Monday, August 25, 2008

that smell

so last night somewhere before 11pm, i jump on the 1 train at 14th street, content to ride local all the way to my stop in west harlem -- especially since it's making express stops because of track work. i don't care because i've fallen headfirst into this book called deer hunting with jesus: dispatches from america's class war that my friend's brother highly recommended. i'm sort of zipping through it because it's so enthralling. after discussing bits of it with my friend, he's taken to reading it over my shoulder and picking it up when i put it down to roam through certain passages. i've already heard let me read that when you're done at least twice, so i know his curiousity is piqued.

anyway, i'm lost in the book. i'm also sitting by myself, with only one seat available next to me, on my right. on the other side of me is the door. anyone who's been on a subway at least once knows what section of seats i'm talking about. my point is, unless you're sitting with people that you know and love, there's only enough room for two people to sit comfortably in that banquette.

somewhere before times square, this french white girl plops herself down next to me and just as abrubtly, her french white male companion sits on her lap. i know they're french because they're speaking french but also because (yeah, i'm going to say it!) they smell. how do they smell, you ask? well, i'll tell you. they smell like they haven't bathed in days. they smell like they just ran a mile in their street clothes. they smell like they've never heard of deodorant but they've heard an awful lot about perfume and cologne. they smell like the back-end of my uncle hiram's farm. they smell like rank and file urban hippie co-eds. clearly, their euro was strong, but their b.o. was much, much stronger.

oh, wow. how can i say this? everything stinks in new york city and all i could think was, what fresh stench is this? if my world were an animated tv series, that would have been the part when that smell singed my eyebrows off.

i thought a lot of things before i got up out of my seat. i thought of pepe le pew. i thought, this is probably why i've never dated a french white guy. i thought about the palace of versailles, the royal chateau in the suburb of versailles, france -- 18,000 meters of jaw-dropping architecture and all the gilded frou-frou that goes with it, and not one toilet! where did everybody take a dump? why, on the stairwells, of course! i don't even want to think about who had to clean that up or what the place smelled like until they did. but that's exactly what i'm thinking as their collective french funk is shoving itself up my nose.

of course, they're flirting and giggling and carrying on, like they haven't got a care in the world. they can't smell a thing. wheeeeeeeeeeee!

as the train roars on, he laughingly turns and puts his arm up above her head so that he's bracing himself and sort of holding her, too. it's a move that gives me the full force brunt of the unholy stench emanating from his armpit. my nose begins to twitch involuntarily. its the proverbial last straw. i stand up just as suddenly as she sat next to me, and i turn to him and say, have a seat. they both look at me with blank startled faces. he says, you are getting off? i say, no i'm not. the girl begins to chatter at him in french and shove him off of her lap. he chatters back and doesn't budge. theirs becomes this weird tug of war, with him sitting there insisting that i sit next to them and her, trying to get him to move, insisting on the same thing. i watch this spectacle with an expressionless face and a level-headed disposition. finally, he stands up -- clearly annoyed. my, my, my. surprise! the american black girl is a killjoy. or should i say bitch? wouldn't be the first time. (heh.)

i turn to him and say -- just so we're clear -- are you sure you wouldn't like to sit down next to your friend? he says no. she says to me, please sit down. so i sit. and i'm thinking that's the end of it because he eventually gets a seat across from me. but he has the unmitigated gall to glare at me for most of the ride. like him looking me in the eye is intimidating me somehow. i ignore him. young. blonde. big, green eyes. short. yawn.

but the glaring doesn't stop. and as the local train goes express at 72nd street, he finds the grapes to confront me.

in this soupy, everything-running-together-in-one-long-sonic-blur of a french accent, he gets out of his seat across from me, comes over, looks me in the eye and says, why did you do that? why did you interrupt us? i want you to know that you were rude to us. i looked him in the eye and said, do you want this seat? yes or no. if you want it, i'll get up. if you don't, i'll stay seated. which one is it? we stare at each other. i mean i give him a good heavy level hard stare. the way crackheads do when they think you have money and they're thinking about beating you down to get it. you know the one. that sam jackson look that says, i'd shank you for a nickel bag and a carton of cigarettes. he tries to give me the same thing. in his head, it's working. in reality, it's not. clearly, i've known way more crackheads than he has. he repeats, why did you interrupt us? i repeat, do you want the seat or not? and then i say, it's that simple. no it's not, he countered. yeah, i say flatly. actually, it is. do you want the seat or not? more staring, while the french white girl says things like, don't. please stop. she doesn't understaaaaaaand...

i thought a lot of things before we got to the next stop. i thought, how am i the one that's rude when you're the one who smells like that? i thought, i really don't mind standing if it puts me upwind of that smell. i thought, i have got to learn conversational french so i can not only understand what french white people are saying as they sit right next to me, i can chew them out in their own language as they hop off the train. i thought, wow -- it's so shocking how calm i am. i never even so much as raised my voice to this skunk! i thought, french may have been the language of the aristocrats as far as the history of white people is concerned, but it isn't anymore. i thought, this settles it. when its time to live in a foreign country for a year, i'm going to have to live in france. so help me, Jesus.

evidently, i won the stare down and the argument because he didn't say anything else to me. i settled in with my book. and there were no parting shots as they exited at 110th street. still and all, i had a creepy feeling that i would run into them sooner rather than later. probably at a hotspot in my neighborhood. or worse yet, theirs.

paris, here i come.


HappyBrownGirl said...

Man, what shenanigans!!! Queen Esther FTW!!

I know that smell...there's a certain country I have visited in Africa where I sniffed out the funk of 40,000 years. I have never had my eyes water like that before!

queenesther said...

they smelled worse than the oversized, filthy, mud-encrusted wild boars on my uncle's farm. i am so not exaggerating.

seriously -- if you're living in the sticks, that's one thing. but how sophisticated and civilized can you possibly be if you're living in an alleged "first world nation" and you don't know what deodorant is?