WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Scents and sensibility

The internet is a fascinating thing, but for me it’s mostly fascinating as a way to peer into the past. I’ve already told you about my penchant for looking up ladies I’ve been associated with over the years (benignly, of course). I’ve pretty much exhausted that pool, though, so once in a while I’ll turn to someone else I haven’t thought about in a long time.

Back in 1979 and 1980 I worked the checkout desk at the Washington University Medical School Library in St. Louis. Evening shift, 5 to midnight. It was a surprisingly fun place to work, mainly because I worked with friends there and we’d talk and joke and write college papers and then go out for a beer after our shift. Sometimes I’d hear that Stanley Elkin had called the reference desk on any given day (one of the reference librarians knew I wanted to be a writer), always asking about one obscure disease or another. I was that close to greatness.

I used to ride my bike over to the medical center, and one night it got stolen from the bike rack right outside the security station. I went in and said, seriously, guys, WTF? And to put me in my place the security guard raised his shirt and showed me his healed-up gunshot wound. All right already. I’ll stop complaining about my stupid bike.

But the guy I was interested in looking up on the internet was a student in the basic sciences program, as I recall, which trained young scientists not to treat patients but to do the nitty gritty experiments that lead to medical advances. I think he was in neurology and worked on the various cats and rats that were kept upstairs in cages. I’ll call the guy Guy.

Guy was one of the most dynamic students of the day, with a striking appearance and a terrific air of bonhomie. He wore, usually, baggy maroon sweatpants, a stretched-out, ill-fitting t-shirt, and gnarly Jesus boots. His long scraggly hair he tucked into a wild topknot that matched his long scraggly beard. And you always knew he was coming because you’d hear his voice out in the hallway as he greeted someone and made them feel like they were the most important person in the world.

Unfortunately, you also knew he was coming even if wasn’t talking as he approached. He had the worst BO I’ve ever encountered in a human being, and his fetid cloud would precede him by about thirty seconds. “Here comes Guy,” we’d say, then nod to each other as he swept through the swinging glass doors.

Our theory was that, as a budding young scientist, he must have had ideas that bathing with modern soaps and shampoos was bad somehow, that we kill off beneficial bacteria when we do that, exposing ourselves to infections and fungi and all sorts of microscopic entities. Ironically, Guy’s odor made it seem like his body was crawling with funky stuff, so even if his ideas about bathing were correct, the impression he made on everyone else was that he was a walking landfill.

I can still see him, though, ice skating gracefully in the middle of the Forest Park ice rink, doing almost professionally competent turns and spins with his hair flowing behind him, as my friends and I skated around in endless boring circles to Billy Joel songs.

I looked him up on the internet. And he’s still out there, doing great science, sporting the same exuberant beard, though it’s gray now, and having lost his topknot. In his photos he still looks as dynamic as always, smiling hugely and ready to talk your head off about whatever amazing thing he’s seen or done lately.

What those photos don’t reveal, of course, is whether he ever revised his theories on bathing. That’s where the internet falls short.

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7 comments on “Scents and sensibility

  1. John W. Howell
    April 3, 2017

    Interesting that he is still with science.

  2. kingmidget
    April 3, 2017

    Doesn’t your nose twitch just a bit just by looking at his picture?

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 3, 2017

      Ha, yep. Smells are weird that way. They stick with you. 😐

  3. pinklightsabre
    April 3, 2017

    “Scents memory.”

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This entry was posted on April 3, 2017 by in Et alia and tagged , , .
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