I will be posting on various things in the week to come. I’ve got reviews of a couple of books to put up (including Men Speak Out), and will try and say something intelligent about Planned Parenthood, race, and the complex legacy of Margaret Sanger.
But it’s Saturday, and if I post at all on the weekends, it can’t be about anything too serious. My wife has been in Europe (doing various volunteer things) since last Sunday, and I miss her. She’ll be home in two days time. The stereotype of the generally neat married man who reverts to appalling slobbery when his spouse goes off for a few days is a time-honored one: yes, things are looking a little chaotic around the homestead these days. Newspapers and magazines on the floor; laundry arranged in sensible; adequately folded piles; coffee cups resting on any ledge they can find. And Hugo, unbathed as yet today.
I’ve let go of so many bad habits over the last few years. An earlier incarnation of Hugo on his own would have seen me in a home littered with filled ashtrays. Liquor bottles would have poked their heads out of the trash as well. Bits of clothing and long strands of hair, forgotten and discarded by those whose visit had had but one purpose, would have lingered under chairs for weeks or months. On these scores, all is different now.
But one thing I still enjoy, and that’s avoiding bathing. Surely, I am not the only person who finds the smell of his own unwashedness to be, if not delightful, nonetheless very satisfactory? I wash, use deodorants, and wear (cruelty-free) cologne when I’m on campus or going out; I stay as clean as I can out of courtesy to my beloved, with whom I share such intimate space. And when I’m going to be around the chinchillas, I’m a very loyal hand-washer. Nonetheless, if I can get my way, I’ll work up a good “pong” on those days when my wife is gone. Sometimes, I confess, I go running, come home, and change clothes without showering. Dried sweat and the odor of honest toil on the trails makes me happy, and I want to keep that going as long as possible. On occasion — again, only when my wife is out of town, I’ll go to bed unshowered, with dust and funk coating my body (and by morning, coating the sheets). I do stay off the couch when I’m at my slick, sweaty, smelly worst; I do make sure that the sheets and towels are all changed in time for her arrival home.
I enjoy being around unwashed people when I am equally so. Naturally, my own body odor never offends me, and when I am smelly, my tolerance for others’ pong goes up quite a bit. My wife is a connoisseur of perfumes (it’s more or less certain that she’s been shopping at Fragonard in Paris again this week). I love them on her. I like her best, however, when she’s home from the gym and unbathed. As she knows, my favorite vacations with her are the rustic ones, of the sort where I have a small chance of convincing her to go a day (or, God willing, several) without showering. Though each body wears perfumes and colognes differently, when it comes to the question of what sparks eros, there is nothing as sublime as the strong, clear scent of one’s not-too-recently bathed beloved. (Though it may be apocryphal that Napoleon asked his Josephine to stop bathing five days before he returned to her, I like to think that he did. In that respect if no other, he and I share similar tastes.)
But though my wife’s (all too rarely) unwashed skin is my favorite scent on any human being, I enjoy being around my friends most when they too are decidedly unclean. After our weekend long runs (which can last anywhere from 2-4 hours of hard running in the San Gabriels), we usually head out to coffee and bagels as a group. We always sit outside, even in the grimmest of weather, as our collective scent would overpower other customers. But after hours of bonding through the constructive suffering that is running, we’re already feeling pretty darned close to each other. And far from acting as a repellant, our group odor seems to draw us even closer. There are rarely more than nine in our group, which is mixed-sex and includes folks from their twenties to their fifties; we’re more affectionate with each other at Noah’s Bagels after a long run than we are at any other time. High on endorphins and overwhelmed by the very obvious pheromones of our fellow athletes, we’re very quick to hug and pat each other. It’s not sexually arousing, of course. What I like so much about being having all of us be sweat-drenched and mud-covered as we drink and nosh together is that I feel as if I am truly a member of a close-knit pack. Somehow, when I — and everyone around me — smells of Fahrenheit or Michael Kors or Old Spice, that mammalian sense of belonging just isn’t there in the same way.
My wife will have been on a transatlantic plane ride by the time she gets home. If I time my return from campus right, I’ll at least get to hold her for a moment — and breathe in her — before she races off to the shower. (Knowing her, however, she’ll have freshened up completely in the airplane lavatory before landing). In the meantime, I’m enjoying my unwashedness all by my lonesome here at home. The chinchillas, thank God, are as affectionate as ever, unfazed by Hugo in all his magnificent pungency.