In 2010 the excellent, Chicago-based arts journal Make Magazine commemorated its fifth birthday by asking former contributors to submit very short pieces on the theme of “five.” Since my contributions to Make‘s second issue were two essays on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (which also marked a five-year milestone in 2010), it seemed appropriate to revisit the subject.


People say I smell of bleach. Me, I can’t smell it. I’ve been working with cleaners for so long I can’t smell much of anything anymore. Chemicals burnt all the little hairs in my nose down to nothing long ago. But I still smell this place every day.

It’s hard to describe. Not quite a smell of sickness or filth or even death. Just a smell of … people. Humans. For five years I’ve been doing everything I know how to do to wipe it out. Poured gallons of bleach, sprayed whole cases of Lysol, wore a dozen mops down to the stick. Nothing kills it.

People say they can’t smell it. They say it’s in my head, that five years is long enough to kill off any lingering odor. They even say the place smells fresh and new ever since they hung that fancy new banner last winter. They can say what they want. I still smell it. Some days it’s barely detectable, and I imagine it’s finally going away for good. Other days it’s the only thing I can smell.

People say I smell of bleach. Me, I can’t smell it, but sometimes I wish like hell I could.

Originally published in Make Magazine, Issue 10, Fall/Winter 2010/11

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