I stink. The older I get, the more I stink. I think. I use soap and shampoo, toothpaste and mouthwash, antiperspirant and deodorant, baby powder and aftershave lotion. And breath mints. But I still stink. At the end of the day my clothes smell like farm livestock has urinated on me. After a humid, languid night’s sleep my pajamas don’t smell much better. Maybe it’s because in middle age my body chemistry has changed from what it was as a younger man. Other things start happening, too, like your eyebrows growing bushier, or the hair in your ears and nose becoming disgusting. Not surprisingly, I stink more in the hot summer months. I wake up in the mornings and my mouth smells and tastes like a sewer. It feels like one, too. So these days I am brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth with mouthwash more often than ever before, and on the least provocation. I always look forward to buying new, musky aftershave lotion whenever the old bottle is nearly finished and I happily apply it liberally, imagining the affect it might have on nearby women in the crowded rush hour subway. Can they smell me the same way I smell them, and with similar effect? When I return home at the end of a day’s work, skin and clothes damp with perspiration in the current weather, and my aftershave lotion long since expired, my clothes smell. Now, we have heard it said, and seen it written in literature, that to the Japanese nose we foreigners smell of meat. Or, at least, we used to in the old days when a foreigner in Japan was still a rare and remarkable thing. But my clothes under these conditions smell of stale buttered popcorn left behind in a movie theater after the film is finished, the audience gone home, and the staff are cleaning up.
Of course, some would say it’s on account of my diet - or at least largely on account of it - (some radical healthy-eating nuts have a prejudice towards diet exclusive of, or disproportionate to other explanations), that my body is sweating out what it takes in and that I therefore ought to change my diet if I am unhappy with myself. But that is already getting ahead of ourselves, isn’t it? Such a reaction assumes, first, that what I am describing is real; second, that it isundesirable; third, that this undesirability is, indeed, a stink; fourth, that it is true that I am sweating out what I take in; fifth, that this supports a connection between sour-smelling perspiration and diet; sixth, that an evolution in middle aged body chemistry is not responsible, or at least a less than satisfactory alternate explanation; seventh, that even if it is true that I do stink, and it is real, and it is a product, partial or otherwise of diet exclusive of natural middle aged body chemistry, that any of this is unhealthy. Gee, after all this writing I’m only just now getting to the question of health.
Then there are the possible explanations that have so far been excluded. What about pre-existing medical condition? If there are any, they might be contributing factors - a large portion or not.
There is just so much to consider - maybe other things that I cannot imagine at the moment. You would immediately jump on the health wagon, maybe because you focus on ends, while I am more interested in processes. For me, whatever the result of a process might be - healthy or not in this case - I am more interested in the process than the outcome. Maybe it’s because I am a more passive character than others and harbor a fatalist’s resignation to what will be. I will be interested in my slowly deteriorating body all the way to death, while others may resist in their own lives incremental collapse into decrepitude. Sometimes they preach about it. Or not.
I cannot simply ask my wife if I stink, because she would immediately say yes. Shout yes, most likely. And call me fat into the bargain. There is no hope of a conversation on the topic there. She would not for a moment consider any of these options, implications and permutations that I have tried to describe. And it’s not the sort of thing one goes around talking about with colleagues, acquaintances or most of all strangers.