On December 13, 2023

The Movie Diary: Something smells funny


For reasons likely buried deep in my DNA, I have always had an acute sense of smell. While my other senses have been ravaged by time, my olfactory awareness has maintained a high-level status.

My mother also had a great sniffer, which posed considerable problems for me and my two brothers as she was always acutely aware when we were being deviant. As a high-schooler, I’d come through the door and within seconds she’d be commenting on the smoky waft emanating from my jacket. I’d then have to go into a long explanation about the bonfire I was at or the friend who smoked a cigarette in the car. (Because I would never do anything that involved smoking!)

My sense of smell was on high alert this past weekend at one of those big box bookstores that I wandered into looking for Christmas presents. I’m pretty much done my holiday shopping, but I’m always on the lookout for another worthy gift.

I traversed the store and came up empty handed, but then remembered that a magazine was always a good stocking stuffer, so I headed to that end of the building.

The magazine section of this store took up the entire end wall; it was possibly the largest conglomeration of magazines I’d ever seen. (Who says print is dead!)

I started at the lefthand side and began scanning the available periodicals. I was about 10 seconds into this process when I suddenly caught the first whiffs of a very off-putting smell. I scrunched up my nose as if to cleanse my nasal palate, and then continued. But the smell remained.

That’s when I scanned the people nearby. The only individual in close proximity was a young college-aged woman who was curled over a magazine on the bench in front of me. She didn’t appear to be dirty or particularly revolting, but nevertheless, I moved away.

I worked my way down the rack into the sports section and once again, caught wind of the same putrid smell. This time there was an elderly gentleman sitting close by. He wasn’t dressed that poorly, but his hair was a bit of a mangled mess, so I immediately attributed the distasteful smell to him and moved away.

However, I no sooner moved down the line of magazines when the smell became even stronger. Another individual was sitting there but since she had a large Starbucks drink in her hand, I assumed it couldn’t be her.

At this point, I was so put-off by the smell that I turned away from the magazine rack fully planning to leave. And that’s when I caught sight of what was assuredly the cause of the odor. 

Sitting nearby was an elderly woman, her gray hair in dreads, her clothing somewhat tattered. She was hunched over a magazine flipping through the pages. She could have easily been the sole cause of the smell but next to her was a baby carriage that contained two small, mangy-looking dogs. One dog peered up at me as I was scanning the scene; the other was on its back, dead asleep with all four paws in the air.

As soon as I realized that I was staring, I walked just far enough away to disguise my obvious voyeurism. I stood to the side of a nearby bookshelf and grabbed a book off the rack, pretending to be interested. I then proceeded to take in everything I could about the scene. 

People fascinate me, especially ones that are distinctly different—and this woman and her dogs certainly qualified as different. The air still smelled putrid but now that I knew the root cause, I was less concerned.

The woman paid little attention to her pups but instead was engrossed in her magazine. I caught a faint mutter coming from her lips. She was obviously in good spirits about something because her visage looked vibrant and jovial. I then noticed the magazine she was consumed with: it was a holiday issue from one of those home and garden periodicals. I watched her for a few more minutes and then walked away. 

For the rest of the day, I wondered what sort of memories were being conjured up from that magazine she was consumed with and what might have led to her turning away from all social norms.

In this week’s feature, “Leave the World Behind” starring Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke, we find a family on vacation who suddenly realize that the world is technologically breaking down and that all social norms are about to implode.

This was an interesting film with hints of M. Night Shyamalan. The acting was great, with the storyline being very contemporary in its intrigue. It’s obviously meant as a reflection on our current social and racial struggles, so if you’re sensitive to that, you may want to pass. Otherwise, it’s a lot of fun to consider.

A trippy “B” for “Leave the World Behind,” now available to stream on Netflix.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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