The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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I was typing, if not perhaps writing, in the back of a wonderful Japanese tea place in West L.A., when he came in.
          I knew he had entered, and I knew much about his life, without looking up. For instance, I knew where he lived and what he did for a living, and could make a fair guess at his state of mind and state of finances. I gleaned something about his background, even---at least the degree of success and happiness it contained. All of this Holmes-ian stuff without seeing him. You can tell so much about a person by his or her. . .
          If this guy walked into a slaughterhouse, no one would notice. Andy Gump would hang a sign on him. Rats would merely fall about and worship. If he’s smart, he’ll never take a nap in a funeral parlor. Osama could use him. This is a WGD (weapon of gas destruction.)
          Think: rotting corpse odor---the rotting corpse of, say, a wild animal. Or a dozen. It’s difficult to describe, really. You had to be there! Imagine unwashed socks worn for a couple weeks running.
          About fifty thousand of 'em.
          I don’t know why the place didn’t empty out on the spot.
          Well, wait a moment, yes, I do. Here’s why: the odor of this man had homed in on me. It had sought me out, as if ordered to do so by Satan, or God, or Rupert Murdoch. There’s Rense! Get ‘im!
          As I was in a narrow passageway in the rear of the café, and the front door was open, I was downwind. And it was a dead-end downwind, where the wind had nothing to do except die. Which is essentially what any self-respecting wind would have done, burdened with the smell of this poor wretch. I was in a cul-de-stench. The downwind had me down.
I am shocked and embarrassed that my country, state, county, city do not do something to help these people out. I think they stink---the people in government, I mean, especially the lying fat-cat “compassionate conservatives.” I’d like to mail this guy directly to George Bush.

         And I was a poor wretch, too, for having to inhale this sour, fetid eau d’ a year’s worth of dead skin. Extra sharp cheddar human. I’ve smelled homeless people before, not that it’s a hobby or anything, but folks, this guy was superhuman. Odorman! Who came to earth with powers and scents far beyond those of mortal homeless men. Odorman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare reek. . .
          To my amazement, Odorman had enough money to order tea. Guess you can’t always tell a book by its odor (Danielle Steele excepted.) Hell, maybe he was a lawyer. The smells are comparable. As he sat down at one of several small tables in the joint, I was further amazed to see that the table did not sprout legs and run for its life. And there he remained, taking a sip of his tea. . .
          About once every five minutes.
          Odorman was clothed head to foot in some sort of tragic apparel that might have been brown, might have been gray, and he sat with his matted dreadlocked head down. Except for the intervals where he slowly, oh-so-slowly raised it, picked up his cup, took a sip, set it down, then bowed his head again. Oh-so-slowly.
          I wondered if perhaps he was emulating the Japanese tea ceremony, in which each aspect of preparing and ingesting the drink is fetishized into solemn, tense, slow-motion ritual, but then, I figured he probably wasn’t. The ladies who conduct these ceremonies don’t usually smell like the ape cage at the zoo in a heat wave, and I think he would have picked up on that subtlety.
          I tried gamely (so to speak) to continue writing, but it was like trying to see through smoke. Trying to talk over Joan Rivers. Trying to get Larry King across a room full of buxom blondes. One of the nice employees in the joint brought me an aerosol container of carcinogenic spray, “Spring Rain,” which I liberally blasted all around. This merely imbued the scent with a swampy quality, a rotting jungle tropicality, King Kong with athlete’s foot. I noted that more and more customers were buying their tea to-go. Odorman’s influence was spreading, after all. One employee walking past me suddenly reeled, as if she had hit a wall.
          “Oh my!” she exclaimed, covering her nose. “That’s not an odor. That’s what my mother calls an ‘oh, dear!’”
          I gave up and went outside, in order to clear my lungs with some nice, fresh bus exhaust and second-hand smoke. Odorman was still deeply immersed in the mysterious aesthetics of his private tea ceremony, with the one sip every five minutes, and the bowed head.
          Look, I am profoundly sorry for the homeless, as distinguished from hustlers and bums. Many of them are mentally ill, and were essentially sent wandering during the beneficent reign of the hallowed Ronald Reagan. I am shocked and embarrassed that my country, state, county, city do not do something to help these people out. I think they stink---the people in government, I mean, especially the lying fat-cat “compassionate conservatives.” I’d like to mail this guy directly to George Bush. And I have always been a soft touch for spare change, even when I needed it as much as a homeless person (and it does my conscience no good at all.) What's more, I am thrilled that L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez is campaigning to help out the thousands in Skid Row. Give him a Pulitzer.
          But I really had enough of Smell Boy.
          “Excuse me, sir?” I said, smiling sympathetically.
         His face slowly, oh-so-slowly raised until I was staring into great, hollow, depressed brown eyes. I figured him for anywhere between 30 and 50, which, coincidentally, was the same number of years since his last bar of soap.
          “Do ya. . .have a place to live?"
          “Yes, sir, I DO,” he replied, voice strong, commanding.
          Well, maybe he did have a place to live. I wondered if the post office delivers to port-a-potties.
          “Uhh. . .good. Does it have a uh. . .shower?”
          “Yes, sir, it DOES.”
          Dumpsters have showers?
          “Well, ya really ought to try and use it,” I smiled. “The smell in here is. . .uh. . .really bothering people.”
          There was a long pause, during which time he glared at me as if he, well, smelled something bad. Then. . .
          “If you are implying that I am responsible,” he said with utterly marvelous disdain, “You are MISTAKEN.”
          What could I say? I was impressed not only by his olfactory clout, but by his oratory. Maybe he really was a lawyer. And hell, maybe he did have a shower. Maybe he just didn’t want to spoil it.
          “Oh. Okay.”
          What else could I say? I had debated him, and he had come out smelling like a rose. So I waited him out. It was another ten minutes or so.
          When Odorman sadly shuffled along, another casualty of the mostly curdled milk of human kindness, an employee promptly disinfected the table and chair where he had been.
          It won’t do any good, though. The land itself must be doused with gasoline, burned, purified by witch doctors, sanctified by Druids.

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