Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Aromatherapy for Librarians 

This was the title of an actual seminar offered at a recent library convention. I wonder what healing and stress reducing aromas the seminar suggested as therapy. I certainly encounter a lot of aromas while at work at the library, and none are remotely therapeutic. Since I began working with the public a few years ago I have encountered odors so noisomely evil that I have flirted with the idea of taking up smoking, a hideous habit I gave up years ago, to dull my sense of smell. Sometimes I contemplate even more drastic measures, like shooting a bottle rocket up my nose so, like Selma Bouvier, I would be permanently deprived of my sense of smell.

One particular patron has a body odor so putrid that the unfortunate page who had to check out his material one time retched right in front of him. I’ve really smelled nothing like him before – it’s indescribable, but I’ll try. He smells like a combination of stale cigars, hair grease and slow death (apologies to Joseph Conrad). He always wears the exact same oily hat and raincoat, and his odor contaminates the entire library like a dirty bomb or tear gas. His odor is so abominable that the staff was almost driven to revolt, so my manager had the unenviable duty of talking to him about his problem. The patron became belligerent and defensive, and didn’t return to the library for almost a year, which made us all rejoice. The other night he returned like some kind of curse, though, dressed exact same greasy hat and clothing, more putrescent than ever. Since my manager no longer works the same night as I do I hope that the responsibility never falls on me to give him another talking to about his odor.

Another patron with an odor problem I feel very conflicted about. He is a homeless alcoholic but has a very courtly and charming Old World manner about him and is perfectly well behaved in every other aspect. He is always so gracious and every time he visits the branch he makes sure to visit my desk so he can shower me with compliments, flattery, and, regrettably, molecules coated in his stench. Despite all of his refinement and courtesy, he has such a pungent odor that when he stands before me my eyes will begin to water and I will start to panic. He actually smells like he has been swimming in a port-o-let. I don’t mean that he smells like sewage, but that he actually smells like the blue deodorant chemical disinfectant liquid that port-o-lets use. I don’t know how it is possible that he reeks of that distinctive odor unless he bathes in it. Now I have become so sensitive to that odor that whenever I pass by a port-o-let I get a full body shudder and my mouth waters as it does as a harbinger of vomit. This patron also wears the same, never varying, never cleaned dark suit every day. Lately it has been covered with a fine dusting of white powder, as if he had just escaped from Pompeii or the World Trade Center. Maybe he is sleeping every night in the port-o-let of a construction site, and the powder is dust from the site. I have considered getting a scented hankie I could pull out and discreetly dab beneath my nostrils when he visits. That way, I could protect myself from his odor and playfully and coquettishly flick it at him after pays me a particularly over the top compliment.

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