Stinkin’ Heater

I’ve woken up to a lot of bad smells.

Now, that’s no comment on the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation. But there have been plenty of odors in my life – the cement plant behind my house when I was a kid, the diaper pail when I was Mr. Mom, even the smell of chemicals when the city sprays for mosquitoes overnight. But this smell …

It could best be described as rich.

I’m a deep sleeper. It’s as hard to drag me out of sleep as it might be to wake a college kid home for Christmas break. But this odor hit my nose just right, and with just the right amount of clinging stench.

It smelled like a skunk. But how could it be? I was inside. The doors were locked. It was winter, so the windows were closed. And the smell seemed to be coming from the heating vent.

I shook my head, rubbed my eyes, and leaned closer to the vent. My eyes started burning.

Oh, yeah. Skunk.

About that time, the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation stared at me and said, “What did you eat?”

“It wasn’t me,” I said. “It’s the heater.”

She tried to arch an eyebrow. “I’ve heard it called a lot of things, but never ‘the heater.’”

I pointed at the offending vent. “Check it out for yourself.”

About that time, my youngest daughter, who’s in college but should still be five years old, wandered into the room and said, “Hey, my room smells like a skunk.”

“See? It’s not me.” I may have added a self-satisfied, “Humph.”

“OK,” said the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation. “Then what’s causing it?”

We all just stood there and tried not to breathe too deeply. The smell was thickening.
The one who should still be five said, “Could it be some kind of gas?”

The lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation glanced at me again and tried to arch her other eyebrow. She failed.

“Well, it is a gas heater, but gas doesn’t smell like that,” I said, gasping slightly. “Nothing does.”

“Carbon dioxide?” asked the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation.

“I think carbon dioxide is odorless,” I said, gagging a little more. It was like a solar flare, only with stink. “But you can’t be too sure.”

I grabbed my phone and starting checking the internet for possible causes of a skunk smell in your heater. It turned out that the source could be a skunk outside your open window. Or trolling in your basement. Or actually inside your heater.

How was I supposed to check that? I’m not even sure where the pilot light is.

“Maybe we should look outside,” said the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation. “We did put out the trash and recycling tonight.”

So we checked outside. We live in a lovely, older, two-story townhouse with about seven neighbors spread over two buildings, and the smell smacked us upside the head. Oddly, though, it smelled just as bad inside the townhouse.

“How could it smell that bad inside, too?” I asked. “Do you think the skunk’s really in our furnace?”

The one who should be five rolled her eyes at me. “How would the smell get outside, Dad?”

“I don’t know. How did it get in?”

Then I noticed that the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation was missing. She was either off investigating, or the smell melted her into a puddle of goo.

Now, there’s something you need to understand about her. She loves animals. Not in the, “Oh, look, the puppy is cute!” kind of way. She’s hard core. Her favorite place is the zoo. She talks to the animals like they’re dear friends. Online, she watches live camera links to bears in the wild, puppies being born and raised, pandas shoving each other off platforms, and countless other cameras that run the gamut of the animal kingdom. You might even classify her as nature’s stalker. So if she actually saw a skunk, she’d be tempted to hug it, squeeze it, and name it.

But while there was no sign of the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation, there was still the clinging odor of a really pissed-off skunk.

“This smell brings back memories,” I said.

“Come on, Dad, your biscuits aren’t that bad,” said the one who should be five.

“I’m not talking about my biscuits,” I said. “I’m talking about a camping trip when I was a kid. There was an animal sniffing around our tent, so my dad decided to play hero and go check it out. Mom tried to stop him, but there was no reasoning with him.”

“That apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” muttered the one who should be five.

I decided to ignore that. “Predictably, the animal was a skunk, and Dad decided that he should scare it away. So he yelled at it, and it sprayed at him, and then he yelled again. Direct hit.” I shook my head. “He got pretty made when Mom wouldn’t let him back in the tent.”

That’s when the lovely woman who joins me in cohabitation hurried around the corner.

“I saw them!” she said, scurrying past.

“Them? What do you mean by, ‘Them?’” I asked. “And where are you going?”

“They’re by the trash,” she called over her shoulder. “Someone left a couple of bags on the ground, and they’re tearing through them. I want to get a closer look!”

And then she was gone around another corner. It was like my Dad all over again.

The one who should be five sighed. “So, is it tomato juice that we’ll need to get the smell off of her?”

“Could be,” I said as we headed back inside. “I can look it up on my phone. In the meantime, you should probably lock the door.”

(C.W. Grody is the author of 13 books. His latest book, Since Before You Were Born, is a collection of humorous stories based on his childhood. It’s available here: He’s also published hundreds of articles in national magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Sport, and Boys Life.)

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