Joe in Fox Fur, a Unicorn, and a Christmas Tree, © R Jay Gabany
Joe is Jenny's cousin and Katie's brother, and though we've met, he retains some of that mysterious older brother quality. I loved reading the blog he and his wife, Willow, kept of their bike journey across the U.S. this past summer, so I was so happy to learn that he's blogging again, this time at the Enthusiasmist. He can also meet your daily Unicorn Haiku needs.
What do you smell like?When I first met Willow, who believe it or not is now my wife, I was not washing one of my (two) armpits. We were living at the Kripalu Center, an ashram-turned-yoga center in western Massachusetts that hosted live-in volunteers as a more contemporary version of the ashram disciples. When Willow and I and about 60 other volunteers lived there, there was no longer a guru, his having left in disgrace for abusing his power. Had he still been around, he probably would have decreed that not washing an armpit went against some important spiritual tenet, just to get me to wash it (unscrupulous as he was). Because, to most folks, that armpit did not smell good.
To me that armpit smelled like freedom. I’d long ago given up wearing deodorant, as had many of us neo-hippies (those who hadn’t were probably only rubbing that goofy crystal/rock thing under there). I had a (highly scientific) theory that washing away bacteria away only contributed to a vicious cycle wherein more, and more evil, bacteria would eventually flourish. By washing daily, I hypothesized, I was accelerating the evolution of new strains of bacteria that were more and more soap and deodorant resistant. Thus falling prey to the big deodorant corporations as well as to unnecessary societal conventions, blah blah blah. My washed armpit was the control armpit. It was an experiment.
Probably the only reason that Willow tolerated that armpit’s smell was that it wasn’t quite as gnarly as you might imagine. At the time I was eating only vegetables, taking daily saunas, and doing yoga twice a day. I ingested no caffeine, no alcohol, very little sugar. My sweat was as pure as it had been since before I was a pre-teen and my dad (a physician, mind you) explained to me that it was time to start using deodorant because I was “starting to get glands.” When I ask Willow how I smelled in this pure, unwashed, undeodorized state, she says “like play-doh.” Keep in mind that she loves me.
These days I’m washing almost daily and using an unscented, aluminum-free deodorant. I smell either like compromise, or like adulthood, depending on my mood.
What do you like to smell?We just moved to San Francisco, which is studded liberally with eucalyptus trees. These have a fabulous scent, rich and tea-like, that always reminds me of my Aunt Helen. Sometimes I’ll be walking among the eucalyptus when someone in front of me lights up a cigarette, and I’ll find myself pulling that smell—something about when it’s first lit up—deep into my lungs. Cigarettes, come to think of it, also remind me of Aunt Helen. Also on my list is my dog Iphy, especially her little feet. Aunt Helen had many dogs, each with four feet. This is getting weird.
Luckily Aunt Helen does not make me think at all of the morning-after-bonfire smell that makes itself known as I pull yesterday’s shirt on in my tent when I’m camping. If I were to Venn diagram my favorite smells, this smell’s circle would share a bit of itself with a circle labeled “Alaska,” which to me smells glacial and grand and unicorn-pure (yoga armpits notwithstanding). Circles that wouldn’t touch Alaska, Aunt Helen, or camping but would definitely be on there, would be big city smells, grease and exhaust, and somewhere nearby would be one of those big-bowled Riedel pinot-noir glasses I can stick my schnoz way into to take the vapors of a heady red wine directly into the reptile part of my brain. The restaurant would be fabulous and hoity-toity, and everyone would look on happily as I nod at the server to begin pouring. I love this act of smelling mostly for the ritual—so many facets of our polite society are geared towards ignoring or masking this, our most primal sense! Here’s to being nosy.