says a lot about our tenacious laziness and sloppiness.
2. The parking garage staircase at the CTA Howard Station on a hot summer day. If they leave the door closed for more than 10 minutes, I'm pretty sure the handle starts melting, threatening to trap everyone inside. That's the only reason I can think that they usually have it propped open. Because they obviously don't much care about the smell.
3. The first burst of gas upon opening any one of the 15,000 sippy cups the kids have left somewhere to miraculously change chocolate milk to chocolate cheese in a mere matter of days.* Eat that, Jesus!
4. The emergency exit hallway at a movie theater where I worked years ago, due to years of overflowing garbage cans being left there all day during busy weekends. The rancid residue of years of the unique mixture that is Movie Theater Garbage is much more potent than you would imagine, possibly because it's not an obviously objectionable smell that you would brace yourself for before encountering.
So you get it with both barrels, assaulted on every flavor-wavelength at once and confused beyond measure at what could be doing this to your brain. Burnt popcorn soaked in fermented Coke syrup chased by a touch of vomit and many rotten stubs of hot dogs that weren't exactly fresh to start with... I never could wrap my head around what the star player would be in this sum so much greater than its parts.
I know I could go on, but it seems my brain has been doing its best to protect me from my own memories. While brainstorming throughly to come up with contenders for this list, I was repeatedly able to taste little morsels of olfactory pain without recalling its source or the time and place of my trauma. I saw numerous flashes of myself writhing in agony, wincing away from diapers and dumpsters, burying my face in my shirt and arming myself with thick gloves.
So, what I mean to say is, with a bit of therapy, I can definitely pump this list up to at least 11. Then maybe after that catharsis, I'll sleep through the night without The Nightmares. Oh, The Nightmares.
* Or, in a tiny handful of bizarre cases, a matter of weeks.