On Relative Stankification

So I'm on my way to lunch yesterday, and I hit the button for the elevator. We're on the top floor, and so when the door opens, and there's people in there, they generally want to get out. That is unless they've somehow mistaken up for down, which happens more frequently than you would think possible.

This time, when the door opens, there's a lady standing there. She's not making any move to come out, so I assume she screwed up, and I get on. As soon as I do, the stench hits me like a mule kick to the nads. For some reason, the entire elevator smells like the inside of a homeless guy's sneaker. This is the second time in the space of a week I've had to deal with this feetstank on my way to lunch. I have no idea what is causing it -- probably somebody's nasty limburger-cheese-on-rye sandwich or something. Whatever it is, it reeks to high heaven. I look at her, and she's studiously avoiding eye contact. The doors close, and we're on the way down. About half way down, I say, "Jeez, do you smell that? It smells like rotten feet." Her relief was palpable. She says, "Oh my God, I'm so glad you said something. I was going to mention it, because I didn't want you to think it was me, but I thought it would be weird if I said anything."

I'm pretty sure that if I were the only one on the elevator and it smelled like that, I'd be handing every person who boarded after me a time-stamped gas spectrometer print out that proved the odor existed before I was on premises.

That really wouldn't work though, because an interesting thing I learned last night while researching stink (yeah, I researched stink, ok?) this is that there is no technology to measure the stankification level of a particular odor -- you can only measure the amount of chemicals or gas in a given volume of air. And there's not always a direct correlation between the perceived odor level and the gas level, because the stank factor is highly subjective. In other words, the pig farmer doesn't think his pigs smell as bad as his neighbor does. I'll leave that badly-worded sentence just the way it is, and let you draw your own conclusions on the relative rankness level of the pig farmer's neighbor.

That little technical foray aside, what is it about our society that makes it so embarrassing to talk about personal hygiene issues?

Assume for a moment that you stink. Also assume that you are unaware that you stink, and if given the choice, would actually prefer not to stink. Wouldn't you want someone to tell you instead of just whispering about you to someone else? Why is it so hard to pull someone aside and say, "Hey man, your deoderant stopped working" or "I'm pretty sure that ass smell is coming from you" or "That shrimp scampi you had last night? I can taste it when you talk to me."

I'm not sure what the hangup is. God knows, I've been around stinky people, and only once have I sacked up and told them they reeked. I've even been on the receiving side of this once, and to his credit, my friend (who I will call Yort to protect his identity) stepped up to the plate. Let me give you a little background. To be fair, it wasn't exactly me that was stankified, but rather my clothes.

I have 3 cats. I like the cats, but I hate the litterbox. I am constantly on my wife about keeping the litterboxes clean, and unless she runs short of litter, she does a pretty good job. I'll clean them once in a while, but one of the conditions of getting the cats was that she deals with any and all manner of things that come out of their furry little bodies. With 3 cats and 5 litterboxes, sometimes that's a tall order, because believe me, they shit like nobody's business.

So anyway, these 5 boxes are all in the basement. Unfortunately, so is our washer and dryer. Once upon a time, a folded pile of my laundry sat in the basement for about a week during the summer. During this period of seven days, my laundry was not idle -- oh no. It was greedily absorbing all of the cat pee smell that it could, storing it for a later ambush.

The ambush happened one fine work day around noon. It was sunny and nice, so I decided I would walk to the deli in the next building. I could get some sun, a nice roast beef sandwich, and a little exercise.

So needless to say, this made me perspire a little, which in turn, gave the go-signal to my clothes to initiate the ambush. I didn't notice it however, and sat down at the full lunch table, in the only available seat -- the one next to Yort. I traded the usual pleasantries with everyone, and then Yort, in his normally subtle and extremely sensitive fashion, says in a loud voice, "Dude, there's the distinct odor of cat pee about you."

I couldn't smell it, oddly enough. I was, of course, totally embarrassed by his method of delivery, but I was at the same time extremely thankful that he let me know. Luckily, I had a change of clothes in the car, and I was able to immediately get rid of the offending shirt and jeans. The underwear was still suspect, but I wasn't going commando -- not at work, anyway.

That weekend, I washed all the clothes in my closet, went to Lowe's and bought a trailer load of building materials, and framed in and sheetrocked an 8x8 foot room in the basement with a pet door and a negative pressure ventilation fan to outside. The room is sealed, and the fan sucks a small but constant amount of air in through the pet door, making sure no odors escape.

Yes, the cats now have a private bathroom that is actually bigger than ours. Yes, it cost me more money than I would have liked. But the basement no longer stinks, it's a lot more pleasant to use the treadmill, and I no longer have to sit at the end of the lunch table by myself.

I realize this post is entirely too long, but I still find myself wondering about one more thing. Invariably, there will be someone you work with who has a personal hygiene problem of immense proportions, yet somehow they are unaware. These problems are generally so out of control that the sheer agony of working with this person transcends any social niceties about ignoring the odor. You have to say something, or die. So you tell them. You explain exactly what the problem is, and how to improve it, (i.e., stop stinking) and they listen politely, and promise things will improve. You think things are solved, but you are wrong.

The person continues to actively stink.

It's inconceivable, but true. This person makes the odoriferous choice, and clearly does not seem concerned about it at all. They will still wear the same clothes all week, still comes to work with that flat, 'hit-with-a-frying-pan' spot on the back of their head from the sweaty pillow, and still have that same piece of spinach in their teeth 3 days running. I simply do not understand this.

I was informed that my clothes stunk one single time, and it was enough to spur me to action. I spent a half week's pay and 48 hours of my time building a dedicated litterbox room to make sure it never happened again.

This stankified co-worker, on the other hand, cannot put in the effort it takes to turn on the shower, step into it, and soap up more than once every two weeks, let alone actually do a load of laundry.

I don't even know how to wrap this up, except to give everyone this piece of advice: Find a friend, other than someone you live with, (eliminate environmental variables and all that) and make a stink pact. Let there be no qualms, no recriminations, no blame. Just tell it like it is. Give each other a daily look-over, dare I say a daily sniff-over, and you will save each other a lot of embarrassment (unless, of course, you get caught while performing the sniff-over.)

And remember to wash your collective asses, you stinky bastards. People have to work with you for god's sake.


  1. Please come to my house and make me a kitty bathroom! I live in constant fear that my house is the "cat-pee house", and I don't know it because I'm like the farmer-- too used to the smell of my cats (neighbors?)

    Very nice comments on stank. I am always asking my husband if I am smelly. I hope he's not just being nice. Or maybe HE'S the pig farmer! Oh crap...

  2. Anonymous7:00 AM

    I have always had a healthy fear of smells other than good ones. One that really makes me crazy is garlic breath at the PO when I'm standing in line. I know that means I'm breathing in their vapors, and I have to stand there and not breathe for like ten minutes. It's just so horrifying I can't write the rest of what I wanted to say.

  3. So, I am so going to use that form at my place of business. We have some very stinky people there.

    Oh, and will you build me a kitty litter box house too? When do you start taking orders? Like Beck - the cat pee smell is one that I fear as well. I don't want to be "the smelly cat lady."

  4. Um, did you notice if the sneaker as a blue nike? That might be mine that I left behind. Sorry dude.

  5. I had a friend once at work who literally hunted down a woman that had offended her by pooping/farting obnoxiously loud and with abandon in the workplace restroom. She got a good look at her shoes during the incident and after getting over her initial shock, went round the office until she found the shoes, then proceeded to tell the woman off for being so digusting. In. front. of. everyone. I tend to be more subtle and will only tell someone I know very well, that they have a problem that day. I do agree it's nice to be told though.

    Just a side note...you have to be the best husband on earth to actually build a stink sucking bathroom for your wife's kitty's. Bless your heart.