August 2006

Uncommon scents

By David Feela

We’d gone to bed, blithely unaware that our property was being cased. You’d think we’d have heard something but usually we’re deep sleepers, especially when the summer’s hot and a cool breeze finally works its way through an open window. I assume the culprit wore black, like most of them do, and I also suspect it made little difference whether we were or were not at home. We slept right through it.

The next morning it was clear we’d been hit: The house stunk, an odor no one mistakes. With my head under the pillow, I sang a muffled version of that Lauden Wainwright golden oldie, “Dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinking to high heaven.”

Then I jumped out of bed, opening every window and door, knowing that it would probably get worse before it got better. It got worse. The odor took over the whole house, as if the white stripe of morning had landed squarely on the back of the night and we were living under its great belly.

I can officially report that there’s little reliable information about skunks, especially if you rely on your neighbors. What I heard recounted as surefire methods sounded worth trying, though you have to remember I was desperate. For example, a lady informed me if you wash a dog with tomato juice (and just a dash of Worcester sauce) it will eliminate a skunk’s odor. Unfortunately, I don’t own a dog, and it would be silly to wash the entire house in tomato juice. I did the next best thing: I thanked her and went back to a stinky house. Then I poured myself a glass of tomato juice, added some vodka, and hoped the remedy would at least stop the odor from permeating my insides.

Outside the house I could tell, with my own nose, that the strongest odor came from the front porch. I hooked up the hose and did my own spraying. I figured the best remedy had to be hair of the skunk that hit you.

But the odor wouldn’t go away. When we closed the house, it smelled as if the skunk was trapped inside; if we opened the doors, the odor wafted through. I suspected the skunk had taken up residence under the trailer, a space in which I have nightmares about crawling around.

By far the most popular answer to the question, How do you get rid of a skunk? was, Shoot it. But you can’t shoot what you can’t see, and even if I owned U.S. Military infrared goggles and odor-seeking bullets, I’m a terrible killer. A local farmer’s supply store offered to sell me a live trap, but they weren’t too keen on taking the trap back once I got it filled.

Then someone suggested mothballs – someone whose face I can’t remember, and I wish I could, because I still have two pounds of mothballs I’d like to give away. According to my source, skunks can’t tolerate the smell of mothballs. So I purchased an economysized box and instead of crawling under the trailer, I opened the access hatch and tossed handful after handful of mothballs in every conceivable direction. As it turned out, humans can’t tolerate the smell of mothballs either.

For two days I fluttered around the house like a moth trapped in my grandmother’s attic. I couldn’t decide which was worse, the skunk or the m o t h b a l l s . Finally, we c o u l d n ’ t stand it and I c r a w l e d under the trailer with a flashlight to gather each mothball and place it in a Ziplock bag – a kind of toxic Easter-egg hunt, with an illusive skunk for a bunny.

Now we live in a house with only a subtle, blended odor of... dare I say it?... skunkballs. Naturally, we sleep in the camping trailer parked in the driveway. The air is getting better, really. And if you have any other suggestions, please keep them to yourself.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.