I let something that should have been nothing rule over my entire Friday. I’m home now hours later and STILL I can’t let it go. Every person I’ve spoken to, I’ve told them about what happened today. I even emailed people about it. To myself, I say, 'Stop! Stop I say!'
Once every three or four months I have to make it to a scheduled VA checkup at the outpatient clinic in Pasay, Manila. To do this I catch the free van that leaves from outside the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Angeles City office at 5:30 am. I pulled up to the scooter parking area just a few minutes before departure time and checked in with the van driver. He stood out behind the van checking out our appointment letters and logging us in. I was the last one to sign in out of the four veterans going. Grudgingly, I offered a grumpy good morning to him and about then a hint of the most god awful stench assailed my olfactory system.
Immediately, I knew it was going to be “one of those days.” As Forrest Gump might say if he too had to occasionally ride the daily van to the VA clinic, “riding it is like a box of chocolates, ‘coz you never know what you’re going to get.” Unfortunately, today, what I got was a big old ugly box of BO—disgusting, nauseating, sickening, armpit and ass odor. Ugh!
I would never write this if I was still a veterans service officer, it just wouldn’t be appropriate; but now that I’m a “private citizen,” volunteering my time and experience to help folks on a personal basis, I feel like I can comment on just about any and everything I see, hear and SMELL!
I don’t know what the guy’s name is; I’m afraid I let my prejudice against smelly people “foul” my ability to engage him in much conversation. I did pick up a few things about him however. From his apparent age, long hair and unkempt beard, I knew him to be a Vietnam vet. For some reason many of the “flower children” of the ‘60s, especially the good fellows who survived “The Nam,” have never gotten over yearning for the passé style of long locks and facial hair. On that note, if you see a man with a graying ponytail, chances are he’s from the “Woodstock Generation.”
Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with long hair on a dude UNLESS that dude hasn’t taken a bath in a month of Sundays. So, here’s my standard: Clean = Good! Armpit smell = Bad! Today, in that little van, seemingly the littlest van I’ve ever ridden in, it was very very BAD!
I hoped that once we got to moving that one of two things would happen: 1) Somehow his nasty anti-perfume would quiet down some and/or 2) eventually I’d get as used to his foulness as he apparently was so that I too would be as seemingly unaware of it as he was. Alas, none of the above came to pass. Once we pulled out on to the North Luzon Expressway we were forced to close our windows. The aircon then sucked up his rankness, cooled it down to a pleasant temperature, and then pumped it full force into our recoiling faces.
‘Oh my God! Help me!’ I prayed.
I looked at the other passengers around me, my fellow “victims,” and I noticed that they too struggled to control their impulses to “cry foul,” but I was a little ashamed to see that it seemed that I was the only one being so over-powered. I took out my small sweat towel and held it obviously over my nose, desperately trying to breathe as lightly as possible so as to keep from drawing in the tainted air too deeply.
I thought to myself, ‘Okay, you’re overreacting. Just ignore it.’ But I couldn’t!
And now there was another problem with this guy. He was as vocally obnoxious as he was malodorous. He stretched his long scabby legs out in front of him on his row of seats and proceeded to talk at the top of voice to the fellow behind him who happened be sitting directly in front of me. They spoke of traveling the world, comparing notes on flight and billeting methods, which sounds innocuous enough, but nearly every other word from Mr. Smelly’s mouth was f*ck. All I heard was, “That f*cking motherf*cker, so I told that f*cking motherf*cker to go f*ck himself, the stupid f*ck! (ad nauseum, ad infinitum).
My thoughts were random and frantic: ‘Please Lord. I’m in hell. Somebody shoot me and put me out of my misery! I’ll be good. I’ll join the priesthood, hell, I'll join a convent. Anything, just end this agony!’
At one point when he got tired of saying f*ck or the other guy pretended to be asleep, whatever the case, Smelly Pants drew his legs up to his chest, examined the variously sized scabs on his calves and ankles and then spent several minutes finding loose ones that he could deftly pick off. Oops. That one wasn’t ready. It’s a bleeder.
I screamed in my head, ‘Someone please gouge out my eyes!’
Straight up at 0800 we arrived at the clinic and slowly pried our achy old bones out of the sewery smelling vehicle. I sucked in huge lungfuls of the comparatively “pristine” Manila air and savored the sweet smell of combusted diesel fresh off of the very busy Roxas Boulevard only a few meters away. I never thought I’d say this about Manila city air, but it was wonderful!
For the next several hours I mostly managed to steer clear of him, but I was curious to watch others’ reactions as he “invaded their personal space.” I was surprised to see that most folks politely made gargantuan efforts to ignore his obviously rank presence, and he definitely had at least two presences: his physical one and his miasmic one. His fetid pall seemed to reach out a good 7 or 8 feet, a very respectable stink range at that.
From as far away as I could manage it, I could see that his orangish-brown nylon basketball style shorts and raggedy T-shirt, which he had roughly cut with a pair of scissors into a V-neck, were both full of holes and both not covered with stains so much as permeated with them. I’m convinced that he’d been wearing the same clothes for days, probably weeks. I didn’t want to, but in spite of myself I could see through the ratty holes in the seat of his shorts that he wasn’t wearing underwear. The amazing thing is that he’d been bragging on the van that he was clearing a full 4 grand a month from his military disability payments. I wanted to ask him why he didn’t use some of that money to take a shower, shit-can his clothes, buy some new fresh ones, and invest in some roll-on deodorant; but I didn’t.
I was happy to see that he was a smoker and spent much of his time outside in the smoking area. As he walked back and forth between there and around the inside of the clinic I began to notice something. People who weren’t sick with cough or sneezes were suddenly wearing the free masks offered for that purpose by the clinic.
‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ I thought.
I asked the front desk attendant for a mask and he gave me three without pause. He knew exactly why I wanted one. I tied mine on about an hour before we were due to head back so it wouldn’t seem too obvious. Funny thing is I noticed that the driver was already wearing his, as was one of the other passengers. As clever as I like to think I am sometimes, it seems that I was the last one to think of that brilliant solution.
Now for the final “gag,” pun intended. As I got into the van, “smelly boy” was already onboard and he too WAS WEARING A MASK!
‘Oh man, you have GOT to be kidding me!’ I chuckled into my hand at the irony.
I listened in as he spoke glowingly of what a great idea it was for us all to wear those free masks because of all the nasty diesel jeepney fumes in town. Incredible! This guy was so obtuse that he could not figure out that people were nearly retching all around him due to his nasty odor. There he was right there in the van along with the rest of us happily sporting his own mask.
I was thinking that perhaps he was tired of smelling himself. But no, I’m sure that wasn’t the case. Another fellow on the van with us, an incredibly nice guy, who somehow found it in himself to continue to chat all day with the insufferable “maggot-gagger,” also came to the conclusion that this guy was totally oblivious to his own putridity. In fact, it got so strong, even with the masks, that I continually swabbed the outside of my mask with deodorant but with only minimal effect.
Short of the DAV office the poor stanky fellow asked to be dropped off on Fields Avenue. At his departure the rest of us wrenched off our surgical masks with great relief. We shook our heads in wonder thinking—how can any human be like that? Shouldn’t someone tell him? As for me, I figured he wasn’t my problem after today, and he wasn’t going to be able to shower anytime before we got back, so to heck with it.
I’ve seen lots of vets with eccentric ways and strange mental quirkisms. I wonder if this guy isn’t suffering from some kind of weird antisocial pathological fear of showering and the wearing of clean decent clothing. Who knows? I just know that I NEVER want to be around Mr. Stinky ever again…