“Smelly cat, smelly cat
What are they feeding you?”
— Phoebe Buffay (a.k.a., Lisa Kudrow on “Friends”)
The other day my wife noticed that my winter boots smelled a lot like a litter box. This is noteworthy because at the time my wife made this observation, I was in the process of putting the boots on my feet.
“They do,” I agreed. “I think one of the cats sprayed them.”
She gave me the sort of look that mothers give their sons when they realize their little boy has just carved up the neighbors and put them in the freezer. She couldn’t believe that I was going to wear them. But I explained to her that:
They were dry.
It was January.
Moreover, these were the most comfortable winter boots I had ever owned, and they were broken in perfectly. I figured that the pungent aroma of sandbox would go away after a few days.
Well, I was wrong. The smell, if anything, got worse. A professional wrestler could have built a whole character around the boots: The Urinator, maybe. Or the Big Yellow Mist. I tried washing them, but the odor was infinitely more powerful than soap and water. And detergent. And bleach. Like the cockroach, this stench was going to survive a nuclear holocaust.
But — and this was no small point — as long as I was actually wearing the boots and had them tied tightly around my ankles, the serious stink was largely contained. The laces seemed to act like a cork. And so I continued to wear them, and they continued to keep my feet cozy and warm.
Sure, there were small problems. My wife asked me to store the boots outside on the porch when I wasn’t wearing them because otherwise the aroma tended to waft like mustard gas from the coat closet through every room in the house. This wasn’t just any spray that had soaked into the shoes: Apparently one of our cats was in reality a superhero crime-fighting feline who used his powerful scent to disable evildoers.
Either that or the cat was secretly a skunk.
In any case, placing the boots outside meant that I had to thaw them out before I dared put them on my feet.
I also noticed that sometimes while I was chatting with people on the sidewalk in Bristol — and one time in the Bristol Bakery itself — folks sniffed uncomfortably around me. But I simply looked at them and inhaled companionably, almost conspiratorially. I tried to suggest with my sniff that I smelled it, too, and whatever it was clearly had nothing to do with either of us.
I figured I could probably get another winter out of those boots. But then, alas, I met some friends one Saturday afternoon at the Dobra Tea House in Burlington. They had commandeered one of the Dobra’s elegant rooms behind beaded curtains where you sit on pillows on the floor … after removing your shoes. I knew I was in trouble. Not only was I going to have to uncork the boots and — like Pandora — set free the pain and sorrow and misery that afflicts all humanity, I was also going to be sitting at ground level with the boots. Was it really that bad? It was. I tried to suggest that the tea was especially acrid, but I was fooling no one. There is no tea on even the Dobra’s extensive menu that smells like a litter box.
And so, alas, the next time you see me on the street, my feet will be ensconced inside new boots. I doubt they will be as comfortable as my old ones, but at least my wife will let me keep them indoors when I’m not wearing them.
(Chris’s new novel, Hour of the Witch, was published in May 2021. This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press, January 29, 2006.)
“Smelly cat, smelly cat