Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Perfumed Kerchief

Whenever I go on vacation, I like to take with me a perfumed kerchief. I know, I know. That’s SO five centuries ago. You’re probably laughing at me, just as my husband did and my brother. But they don’t laugh any more.

While passing through Charles de Gaulle airport on the way to Zurich in 2004, my travelling buddies and I were forced to deplane the old-fashioned way: lugging our luggage down a staircase that had been wheeled up to the plane’s door, then being herded onto a bus – standing room only - that drove us to the terminal.

“What is that smell?” someone asked. Could it be the sweaty international passengers packed in like sardines, with their arms raised over their heads to hold on to the railings? Did a flock of Parisian pigeons meet their demise in the turbines of a nearby plane... last week?

“Paris,” answered my worldly-wise brother.

I don’t know if I travel “a lot,” but I do like to take advantage of the stand-by flight privileges of my airline employee brother. As the last person on board the plane, I may very easily be seated in the back, next to a malfunctioning lavatory. Large cities and their mass transit systems present plenty of situations where you might find a perfumed hanky quite useful: the ubiquitous homeless man in the subway, for example. But even small, breezy resort areas have their issues, like fish markets. Or maybe while in Annapolis, your husband takes you to a Navy hockey game and you have to pee and discover that the Ladies’ Room is right next to the locker room, and when you get done, you are stuck in the hall with 20 sweaty athletes whose apparent game plan includes knocking out opponents with the sheer stench of their pads.

You just never know when the time will be “ripe,” but it’s a rare vacation where I don’t reach for the perfumed kerchief - or curse myself for forgetting to pack one.

One time my husband and I were traveling cross-country, and somebody nearby on the plane had obviously failed to apply deodorant that morning. I couldn’t imagine enduring the three-hour flight like that, and my husband was only too relieved when he saw me pull out the little hanky from my carry-on bag. Yes, he had scoffed at me before, but the stench of B.O. was so great that it would have been unconscionably mean of me not to share. The two of us huddled together watching a movie on his laptop while hiding our noses behind the hanky, enjoying the delicate lilt of honeysuckle while other, less prepared passengers quietly gagged.

At first we couldn’t tell whence the offensive odor was emanating, but our attention was drawn to a woman three rows up who simply could NOT stop sneezing and wheezing and coughing. She kept going on and on. The flight attendant had to bring her some tissues.

Slowly it dawned on us – this woman was hypersensitive and allergic to everything, probably even deodorant. And her disuse of deodorant was the very thing that caused me to bring out the hanky, thus exposing her to the perfume that instigated her allergy onslaught.

It was kind of poetic.

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