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Saturday, January 24, 2004




Is your Fragrance too Fragrant?
Please be considerate of environmentally sensitive colleagues in your decision to apply perfume or cologne.*

* A sign posted in all breakrooms throughout the library system

I’m glad that the weather has cleared because on rainy days my branch becomes a popular destination for homeless looking for a cozy place to spend the afternoon. Not that I want to bar the homeless from the library: I strongly believe in their rights to use the library for its intended purpose,  not to mention that I’ve become quite fond of a few of my regulars. The damp, however, tends to release embedded odors of such decay and putrescence in the clothing of some of the homeless that I desperately wish that I had some white camphor cream to dab beneath my nostrils like a coroner. I do have the authority to ask people to leave if their personal ‘fragrance is too fragrant,’ but I’m a squeamish coward when it comes to confrontation of that type. It’s a very awkward and uncomfortable conversation for both parties, as you can imagine.

An acute sense of smell is definitely not a gift in this profession. I have found that I have the ability to identify certain patrons by smell alone. I’ll be sitting at the reference desk and a particular regular homeless patron will come to mind and sure enough, I’ll look up and there he will be, sitting about 20 feet away, pretending to read a newspaper or a volume of the encyclopedia.
A strong sense of smell runs in my family. My Great Aunt Nancy was a brilliant medical student who graduated second in her medical school class at Tulane (my grandmother and great grandmother were convinced that she should have graduated first if not for some sexist rigging by the medical school administration). Supposedly she would astound her professors by diagnosing patients on practice rounds by odor alone. She would correctly pronounce a diagnosis of tuberculosis or yellow fever and the incredulous doctor would ask huffily, “Well, how do you think you knew that?” and she would reply, “I can smell  it on him.”

I would rather have inherited her aptitude for math rather than her keen sense of smell, but math ability seems to a very recessive and elusive trait in our family judging from our mathematical performance overall.

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