Every morning between 6 & 8 am I go for a 5 mile walk through my little bedroom community just south of Nashville. There’s a group of us that do this. Some jog, some walk, occasionally someone even canters, but every morning I see the same folks out for a bit of early morning exercise. And every morning, as we pass each other, we smile broadly, offer up a friendly, “G’morning!”, and some, myself included, give a little wave or nod in greeting.
…and that’s when I smell them.
I don’t go out of my way to smell them. I don’t take in great big creepy intakes of breath. I really don’t. I simply have overly sensitive cilia in the back of my nose, so when they pass by me, they leave a trail of odor molecules that shoot straight up into my olfactory receptor neurons and I get a whiff of their own personal bouquet. And while I recognize these folks on sight, some would argue that I know them even better through their own effluvium.
I’ve always had an overly sensitive nose. “A nose for trouble!” as my Grandma was fond of remarking. And it’s only gotten more sensitive since I quit smoking three years ago.
Various people in my life can certainly attest to the power of my proboscis. Anyone who has ever dined out with me has probably watched me clutch my nose, make a dark face and mutter, “Did you smell that?” “What?” “That lady over there about four tables over, she’s wearing fucking patchouli!”, whereupon they almost always reply with a, “Nope, can’t smell a thing, sucks to be you.” Grrrr. Speaking of patchouli, there’s a bar in Fairbanks, Alaska called The Marlin. When I lived there it was a local hipster bar, before the word hipster was ubiquitous to our national vocab of folks to avoid like the plague. The bar had an overwhelming odor of patchouli stink mixed with the fun flavors of B.O., so much so in fact, that my ex-wife, who worked there for a time, would bring that stench home with her on her clothes. Fuck, that was nasty. But inside the place it was even worse. The, what can only be described as STANK, that assaulted my nose every time I went there (which was seldom) was obnoxious. I preferred it when she worked at Gambardella’s Pasta Bella, because she’d come home smelling like garlic, cheese and their wonderful minestrone soup. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but when she was a manager at Taco Bell, the smell of rehdyrated refried beans that permeated her button-down work shirt was vaguely erotic. ¡Yo quiero Taco Bell, indeed!
So anyway, back to smelling my neighbors. As you are no doubt aware, it gets HOT & HUMID down here in the south. And not to put too fine a point on it but it’s almost unbearable at times. Which is why the majority of us are outside in the relative cool of the morning doing our exercise thing. And if you haven’t experienced HOT & HUMID before, lemme tell ya, even if you’re standing around not moving your body begins to leak after a short time. Your pores open way the hell up, and sweat (Sorry ladies, you don’t perspire or glow down here, you sweat like the sexy she-beasts you are!) just pours unashamedly out of your body as fast as it can.
Now sweat, in and of itself isn’t all that smelly. As I’m sure you know, body odor is caused when bacteria breaks down certain acids, and it’s the multiplication of that bacteria in the presence of the sweat that usually leads to that B.O. smell we’re all familiar with. So while my group of morning walkers and joggers are sweating profusely, we’re not at the stinky phase yet, in fact, most of my neighbors smell pretty damn good when I walk by!
1) There’s a small group of old Korean ladies who walk so close together it’s a mystery how they don’t step on each others heels! When I pass them I get a smell of vellum, rose water and just the tiniest hint of cooked cabbage.
2) There’s this cool looking old guy who jogs past me at an amazing pace. He’s about 5′ 4″, and has a real striking presence with his bald pate, olive-colored skin, white goatee and these dark as coal eyes. You know what he smells like? Warm vanilla wafers.
3) There’s a power couple who don’t just walk, they glide. Each with their own ear buds playing what I can only imagine are self-help and how-to get ahead books. When they move past me they always smile, nod and probably wonder how someone like me was allowed into this community. They have a mutual smell, I’ve never been able to glean their individual scents, but perhaps they don’t have one, this power couple simply smells like crisp linen sheets, with just a hint of superiority.
4) Our neighborhood does have a real-life walking cliché who is straight outta Brooklyn circa 1977. He’s got the moves alright with all-over dark thick curly hair, a dingy wife-beater shirt, the jangling and varied gold medallions around his neck and a HUGE white sweatband to mop up all the flop sweat. He smells like warm toast and obliviousness.
5) I always look forward to the lady who jogs while pushing her new baby in this massive 3-wheeled stroller. She’s seems so sure of herself and where she’s headed. She smells like you think she would. Baby powder, milk with slight overtones of baby-vomit. Makes me nostalgic for when my kids were little.
Sometimes I wonder what I smell like to them, what my personal bouquet is, and if they, like myself, can smell it when I walk past them? I’d like to think I smell somewhat pleasant like sandalwood or beeswax perhaps. A rose by any other name, right?
Which begs the question –