Olfactory Terror at 36K Feet

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Christmas Day. The Crotch Bomber. Fruit of the Boom. It was in all the papers. Airline terrorists certainly pose a significant risk and have again captured our attention and justifiably so. Authorities are more vigilant than ever to screen, search and perhaps profile airline passengers for the next shoe, crotch and/or miscellaneous bomber.

But there's another type of terrorist that my wife and I encountered on a JetBlue flight from JFK to O'Hare. And it was simply beyond horrible.


We had paid for the relative luxury of more legroom by securing an exit row. Prime real estate on a flight. This was post Undie Bomber and everyone was on tenterhooks to a degree as you can understand. My wife and I were thoroughly questioned and quizzed as to our qualifications to sit in this most important and exclusive row: Were we over the age of 15, did we have a pulse and could we make a fist? We passed with flying colors and nestled into our seats.

After we settled in a rather nondescript young lady sat in front of me.

Everything was running on schedule as is the usual case with JetBlue, admittedly my favorite carrier. We were off to Chicago. On time.

"I didn't use my antiperspirant yesterday and may not today."

The Mitchum folks in that 70's ad never met Nurse Rancid.

When the young woman directly in front of me attempted to adjust her air vent, she lifted her right arm exposing her axilla to the waft of the air nozzle.

And then it hit me. And I wasn't the only one. A young lady directly across from Funkzilla looked at me repeatedly with a "Help me!" stare. My wife was hit a few times by the breeze of death. She didn't blink for days.

A stream of air hit her pit point blank and stirred up an organic blast of ... there are no words for it. "B.O." seems quaint. I, a self-styled logodaedalus, am at a loss for words to explicate what I experienced or limn the sensation of coming that close to what death must smell like. Maybe it was similar to what Chavez was describing when he addressed the U.N. in 2006 and suggested that "it smells of sulfur still today," referencing Bush. I don't know.

It wasn't just in Denmark.

This woman possessed a funk that was nonpareil in its fetidity. We're talking an eye-watering, throat-clearing, gag reflex-inducing organic weapon of mass destruction that hung in the air the entire trip like a net or fog. You could taste it. Two plus hours of airborne feculence. A rancid, oddly sweet, yet acrid blast of sheer malodorousness that beat hands-down anything I've smelt in my 51 years. In my prosecutor days I've been in and to morgues and got a good whiff of rotting humanity. I've been driven by New York City cab drivers whose collective funk stew was a mélange of every sulfuric stink agent you can image. Methanethiol with a dash of garlic, a hint of curry and a dollop of a rotteny cabbage. An aroma that's the result of sitting sticky in a hot car for twelve hours straight. I've experienced it all. I've even been to Camden.

But this niffy number was in a league of her own.

Her wool sweater acted as a putrescence wick. If a Gitmo detainee were made to snort her jumper, he'd scream for waterboarding. KSM would have sung instanter. It was that bad. She could smelt ore . . . the hard way, stop clocks and derail trains. Buzzards and maggots would rethink their menus. Do you sense the scent was not pleasant?

Grand Funk.

The alacritous flight attendant walked by and I summoned her quietly. I didn't want to cause a scene or embarrass the rotting carcass in 11C. I tried through a series of apparently ineffective and noncommunicative gesticulations and pantomime to indicate that either roadkill was being smuggled aboard or the passenger in front of me was decomposing. Nothing worked. Ms. JetBlue didn't understand. I used the universal PU (and I don't mean plutonium) thumb and forefinger pinch of the nose. I crossed my eyes à la Ben Turpin and mimicked gagging followed by unconsciousness. Finally Detective Columbo of the airways got what I was suggesting (or so I thought) and proceeded to mouth very deliberately and forcefully "Is it me?" whereupon she began to snort her own axillae to determine if she was indeed the culprit. No, I assured her, it was Johnny Rotten in front of me. The heavily-gelled and spiked attendant (think Kathy Griffin 30 face lifts ago) then asked if I wanted to move. What?! Move? From my luxe exit row? That I paid extra for? Was she out of her mind? Move?!

The miasmic melodrama.

This mephitic lass was a terrorist. I was downwind from an olfactory terrorist. And I was being asked if I wanted to move? This made no sense. The attendant should have either placed the High Priestess of Gamy in steerage or better yet the plane's hold where the rancid are kept. Why are the sensory pestilential tolerated? Had she been some rowdy inebriate they might have turned the plane around or emergency-landed. It's now called in the airline biz "Pulling an Ivana." And don't give me that rot that her rot might have been glandular or that there is a medical reason for mimicking a skunk. Furthermore, there are a lot of medical conditions that result in volumes of rancid gaseous output not to mention the projectile disorders. My point is, fine, leave your disorders and conditions and pH imbalances back in Termal 5.

The frowsty Fräulein had won. I was stuck. And while the noisome traveler was not a terrorist in the post-9/11 sense and didn't pose an immediate physical threat to the plane or its passengers directly, her rankness terrorized my nose and its owner.

It's about common scents.

Civility is dead in our country. No one cares about the comfort of others. We are discourteous and detached. Indifferent and inconvenienced. We're bombarded with boorish cell phoners, disengaged and seemingly somnambulistic texters who walk in the middle of traffic Tweeting. We talk during movies and let our unruly kids run wild and unherded.

Add to the litany of incivility indicia the rancid churl. The fetid chuff. And olfactory offenses can and often include the serial perfumer, usually the elderly lady who bathes in rose or lilac scented makeshift nerve gas. Think a Juarez whore on an off night. No wonder they call it toilet water.

Carrion, my wayward son.

Olfactory memory is eidetic though non-visual. Evolution has preferred "photographic" memory of smell. Especially the rancid. Have you ever suffered a bad oyster or anything less-than-comestible? You'll never make that mistake again, because you'll never forget that taste. That smell. It's branded in your brain as Zeus intended.

The criminally fusty are walking dirty bombs. And we should think nothing of informing them immediately that their rankness needs to be addressed. Throw 'em in a hazmat suit. Steam clean their pits (and I've deliberately refused to address any inguinal sources of eau de zoo that most certainly played a role in my discomfort and pre-emesis). I don't care. I was assaulted.

Thiol look alike.

I don't want these folks profiled. I want them sniffed and tossed if rank. I don't care if their name is Muhammad al-Blowthisplaneup and they're clad in a keffiyeh with an "I ♥ Arafat" button or if they're Skippy from Des Moines toting a Sarah Palin coloring book: If they stink, they're toast. Eighty-sixed. History. Elvis. Sayonara, adios. Call the ACLU. From a payphone. Over there. Just relocate downwind.

Olfactory terrorism is here and it must be stopped and no longer tolerated. It's serious and nothing to sniff at.