Listen to the dramatic reading by Janine Annett:

Your officemate's lunch

This recently launched scent starts off with a strong base note of garlic, followed by a pungent basil middle note. Did I detect a hint of cauliflower? Perhaps some hard-boiled egg? It’s a one-of-a-kind combination of unexpected smells. The sillage, unfortunately, is excellent. The scent has wonderful staying power, because your office has no windows.

The office refrigerator

Without a doubt, this is a sophisticated fragrance that is no mere one-note wonder. Unlike so many of today’s scents that are simply inoffensive white florals or yet another take on vanilla, the office refrigerator contains prominent top notes of expired yogurt. In addition, the fridge has notes of mold and rotting greens, brightened with a tart vinegar note. An excellent blend of scents, not to be missed, particularly if you’re in search of an all-natural appetite suppressant.

The communal microwave

Imagine New York City in all its summertime glory: the fish market, the sewage treatment plant, the landfill, the subway during rush hour full of people who have not showered and have not used deodorant. All of that, and so much more, is present in the scent that comes from the communal microwave. When you first open the microwave door, the sharp smell of burritos greets you. But then, the base notes of reheated fish hit you. Inhale deeply, for you must use the communal microwave to reheat your leftover risotto, which will add another layer to the complex scent.

The coffee pot

Coffee, of course, is a classic scent. What sets the office coffee pot apart, however, is an unexpected peppery note that emerges upon the dry-down. The office coffee pot also has undertones of musk as well as roadkill and stale bread. This one’s sure to delight those in the office whose sense of smell (and spirit!) have become deadened over the years.

The kitchen sink

The distinct odor of an old sponge is instantly recognizable. But what’s that other note? It must be coming from the thin layer of grime that coats the sink. There’s also a bleach-y smell arising from the can of Comet next to the sink. Will the old sponge, the Comet, and the grimy sink ever mature and blend into their own melange, or will the scents remain somewhat distinct from each other? Only time will tell.

Your colleague, Phil

Phil has a mysterious scent that waxes and wanes in its intensity, but never fully leaves. The first thing one notices is a strong cedar note, which often makes one wonder if Phil has been grilling salmon on cedar planks immediately before coming into the office. Sometimes he inexplicably smells strongly of raisins; other times he smells like sneakers that have been put away while they’re still damp. He also smells like pickles and cat dander.

The copier

The copier smells like burnt hair mixed with rubbing alcohol, an aldehyde scent that is hard to identify exactly but is probably not good for your long-term health.

The bathroom

You’d expect the bathroom to smell like human excrement, perhaps with some soap thrown in there, and it does—but it also smells like so much more, like someone has been eating soup in there. What kind of soup? Perhaps a minestrone. Why—and how—would someone eat soup in the bathroom? That unanswered question only adds to the mysterious allure of the scent of the office bathroom.

The conference room

The conference room smells like the place where a million dreams have gone to die.

Someone’s shoes

We all know scent is tied strongly to memory, and who can forget the funk of shoes worn too often during the summertime? The smell of someone’s shoes in the office brings back memories of camp, of s’mores and fireplaces and trips to the lake, and living in too-close quarters with too many other people in a hot and humid environment.

A rotten banana that was locked in a cabinet for an indeterminate amount of time

It smells like a rotten banana, yes—but also like the way murderous rage would smell (if murderous rage had a smell) when Phil turned to you at 3 PM on a Monday and said, “Hey, look what I found in this cabinet” and showed you a rotten banana, and then informed you that he found the rotten banana last week but put it back in the cabinet where it stayed over the weekend. Why, Phil, why? I’d rather have you grill a salmon over a cedar plank in this office than keep a rotten banana around for no discernible reason.