Friday, September 14, 2007

Olfactory uh oh's

Sometimes my overdeveloped sense of smell is a miserable affliction. I guess you could say I have a case of olfactory over sensitivity.

I’m sure this is mostly a mental problem since it isn’t just odors that "get under my skin;" certain things I HEAR can ALSO drive me to distraction, like gangster hip-hop, ceaselessly barking dogs, and badly done karaoke, which pretty much describes 95% of All karaoke.

Anyway, getting back on track, this post is about my never-ending issue with the malodorous, particularly stinky armpit people like those that have been accosting me lately at the gym. Ugh!

But before I get to that bit of smelliness, allow me to go back to another stinking time; because if I must, I know that I CAN tolerate bad smells with the best of them. Thinking back, I remember a particularly reeking incident at Chanute AFB in 1980. I was a month into avionics school learning how to work on autopilot systems before heading out to my first Air Force assignment.

Air Force schools were, and probably still are, taught in blocks. It had been a stiflingly hot summer that year on the plains of central Illinois, so hot that my AMC Pacer had just about melted into the sprawling asphalt parking lot in front of the TDY dorm where I was billeted. And now those long intolerably hot weeks interspersed with some of the most violent storms imaginable was about to negatively affect one of the teaching blocks I most looked forward to, the one covering the basics of soldering and safety wire.

It was a late August mid-morning. My fellow students and I stood around restlessly in the hallway waiting for the female SSgt instructor to show up and open the soldering room. Most of my classmates were new to the military. These folks fresh from basic training were required to march in formation to school—these people were E3s and E2s, while I was the ranking guy at E4. Being prior-enlisted with 5 years in the Marines before transferring to the Air Force, I joined my new service branch with a little more rank, and better yet, I was allowed to diddy- bop* to class on my own. There was one other prior enlisted fellow there, an A1C; he was an older salt-and-pepper haired fellow who had done some time in the army and army guard. The group of us waited eagerly about the locked door anxious to learn the magical ways of the soldering iron.

Right off the bat I found that my status as “ex marine” meant that more was expected of me, or perhaps I expected more of myself. Regardless, I liked it that way. I enjoyed “the looks” of respect I got from the others when they learned I had been a sergeant in the marines less than a year before. I wore my new AF uniform as a marine would, tucking my shirt in with a sharp military tuck and held tightly down into my trousers with four elastic garters attached at the other end to the tops of my socks. I looked stupid as hell with my pants off, but sharp as hell with ‘em on—well, take my word for it! Anyway, strangely enough, being “the marine” was about to come into play once again as we prepared to practice melting solder and twisting safety wire.

The instructor finally showed up with the keys and unlocked the door. The old brick building had no air- conditioning in the classrooms. For summer time relief the doors and windows were opened wide for the occasional cooling breeze. Upon opening the door the room felt like an unbearable dank furnace. Several of us rushed to the decades-old counter-weighted windows and began shoving them up and open. As soon as the first one creaked upward on its ancient tracks a chorus of groans and “oh my Gods!” cascaded through the room.

It was the smell of death, and yes, even worse than worst foulness that often wafts from the armpits of the nastiest of the body odor specialists that work out at my gym.

On the wide outer ledge of one of the windows a large nest of four nearly full-grown fledgling pigeons had recently drowned during the last heavy storm. Now the nest contained a sickening soup of putrefied mushy carrion and filthy feathers, all well into the liquefaction stage, and utterly squirming with hundreds of obese white well-fed maggots.

Two airmen retched and bolted from the room. The others held their noses and were not far behind. I was the only one to hold my ground. I laughed and said a marine thing, something like,

“Ah come on you guys. It’s not so bad. Don’t you love the smell of rotten flesh in the morning? It smells like…. Victory!”

The instructor had hurried down the hall to call for help from the char force but soon returned with a worried look on her face. There was only one janitor and he was not immediately available. Now, she knew she was about to fall behind schedule—a big time no-no for the instructor corps. I felt her pain and stepped up.

“No problem Maam, I got this!” and I gave my rendition of the Marine’s battle yell, “Arruh Rah!” growled at about 25% full volume.

I grabbed a small trashcan lined with a plastic bag and with a great show of cheery bravado and with bare hands started shoveling into it nest debris soggy with wet rotten bird parts and wriggling maggots. The others stood well away at the other end of the room, most of them outside in the corridor. All of them watched me with looks of disbelieving horror. Honestly, I have never been more pleased with myself. The ex-soldier decided he better not let himself be shown up by a scrawny ex-Marine and came over to assist. He also affected nonchalance.

The two of us looked at the cringing horrified airmen and smirked while we bantered and played with the rotting birds and lively maggots. We had saved the day and showed the young troopers how veterans act when things get unpleasant. They probably learned more that day than they ever did up to it.

It’s funny, with my hypersensitive nose I never once felt sick that day, all because I was showing off. Maybe I need to figure out how to incorporate that kind of bluster into my workouts at the gym of late.

At least every other day or so a guy will come in smelling like skunky road kill on a hot summer day in Texas. I’ve been trying to figure these guys out. Why do they go out in public smelling so bad? Why would they subject the rest of the world to that kind of personal stink? It befuddles me.

I think a lot of them must not have been athletes in their younger lives, because we learn very early that you ALWAYS take a shower before hitting the gymnasium. These guys must figure, ‘Hell, why shower when all I’m gonna do is sweat anyway?’

The problem with that rationale is that the bacteria in those pits and in those day-old shirts is just waiting for a fresh dose of sweat to set off a fresh round of stink. One older American in his 60s, who ironically enough drives a brand new very expensive SUV, smelled so BAD that one of the gym workers followed him around the room continuously spraying air freshener trying futilely to beat back the old guy's fetid air. Whenever that smelly old man came near me or passed by I quickly put my towel over my nose and mouth. Even with all the spraying and covering of lower faces he never gave a hint of acknowledgment. I even made it a point to speak practically at the top of my voice how horrible it was that some people would deign to wash, change their clothes and deodorize before going to their workout. Incredible.

I approached Rob, one of the two brawny shaven-headed owners, about the ongoing BO problem. I suggested they integrate the use of the yellow and red “foul” cards like they use in soccer. I proposed that they print on the yellow cards a warning that states unless a shower and change of shirt is carried out that a red card will be forthcoming. The red one removes the offending player from the pitch, and in this case from the confines of the gym. Rob chuckled and agreed that it was more of a problem than even I know, but blew me off just the same.

It’s a common problem here that when bad manners, bad form, and bad acts occur that rarely is anything done about it. Here’s a for instance for you: I stopped playing golf here years ago partly because the course managers and especially the caddies will not correct the discourteous play of the hordes of Koreans who have taken over the courses. Perhaps they don’t know any better or they just don’t care, but when it started taking 8 hours to play 18 holes it just wasn’t worth it. The same is true in the gym; instead of telling the rancid smelling few to clean up their act or else, all that happens is some complaining and shrugging. It drives me nuts.

One of the loveliest things about Filipinos is that generally speaking they are the cleanest smelling people I’ve ever been around. Their food doesn't befoul their breath and sweat and they must take at least two showers a day because few of them ever smell of BO. It’s only from among the ranks of Americans, Aussies and Europeans that I’ve had to endure emanations of foul smelling armpits in the gym. When it comes to smelling pleasant while working out, Filipinos seem to be completely on board with it. Well-done folks! I APPRECIATE that!

* military slang: diddy-bopping = walking carelessly


Anonymous said...

I guess I'm "lucky" in that my sense of smell is not that great; but because of that I'm extra careful about my own. I speak/understand quite a bit of Tagalog and Pampangan though, and a great deal of local commentary vis-a-vis foreigners concerns their particular odor. "Amoy patay na daga" is one that comes to mind...
I like your descriptions of Air Force tech school, sounds so familiar. I was at Keesler (Comm/Nav) and the term "diddy-bop" had two meanings; one is as you describe, (walking as opposed to marching), another was the term for Non Morse Intercept Operator students-- diddy-bops.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yah, I've heard that Filipino phrase too. Means "smells like a dead mouse." ..grin..

Its true, a lot of the tourists here do smell. Many of them drink all night and then don't seem to care about wearing the same shirt for more than one day. Even deodorant won't mask that stench.

You're right about the other meaning of diddy-bop. When I wrote my Dad's memoirs, he mentioned the "diddy-bops" he worked around up in Northern Japan at Misawa during the Korean War. He said some of those guys went ga-ga from the work. Doesn't sound like something I'd like to do.

Nick Ballesteros said...

What can I say, Phil... thanks for the compliments!

I enjoyed reading your post. It reminded me also of our office building. We have people from other countries who are into spices coming in regularly because an embassy is situated in one of the upper floors. When you enter a vacated elevator, you would know know the previous occupant from the smell.

KA said...

Sweat seems to be a genetic thing - a woman of the same weight,body type, age etc doing the same workout as me seems to sweat infinitely more... why is that? Especially since Americans and europeans seem tohave a huge perfume fetish, I'm surprised they can't smell themselves!

PhilippinesPhil said...

Wat, I had a short talk today with one of the Pinoy gym workers and we were laughing about the latest of his own run-ins with smelly white people. In the interest of good form I won't say what nationalities he said are more prone to BO, but he got very animated. He mentioned that one fellow was so sickening that the staff went through an entire can of freshener in less than 10 minutes.

I opined that perhaps some of these folks were just not changing their shirts after wearing them one day. Emphatically he snorted, "One day! Some of these guys wear the same shirt for the entire week!" As a man who makes as much money in a month as most of these smelly guys make in half a day, he could not imagine not showering twice a day, and changing into a new shirt every morning. As bad as it is for me sometimes, its far worse for the Filipinos that work among these pigs.

Kat, sweat has little to do with body odor. Its the bacteria that feeds on it only after the sweat has had a chance to start breaking down. Soap and deodorant stops this process in its tracks. And as I mention above, a change of clothes helps too.

I hate perfume. When I kiss a woman on the neck I want to taste her, not perfume, which tastes exactly like mosquito repellent by the way. Ah, and oh yeah, I'm speaking hypothetically of course.

Anonymous said...

Katana said: "Sweat seems to be a genetic thing - a woman of the same weight,body type, age etc doing the same workout as me seems to sweat infinitely more... why is that?"

Ugh! Reminds me one time when I lived in San Antonio. My wife and I were riding the city bus, the ones with the plastic cup seats without a drain hole. We were standing in the aisle and a woman got up leaving a vacant seat. My wife was ready to sit down until I pointed out to her the puddle of sweat that had accumulated in the seat. Uftah! And this was an air-conditioned bus! How could that woman sweat so much? Some people really do sweat a lot more than others.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, AMC Pacer. I had one of them. Definitely not a car to pick up women. AMCs were designed for little old ladies to drive to church on Sunday and to Safeway on Tuesdays, accumulating 10,000 miles in ten years. But the darned cars last forever. My previous car died and I needed another fast. A buddy drove me to a parking lot and I bought the best of what was available, an AMC. I was really ashamed of that car but it gave me 280,000 miles in the ten years it took to finally die. And that was only because the transmission could not be replaced. That old engine still ran very nicely and used no oil at all. Quite a car. . . . for old ladies. Needless to say I did NOT pick up many women with that old dog. That was a quiet period of my life. I was by necessity a good boy then.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hiya Opass! I think the best way to compliment the corpulent is to say something like, "Geez sir/maam, you sure don't sweat much for a fatty!" versus saying something mean like, "Fatty fatty two by four, can't fit through the bathroom door..."

PhilippinesPhil said...

I got my Pacer after I got married, the only woman I had to pick up in it was my wife and daughter. You and picking up chicks, eh? You card!

They had a tried and true engine, a straight six 258 with 3 on the column, and you're right, that car would have run forever if I'd kept it. Just change the oil and drive it into eternity. I loved that car. Lots of room too.

Amadeo said...

Wasn't the Pacer the sub-compact version of another AMC car, the Gremlin?

When I got here in 1980, had wanted to purchase a used Pacer from a used car dealership situated right in front of the apartment we were staying.

At that time, AMC had stopped coming out with new cars. So decided to purchase a real sub-compact 4cyl Chevy, the Chevette. That 2-door hatchback lasted 14 years with us.

But I always liked the outside profile of both the Pacer and Gremlin. And yes, even AMC's Rambler.

Having worked in an ethnically-diverse hotel where we maintained lockers in common window-less locker rooms in the tepid-air basement, one was unwittingly exposed to the different unique smells of peoples from different countries.

Overall, my experience was not so bad. Just different.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Amadeo, the Pacer was definitely not a compact and certainly not a subcompact. The Gremlin was as unique in form as the Pacer except the Gremlin had a small V-8 engine which made it quite a screamer. Sucker could move.

As long as its not armpit BO I got no problem with people smells. Ever got a whiff of a drunken street bum? Pheww! Its a mixture of kaka, vomit, and piss. I think if someone came in smelling like that, just maybe they'd ban them from the gym. Then again, if they could afford to pay, maybe not.

Ed said...

I have come to believe that some people honestly become so used to their smell that they can no longer tell how bad they do smell. Kind of like a cigarette smoker not smelling it on their clothes but everyone else within a 20 foot radius can.

I worked with a guy that showered once a week. Not because he told me but because every Friday morning he had no smell. By Monday he was ripe and by Thursday, you guaged where you walked in the plant in his area by which way the fans blew. Fortunately he finally retired.