community, empathy, judgment, kindness, librarians, strangers, talking

Smelly Smells

Forewarning: do not read while eating.

Additional preface: My olfactory powers are strong, and I can’t stand many odors. My sensitive shnoz recoils at old-lady perfumes, and sets off a deathly serious search when I think something has spoiled in the refrigerator. In the kitchen, my nose leads me to seek and destroy, and get rid of the offensive material, which is significantly satisfying.

This smell-aversion is harder to deal with when the sources are people and not products. Now, I am not heartless. I do my duty as I would want someone to do for me: I tell people when there is lipstick on their teeth, or toilet paper on their shoe, or their dresses are tucked into their underpants. However, over the last week, I learned I have a threshold for how much shame I am willing to intercept.

When I see certain customers, I hold my breath.

This is not related to the anxiety holding-my-breath. No. This is due to their foul odors. One older man who hasn’t bathed/washed his clothes/worn deodorant in a while. One woman who wears the same filthy coat with an accumulation of stink from many days’ (years?) wear without deodorant. Another bedecked with a cloud of mothball smell so strong it’s damn near visible. Another with terrible gingivitis.

You get the idea! My question remains, perpetually, how do these people not know?? And once knowing, then adjust?? It is my understanding that these folks all have access to a laundry facility, which may be correct or incorrect. Who knows! It’s not my business, so I don’t insert myself.

However, last weekend, an older woman I had never seen before walked past me and I instantly smelled bodily secretions. Definitely urine, but based on what I saw on the back of her dress, probably more. I froze. And then called our security guy on the walkie talkie. And made a mental note of what seat she sat in so I could Lysol wipe it thoroughly later.

He, angel of a man that he is, came right up and was the bearer of dirty news, and directed her to the bathroom. As if pooing one’s pants unknowingly wasn’t sign enough, I determined officially that there was a mental handicap at play when after visiting the loo, she sat down in another chair. As soon as she left, I took a wipe and went to town, lamenting that peoples’ minds and bodies betray them, and also that I was not compassionate enough to address it with her myself.

As Phoebe Buffet sings, “smelly cat, smelly cat… it’s not your fault.” Maybe someday I will advance from talking to people about toilet paper to talking about accidents, but all I know in the meantime is that I can empathize with nurses and other healthcare workers (who absolutely do not get paid enough).

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