I’ve always thought the term “personal hygiene” was a little misleading, or at least insufficient.
Yes, maintaining basic minimum standards of cleanliness on all parts of your person is an individual affair; I’m not going to wipe for you, no matter how nicely you ask, or how desperately you need it. (One of the many perks of my current job, over previous nannying and daycare positions, is the fact that this is never expected of me).
But your hygiene isn’t just about you. In fact, it’s pretty much never about you. It’s about everyone else in the entire world that has to be around you, like it or not.
You know, like retail workers.
The problem isn’t that I deal with these people any more than anyone else, really. After all, B.O., poorly planned (or just completely indifferent) farts, persistent halitosis, unwashed body parts, and the rest don’t stop the second someone walks through my door and back to work, or a restaurant, or any number of other unfortunately populated locations.
I just can’t do anything about it.
Take the older gentleman who came in the other day, looking to unload a few pieces of jewelry he’d picked up at garage sales and hadn’t ever done anything with.
He looked clean and presentable, with that cheery tanned-skin-white-hair old-man combo. He was even wearing a hat that said “Old People Are Cool!” with a cryptic – and exponentially awesomeness-elevating – “Country Club” just below.
Then he opened his mouth to tell me about the earrings and necklaces he’d fished out of his pocket, and I was hit with an assault that didn’t let up for a solid five minutes. People always say that bad breath smells like something died in the person’s mouth, and I can’t say that wasn’t the case here – I don’t smell a lot of death, to be honest – but to me, the stench stabbing at my face, increasing in awfulness with each added second, was redolent of nothing so much as fresh, sick-person-spending-a-night-on-the-bathroom-floor, shit.
God how I longed for the days when we used to keep free packs of gum on the counter.
The worst thing is, when people offend in more obvious ways, I’m able to do something about it.
But how do you address the fact that someone smells, or looks, like week-old trash?
It’s hard enough to imagine telling a friend that maybe he should spend a little more time getting to know his local mouthwash – how are you supposed to tell that to someone you’re trying to wrangle money out of?
At least when that seedy looking guy steps onto the T, stink coming off of him in almost palpable waves, like Pigpen’s even-more-offensive brother, you can move down a few seats and show your disdain.
Me? I have to smile and ask if he’d like any help finding anything. Perhaps one of our lovely French-made soaps?