Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Cloying Aroma

(An article about the MSG-After-Party will appear later this week. My article about the Bowie show is below.)

Perfumes were invented to cover unpleasant smells generally associated with hygiene. If you are not clean you often smell. Perfume will make you smell better. Some perfumes are more pleasing than others. Each of us can list perfumes we find revolting or pleasing. I am a fan of Chanel perfumes. I have never smelled a Chanel perfume I found unpleasant. I know there are many who will disagree. That is not the point.

There are aromas that are cloying. They are choking even in the smallest amount.

In the 1980s, I remember an Avon product called Skin So Soft becoming very popular because it was discovered to work as an insect repellent without the annoying, though not necessarily cloying, chemical smell so common in products like Raid. This Avon product had a cloying aroma. If someone was using it outside I barely noticed it; but inside, especially on the subway, it caused a gag reflex in me. If more than one person in my general vicinity was softened with this remarkable new insect repellent, I would have to get off the subway and move to another car. This was a dreadful product, and the bottles of it tucked-away in my bathroom were quickly disposed of.

Fortunately, I think others came to the same conclusion because I rarely smell it now.

The subway is the place where we most infringe on each other's personal space. It's important to walk that fine line between holding enough space for my own safety and comfort and leaving enough room for others to enjoy the same sense of security. The worst activity on the subway is the consumption of food and beverages. It might actually be illegal, but people do it with remarkable frequency. The worst offense is drinking coffee that has been artificially flavored with some sort of nut substitute. Though not the most cloying aroma on a morning subway ride, the advent of the flavored coffee might overall be the most annoying cloying aroma of this millennium.

The most offensive aroma on the New York subway these days is, of course, a result of so-called conservative fiscal policies implemented by Republicans since the advent of Reaganomics. The taxpayers (yes that is you) have allowed greedy businessmen to convince them that public transportation is unnecessarily expensive and can be better run by faceless corporations employing workers at slave-wages and providing no benefits. Allegedly, this will make public transportation better and cheaper. It is worse and more expensive, of course, and taxpayers no longer have any control over the service, because it is privatized. Privatization is a failure. The most obvious manifestation of this failure is the methods used to allegedly clean subway cars.

Little cleaning is done except picking up newspapers and coffee cups, and damp-mopping the area where you spilled your grande hazelnut latte delight on the elderly woman for whom you failed to give-up your seat. Then the under-paid, poorly supervised, untrained cleaning staff who get no health benefits from their private employer apply an artificial strawberry scent to the inside of the car, which is supposed to make it smell clean.

This artificial strawberry deoderizer is singularly the most cloying aroma on the subway. No cheap perfume, vanilla bean coffee, stale cigarette smoke, Avon skin softener, or damp newspaper can ever cut through it. It is horrible, and it is no substitute for cleaning the subway cars.

I wonder if we will ever elect public officials who will fix America's infrastructure? Will we simply apply artificial fruit flavoring to the highways, military, schools, and social services programs in the hope that nobody notices they stink?