The Man Who Sniffed Meaning Like Dog

It didn't take long for John's parents to realize he wasn't a normal child. Before his first taste of mother's milk his nostrils spread double the normal size, and to the amazement of everyone attending, he took a long deep breath, like a sigh, and only then began his first meal, and when he cried, it was more of a howl than a cry.

It wasn't long after he became a toddler before John's mother brought him to the pediatrician. Anything in the house that had the slightest smell, John would find, and sit and sniff like the family dog. He did not place these objects in his mouth, like other children, but from the time he was able to crawl, he would sit taking in the rich smells of his favorites, his parents partially soiled socks.

Though the medical technology at the time did not exist to accurately map the workings of the brain, the pediatrician came up with a theory that the part of the brain, the 85% that most people only use when dreaming during sleep, was fully awake in him, and reaching back to our animal ancestors, it was the seat of an incredible sense of smell, equal to that of any dog. In truth, the cerebrum evolved from the center of the sense of smell, and what we have gained in thought, we lost in smell. Somehow, John had reawoken this ability. Everything else in him was normal, except that he dreamt in smells rather than in images or words.

Proud of his special talent, his parents tried to ensure that he would have as normal a childhood as possible. There were occasions when his mother or father would have to take him aside, and explain, that in spite of his exceptional abilities, he needed to use discretion; while dogs too can smell who has been in close proximity with whom, or who might not have bathed, dogs did not have the ability to speak, and did not share what they had discerned. It was up to him to learn good manners.

In time he devised clever tricks, like dropping a key, to have the chance to bend over and discretely smell the essence of a person when meeting for the first time, without resorting to the more direct methods of his canine counterparts.

And thus, as his parents did not repress, but encouraged his talent, helping him hone it into a skill, by the time he was 18, he was the equal to any master sommelier at not only the grape and vintage, but savoring the unique odors of those who had made the wine. His cooking skills excelled. Everyone marveled at the exacting balance of sweet, sour, salt, deep, and bitter, with a masterful hand at blending spices that brought the natural flavor of the food to the fore.

Moving to the city at the age of majority, he faced the first real trials of his young life. Disoriented, it took months until he wasn’t overwhelmed by the noxious smells of diesel, dioxin, and the normally imperceptible smell of Teflon™ floating in the air, everywhere. In time his mind learned to disregard those smells in the same way more ordinary minds learn not to hear the constant noise of traffic.

On a visit to San Francisco, during the earthquake of 89, he was compelled to help rescue those buried in the rubble, and amazed his fellow volunteers with his unerring ability to find survivors, and know exactly what was wrong with them. From this experience, he found his calling, Medicine. He entered the NYU School of Medicine. A short time after his graduation, he became famous for his ability to diagnose, in the same way some dogs have proven to be more accurate than an MRI at smelling cancer early.

Over the next decade he built a strong practice, popular both for his ability to diagnose, and for his warm, enthusiastic, and optimistic bedside manner.

One week into his 35th year, he was walking in a farmer’s market near his apartment, inhaling organic smells to mask the stinging, acrid, chemical smells of the city. From a thousand steps away, at the other end of the market, a glorious scent wafted towards his nose, filling first the edges of his nostrils, expanding into the tissue within, rising up into his eyes, rounding them with exquisite pleasure, rolling towards the back of the nose into the brain, then trickling down the back of the head until it encircled and embraced his heart, and he fell into a swoon.

They were married 3 months later, and had 3 children, none of who inherited his unique talents.

45691 views and 2 responses

  • Dec 27 2010, 9:20 AM Dan Strongin responded: How would we think differently if we used our sense of smell as we do our vision and hearing?
  • Dec 27 2010, 2:34 PM Dibyendu De responded: I loved this. A very humorous and imaginative piece of characterization. The idea of substituting one sense for the other was a clever one. The story highlights an important aspect of our thinking. Our subconscious mind is so strong but we hardly ever use it effectively. The conscious mind that we use is not only so small compared to the subconscious one but also relatively powerless. Yet, we don't think of how to use the subconscious mind to help us in our lives. Tapping into the subconscious is the precise challenge for better living.

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Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.