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Scratch and Sniff

By Mink Stole | Posted 11/15/2000

It's like this--I work evenings at an office where a cleaning crew does their nightly chores while I do my job. Lately, they've had a woman working on my floor who wears so much perfume I get sick when she gets near my desk. My sinuses literally balloon like blowfish, and my throat gets dry and sore, and then the headache ensues. It's like being attacked by a walking ragweed monster!

I don't want to say something rude to this woman, nor do I want to get her in trouble, but at the same time I don't like getting sick every night due to this lady's awful eau de. Is there a polite way to inform this woman of the noticeable odor zone located on her body, or should I just buck up and do my office work in a surgical mask?
Choking on Cologne

Dear Choking:
To coin a phrase, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who love perfume and those who don't. Those who love it will slop it all over themselves regardless of where they will be and with whom they'll be sharing the elevator, forcing those who don't to endure difficulty breathing, nausea, and the urge to commit homicide. Before the days of indoor plumbing all this perfume made some sense; now, when we can bathe regularly, it is pure egoism, egged on by saturation advertising promising romantic and financial success to anyone who smells like the first floor of Bloomingdale's. And so we add excessive smelliness to the list of social irritants: bad drivers, SUVs, cell phones (or any combination of the three), tobacco smoke, graffiti, litter, and folks who think their doggies' doo doo is lawn topiary.

Here then, is my definitive guide to perfume. Were it not for the families of those involved in its production and promotion I would be tempted to try to abolish it altogether, especially those damned stinky magazine ads. If you must wear it, apply spray perfume (and this goes for cologne and essential oils as well) by squirting a fine mist directly in front of you at shoulder/neck height then walking through it. Apply liquid with a very light touch on pulse points and particular favored body parts. At no time should any more scent be worn (and this includes men's aftershave and cologne) than can be detected more than 2 inches from the wearer's skin. This keeps the scent personal and intimate and unobtrusive to all but those it is specifically intended to entice. Anyone caught wearing patchouli at any time will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

As to your specific case: It is not rude for you to ask this woman, politely, to wait until after your floor is cleaned to put on her perfume. Tell her you're allergic and explain your symptoms. If she refuses, or forgets one time too many, you may ask her employer, politely, either to speak with her or arrange for someone else to clean your office. If her employer does nothing, talk to your boss. In the meantime, you don't want to have to hide in the restroom while she's vacuuming, but if there's a nice little cafe open nearby, when you hear her coming you could take a break. The time it takes to have a nice relaxing little dinner should be just about the time needed to detoxify the air in your office.

What do you think of same-sex marriage?
Curious George

Dear Curious:

There are two ways we can establish legal kinship beyond blood relationship, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails (inheritance, insurance benefits, medical decisions, etc.): marriage and adoption. Traditionally, those involved in committed sexual relationships have preferred marriage, which is socially celebrated, over adoption, which, because it then becomes incest, is socially repugnant. As long as these are all we've got, the right to them should be universal, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It wasn't so long ago that marriage between whites and blacks was illegal in many states. Homophobia is as senseless and pernicious as racism or sexism. We need to stop calling the basic civil rights that white hetero men in this country take for granted "special rights" when anyone else tries to acquire them. Of course, when gay marriages are legal, there will have to be a way to dissolve them, which will give a whole new meaning to the term "gay divorcee."

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