Earlier this week, I walked into the luxurious offices here at the newspaper and stopped short. Someone had been warming up their lunch in the company gourmet kitchen, specifically the oven that works with microwaves. The high-class odor was some sort of nacho topping — probably refried beans from the 50s and a little Velveeta. And it smelled quite badly. My office is not close to the kitchen, and the fumes were somewhat overwhelming. Now, I’m not one to complain about smelly odors that often, but this time I had to mouth off about it for a while until I found the culprit (who smelled just like the foul contents of the microwave.) For the next few hours I tried to ignore the stench that hung in the air, occasionally stepping outside to clear my head. As the office began to clear, I started thinking of what it should smell like, something that smells good, and clean.

Clean is not really one of those smells that we men are familiar with. We can identify with a room that doesn’t make our eyes water, but apparently there was a woman somewhere at one point who decided that things that are clean should smell like pine. Cleansers for years were scented with pine, I guess so we’d think we were walking deep in a pine forest. For some reason a pine smell began to remind people of cleanliness, an interesting concept as I’ve never been in a pine forest that I thought was particularly clean. Even the Christmas tree in December creates a horrible mess late in the month as dried pine needles end up everywhere. Now lately, the makers of Pine-Sol dropped the pine scent from the product, supposedly due to a shortage of pine oil. There’s a petition online to try to get the pine back in Pine-Sol, probably because many people have been conditioned to think that pine equals clean, which, as illustrated above, is just plain silly. Still I would have taken the aroma of Pine-Sol over the stinky refried bean smell that refused to dissipate for more than two hours.

Now there are some smells I find pleasurable. We men have our favorites. For me, I like a tropical-smelling candle to put me in a beachy kind of mood. I like the smell of bacon (of course), and steaks on the grill, and I even like the smell of coffee (although I can’t stand the taste). But I can’t tell you what “clean” smells like. I’ve seen scented candles that are supposed to smell like fresh linens and things of that ilk, but that means nothing to me.

Perhaps I (and most men) can’t identify the smell of clean because women and men have different ideas about what clean really is. A man can sniff the shirt he wore yesterday, find nothing objectionable, and pull it over his head to wear for another day. He can move all the papers and junk off the kitchen counter and be set to use the kitchen. Meanwhile a woman will go to the trouble of usually actually soap or cleanser (probably reeking of pine) to wash the counter before daring to use it. And a woman will often trick a man into taking off the already-worn shirt by getting him to think she wants him to take off clothing for another reason, only to grab the shirt and toss it into the washer with a capful of Tide.

As men, we check only for the smelliest emergencies, and resort to a deeper cleaning only if the smell brings a tear to the eye. It is as though we live with a permanent five-second rule with a stopwatch that only goes to three.

The current phenomenon for men who have their own space is the man cave. There is ample room for tools, a giant-screen television, a refrigerator, and maybe a few games like darts or cards to while away a summer afternoon. There’s one thing you can bet on — a true man cave does not smell like pine. Although there is a chance it may smell like warmed-up refried beans and Velveeta. You’d just better hope that’s as stinky as it gets.