I made state-of-the-art onion rings and readied them for packing, at $5.15 an hour last summer. More often I was given the glamorous task of hunching over rows and rows of onions, picking out the green parts, brown parts, skin.

My penance for wondering about the lives of people who worked at the sugar beet factory on the highway as I drove to my grandma's was I had to find out, seriously, how it would feel to have to face frozen food for hours on end, earplugs only a slightly protective padding over the rattle of machinery and, occasionally, conversations and work instructions I vaguely understood, if at all.

(I forget the trimming line. Everybody liked it but me. I couldn't cut the brown spots out of whole onions quick enough to be satisfied; the line moved too fast; I got dizzy often and lost my knife in the gutters of skin and onion garbage.)

The better part was picking up Spanish words and offers of real free Mexican food on forced-overtime nights, a little more time with Noey on breaks, walking home in the summertime, late, under the moon.

I couldn't wear the same thing twice before laundering; the salt-and-onion smell was so pervasive that even the same bra worn two consecutive days without washing offended, thickly, everyone within a 20-foot radius. My hands - I wore two pairs of gloves to handle the onions were better protected; my eyes were not; there was not enough stainless steel to go around; I would have built a shower of it, a bed, whatever. And on shift at the plant, I was always arguing with the dead, thinking of things I should have done, singing whole albums of songs I didn't like, dictating (through my surgery mask) words I would never get the energy to write; they were never good thoughts, but I was left with them, left with what I could not shake for sleep or greater stimulation.
Stainless steel rubbed directly on all exposed skin surfaces while hands are held under cool running water for about 30 seconds will truly take the smell of onions and/or garlic off, if done soon after the exposure. I use this method all the time.

I don’t understand how it works and would love to have an explanation. Despite an extensive web search I can only come up with “The stainless steel reacts with the smelly organic compounds that make garlic and onion so aromatic and the reaction neutralizes the smell completely.” This is a sad excuse for an explanation and I hope someone else will fill in the blanks on the mechanism.

Kitchen stores sell stainless steel in little bars (like a hotel soap) or in flattened egg shapes. I purchased one of these before I understood that all stainless steel does the same job. There is nothing that these special purchases can do that the back of a stainless steel spoon can’t do.

Another method that works is a lemon juice and salt scrub. I freeze lemon carcasses after using the juice for later use in hand scrubbing. Make a soapy lather, sprinkle on some salt and rub all stinky skin surfaces with the lemon remains. With this method there is the extra advantage of lemon carcass going through the garbage disposal, which adds a lovely lemon smell to the kitchen and cleans the disposal.

I too was incredibly curious about the true nature of stainless steel and its incredible ability to prevent you from having to feel self-conscious about how you cannot stop sniffing your kebab- or gyro-scented fingers.

I came upon two credible chemical explanations for the mystical odor-banishing powers of stainless steel:

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