Thursday, April 08, 2010

Just what I needed

It's after 10pm. I've been on the go since 6:30 this morning, getting ready for work, commuting, teaching two classes in the city, then killing time to put in a few hours at a Vancouver New Music event I've agreed to volunteer at. I'm finally returning home, riding the 701 from Coquitlam to Maple Ridge, Melechesh on my headphones, feeling exhausted but okay, leaning back in my seat. In about half an hour, I'll be back here, finally - just in time to go to bed in order to wake up tomorrow and do it all again.

That's when he gets on the bus. I can't say if he's homeless or just indifferent to physical hygiene, but he's likely not rich, hauling as he is a big plastic garbage bag of what I assume are pop cans, representing his day's income. He throws these down on the row of sideways seats near the front, but rather than sitting on the FAR side of them, right at the front of the bus - where he'd be next to no one - he comes to sit immediately in front of me. Before I can actually smell him, I have a dread inkling that I'm about to experience something fairly unpleasant --not, thankfully, the sour smell of alcohol and tobacco that some such people exude, but still, the smell of a body that has gone unwashed for quite some time; the fetid, unwholesome aroma of caked-in dirt, greasy hair, unlaundered clothing, old sweat, and the various bodily fluids that might have oozed out into his clothing in one area or another over the last few weeks and there stiffened. It's a smell that is instantly recognizable and reasonably uniform among those who wash with great infrequency, and it really gets inside you, quite literally, since you realize all too well that being ABLE to smell it means that little particles of the the person's filth-cloud are going up your nose and entering your system, thereby becoming a part of you, welcome or not.

I sit for about ten minutes as the bus bumps along, trying to come up with a strategy I can live with to spare myself this particular respiratory experience. I try to ignore it, until the possibility that I might vomit starts to seem real. Then I try breathing through my mouth - no more welcoming the thought of his filth-particles lighting on my tongue than I do the thought of sucking them up my nose. It's marginally better, but still not really working. What I want to do is MOVE AWAY FROM HIM - to at least get out of the worst of it - but I don't want to do so in a way that might convey to him my disgust, which I somehow feel quite sheepish about. I have no idea what difficulties he faces in his daily life, no desire to blame or punish him for his condition - even if his choice to sit next to me was deliberate, based perhaps on some desire to act out his class rage through stinking up my life, it's pretty hard for me to hold that against the guy. To be without access to a bathtub - something most everyone can take for granted - is unfathomable to me, and alone proof of an extremely difficult and unhappy life. I want to be compassionate - I know from my experience of times when I have not been that I would feel guilty afterwards to be anything else.

At the same time, Christ, I can't bear the stink of him...

It finally occurs to me after some minutes to stand up and go make conversation with the bus driver - to ask him a question or two, and then use the opportunity of being up front to continue standing there until I get to my stop. Enough time has passed since the guy got on, I figure, that it won't be an obvious reaction to his presence. It works for awhile, though I get another noseful of buddy as he exits a few stops later... I don't appear to have hurt his feelings, at least. When I get home, I can still smell him on me, lingering in my nostrils an hour later. I guess I'll have to take a bath before going to bed. Too bad I won't have time for another one when I wake up...


Anonymous said...

"...act out his class rage through stinking up my life"- great, great stuff! I enjoyed this entry quite a bit. The dozen film reviews were awesome too.

wnuk said...

At the Vancity theatre last night, I had a similar experience, albeit one on the other end of the spectrum.

A cineaste's fear, a late arrival sat down next to me as the film began. A middle-aged woman with too much perfume on, it's sweetness and excess causing me to feel ill and trapped. Perhaps it was different for others, but this odour in no way added to my experience of "In Search of Beethoven".

A simple escape was not possible due to the number of people. And I didn't want to force my friend to beggar off with me to who knows where in the crowded theatre. So I made do by breathing through my jacket.

No class rage here so much as someone stinking up my life because of their insecurities. Thankfully, it wasn't as bad as someone being noisy.

That is, until the same woman began rummaging in her purse for some candy to slowly unwrap...