Humor by Dave Barry

The United States is developing an Odor Bomb.

"Why?" you are saying. "Don't we already have New Jersey?"

Fine, make your little jokes. But this happens to be a serious matter of national security. According to news items sent in by several alert readers, the Department of Defense has asked scientists to develop an odor that is repulsive to all humans, regardless of culture. This odor could be used by the military to harmlessly clear people out of a given area.

On the other hand, it would attract dogs. The more disgusting something smells, the more a dog wants to take a hearty whiff. I recall one time when I was home playing host to a hostile stomach virus, and I suddenly had an urgent need to (as we used to say in college) talk to Ralph on the big white phone. I made it as far as the hallway before I went down on all fours and released most of my bodily contents, including, I am pretty sure, my spleen. It was beyond repulsive, but it caused my dog, Earnest, to go into a state of wild dog elation, vibrating with happiness and barking joyfully into my right ear, as if to say: "THIS is the best Christmas EVER!!"

So the Odor Bomb would not be effective against dogs. But it would definitely work on humans. I know this, because I was present, decades ago, at a historic demonstration of the power of stink. This was in 1962, when my class at Harold C. Crittenden Junior High School of Armonk, N.Y., took the annual 9th-grade class trip to the Boston area. This included Salem, Mass., where we toured the House of the Seven Gables, the setting for the book by the prominent boring author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

As you recall (SURE you do), the house contains a secret passageway. While my class was tromping through this passageway, one student -- whom I will refer to here as "Clifford," because his name was Clifford -- released a MAJOR odor. One theory was that it was a stink bomb that Clifford had purchased from the famous Jack's Joke Shop in Boston.

Another theory was that it was organically produced by Clifford, who had a gift for that kind of thing. Whatever it was, it smelled so bad that they had to evacuate the entire house, including all seven gables. That was the last Boston class trip ever taken by students from Harold C. Crittenden Junior High. So let me just say, on behalf of my classmates, by way of sincere apology to all the succeeding classes: Neener neener.

But my point is that the Pentagon's Odor Bomb concept is theoretically sound. According to National Geographic Today, odor scientists are studying a mixture of aromas from "vomit, human waste, body odors, burnt hair, and rotting garbage." The scientists report that when volunteers sniff this mixture, they -- prepare for a startling scientific finding -- do not care for it.

Perhaps some day, our troops will use such an odor to force the enemy to flee an area. If that doesn't work, we'll escalate to less-humane weapons, such as videos of the "comedian" Carrot Top.

But here's what has me worried about odor weapons: OTHER COUNTRIES MAY ALREADY BE AHEAD OF US. I say this because of two alarming foreign products brought to my attention by alert reader Tom Lemley, who sent me empty containers for these products, which I swear I am not making up.

One product is called "Drastic Toilet Air." It comes in a spray can, on which the only English words are "Drastic Toilet Air," "New," and "Produced by Johnson Wax Egypt." The other words are in a foreign language, so we don't know whether this product is supposed to combat drastic toilet air, or -- this is what scares me -- it actually IS drastic toilet air, which could be a powerful weapon, in addition to an excellent name for a rock band.

The other product is an Iranian laundry detergent called: "Barf." Right on the box, in big red letters, it says: "Barf." It also says: "To obtain best result, soak very dirty clothes in a solution of Barf for a few minutes and then proceed normally."

I'm sorry, but I don't see how we, as a nation, can "proceed normally" knowing that the Iranians have Barf, and the Egyptians have Drastic Toilet Air. The logical question is: What does Iraq have? I hate to be an alarmist, but neither I, nor anybody I know, has any idea what ever became of Clifford.

This column was originally published April 7, 2002.

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