Oops, my post is late. I’ll explain, but not today. In the meantime…
I sat next to a man on the subway yesterday who smelled sort of minty-cilantro with a powdery undertone. That sounds horrible, but it wasn’t. It was delightful, in part because it was so unusual.
I desperately wanted to ask him about it, but every approach seemed problematic, starting with the fact that nobody wants to talk to you on the subway in the morning. Was it his cologne? His clothing? Something he ate? Some combination of all of those things?
And how would I ask him? If he told me he was wearing Cool Water or whatever I’d know that wasn’t the smell. And if I tried to describe to him what he smelled like, he might think I was complaining or that he smelled weird, and not in a good way. (Non-perfumistas do not embrace these subtleties.) I should probably shut up, I thought, and be grateful I got the last seat in this car so I can crush some candy and discreetly sniff at him.
I generally get a seat. I’m nicely dressed and my hair’s up in a silver bun, so folks (menfolks) tend to offer their seats to me, and I tend to take them, because my sense of balance is terrible. I like to practice saying “Why, thank you, young man!” Then I think about how I should have started saying that in my twenties, that would have been a hoot. But in my twenties I was too worried that I didn’t look like Linda Evangelista. Boy, was that time wasted. The exception to the seat-offering is tourists, which I find odd. Gentlemen tourists from the midwest will hold the door for me and call me ma’am, but they are not getting up out of their seats for me. Also they stand two abreast on the escalators until someone barks at them to stand to the right.
Have you seen our escalators at the deepest underground stops? They’re some of the longest in the world. I get on at Bethesda. I remember when I first started commuting on Metro I’d have to steel myself as if I were stepping onto a roller coaster. Now I just grasp the handrail and sprint down the steps. I mostly forget how they look now, and then I’m reminded when I see tourists come upon them and say “oh, hell no!” or stop to take a selfie in front of them.
Everyone stares at their phones on the commute. Sometimes when I arrive at the dark underground platform, it looks like a scene right out of Black Mirror – just a bunch of faces lit up by their small blue screens, like zombies waiting for their marching orders. It’s partly a conversation-avoidance technique, but mostly an addiction. The few times I’ve forgotten my iPad or not charged it I have that moment of panic — aiiieeeeee, what will I do with myself for 23 minutes?!?! Then I snicker cruelly at myself and go back to staring at everyone and sniffing the guy next to me…. is it cilantro? I want to know! But what if he’s got some metabolic disorder that makes him smell odd, and I’ll just be making him feel worse? I went to college with a guy like that. He smelled like metallic baby powder. It was not a nice smell. I wonder what ever happened to him? He was a shy, sweet, super-smart mathlete. I hope he’s running a STEM program somewhere. I hope he found a partner who loves him for who he is.
I thought about that with cilantro-mint man. Does he smell like this all the time? If I were his lover, that smell would make me swoon. I’d smell his tee shirt in the hamper and I’d be happy. The smell of those you love. I’m about 98% sure if I were blindfolded I could still tell my four kids apart just by their smell. I hope I can do that forever.