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What foods do celebrities really smell like?  Most people are familiar with the apocryphal legends of yesterday’s food-scented notables.  Dan Blocker, who played Hoss on television’s long-running hit show Bonanza, was well known for smelling like a tender beef brisket—marinated, dry-rubbed, and slow-smoked at low temperature for fourteen hours, Aggie-style.

Jazz singer Bing Crosby purportedly had the distinct natural scent of roast Long Island duckling l’orange. In Bing’s case, it was the blythe, buoyant fragrance of a duck that had been immersed in boiling water just before roasting, to loosen the skin and allow it to crisp up in the oven. Scraping the excess fat off of the duck’s skin with a sharp knife and roasting it on an elevated rack would have made him smell even crispier. The orange sauce undertones were attributed to his having spent time on his many  California citrus orchards, merged with the slight balsamic vinegar scent of aging kidneys (his renal arteries were calcified).

Blurry popular music thing Madonna is said to smell so much like peanut butter that small rodents—like mice, or voles—will come out of hiding just to lick her.

But do our cultural overlords always smell like the foods that people think they smell like? Not according to the many reports we hear from those close to them.

Most people assume exalted rock piano marvel Sir Elton John—flaunting, inflated, orotund and pontifical—smells like pan-fried oysters, the oysters being the stately Hood Canal variety, born in the fervent effluvium of Puget Sound, yet far from the heroin-and-pee-stained waters of Seattle, to the east. They’re dipped in raw egg and then dredged in saltine cracker crumbs before being gingerly annexed to a torrid sauté pan with maybe a quarter inch of oil in it. Just brown them a little on the outside, maybe three minutes per side, and then plate them up with some homemade ranch dressing—that’s mayonnaise, onion or garlic powder, a pinch of dried parsley flakes and a splash of milk. That’s all there is to ranch.

But that just isn’t the case, according to some of Elton’s many nephews and friends. Surprisingly, his actual odor is described as most like a classic Woolworth’s lunch counter cheeseburger,  the burger a hand-formed 1/3 pound ingot of 80/20 beef cooked to order on a flattop grill and veiled in American cheese, the bun grilled in the excess hamburger grease and served with the standard lettuce, tomato, pickle, and classic cut French fries.  The smell is credited to a combination of hair dye, lisinopril poppers, and John’s peculiar penchant for sleeping naked on a naugahyde sofa.

It was long assumed that professional actor Tom Cruise smelled like chiles rellenos smothered in chile verde and topped with sharp cheddar, then baked. You could use Anaheim chiles for the rellenos, but an action movie star guy like Cruise would naturally prefer smelling like the traditional and more potent Poblano. But, wait!—It doesn’t even matter,  because Tom doesn’t really smell like chiles rellenos at all; he actually smells like a TV Dinner, of all things, according to his former love interest Megan or something...maybe Amber? She recently described dimpled dazzler Cruise as having the brazen, balmy bouquet of an archetypal Swanson Frozen Turkey Dinner, the kind that came with a cherry cobbler in the top middle section of the shiny aluminum pan. Cruise himself has jabbered gleefully about his daily swim in a chlorinated swimming pool, and how it helped his athlete’s foot problem, and how it has contributed to his smelling like “Mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes with lots of butter and some half and half, and just salt and white pepper. And that damned cherry cobbler, too. It’s all a part of me!”

Like a fierce lion that the whole country-side has met to hunt and kill—at first he bodes no ill, but when some daring youth has struck him with a spear, he crouches openmouthed, his jaws foam, he roars with fury, he lashes his tail from side to side about his ribs and loins, and glares as he springs straight before him, to find out whether he is to slay, or be slain among the foremost of his foes—even with such fury is the daily harangue of late-night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel.  His dear friend the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, once described their first meeting thusly: “...when I first saw him, you know, I’m thinking he must smell like dried ketchup. You know, those little containers of ketchup you get from fast food places, and they sit in your car for a long time...and those little Taco Bell sauce things...well, that’s what I expected. But I was wrong, my friend, because, you see, Jimmy actually smelled like Okonomiyaki. And I mean the really good stuff from Kyoto or Osaka, not that runny kind they make in Tokyo. But there was this one place, in Ginza near the old Nikatsu Arcade, that made great Okonomiyaki, and they would add little things to it if you asked, like octopus or unagi.  That’s how you need to be treating other people, you see. Because Jimmy is...symbolic—to me anyway—of a smell of, of unity, of oneness, of...of a kind of inner, inner...” just on and on, and then his voice got lower, and trailed off after awhile, and he fell into a deep trance-like sleep.

Nor is this phenomenon viewed the same way in every country. In the UK, shiny-eyed companionista Jenna Coleman is thought to have the fragrance of maaluba, the vivacious and unrestrained middle eastern casserole, at once dauntless and succulent, yet elusive and inconspicuous in many ways, with a piquant sapor and a lithe, almost feline manner of slinking off the plate and through the digestive system. Lamb, tomatoes, the regal eggplant or the befuddling cauliflower, and rice are layered in a pot which, when ready, is inverted onto a serving plate, and—hey presto!—you have the common man’s mensef, with tendrils of savory steam rising like Alcestis from the grave.

But in North Korea, after an internet hoax spread like Ebola through the land, many cling unambiguously to the belief that Coleman smells like Jwi Supeu, the timeless North Korean winter tradition made of field mice and grass in a light, clear broth.  There are even fan clubs dedicated to her scent, and it was the subject of one of the latest hits by Kim Chi, the nations’s most popular K-Pop girl group. All of this is most unusual in a country where even farting is strictly regulated.

Yet, once again we see that truth is really stranger than Ebola, as Jenna herself admits to having, since the age of eleven, the aroma of canned kippered herring. The smoked kippers are removed from the can and lightly sautéed with a dollop of cream and a shot of brandy or cognac or whatever is handy, and it’s perfectly proper to add the slightest pinch of dill or tarragon. Served with eggs, potatoes and toast, and strong coffee, Jenna smells like an altogether vibrant, soulful and intense weekend breakfast— but don’t add beans or stewed tomatoes, because this lady does not smell like that.

So, then, what does all of this mean? It certainly lends credence to an old adage: that when we assume, we make a sum of as+e, and that surely must be equal to something. Or how about as(e), where A is appetite, S is stomach, and E is eating? It still doesn’t make any sense, and hints at one of the major flaws in mathematics— that the subjective nature of ‘things’ makes quantifying them utterly futile.  And that futility is evident in the way that we smell—or think we smell—those plucky few who have risen above the cesspool of our paltry, wretched matrix existence to live fulfilling lives in our stead,  allowing us to watch and to sniff and, perhaps, to dream of a day when other mortals try to imagine what kinds of foods we smell like.

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