Scentilessly


“Scentliessly,” Jeff says to me. “Scentilessly,” he says. “I did this in a scentilessly fashion.” He is pounding that word home. I can’t figure it out, and I am so confused by it that I awake. It’s a dream, but it makes so little sense to me that I awake complete with that word splashed on my brain. I can’t go back to sleep, until I make sense of it. I don’t know why I bothered trying to make sense of it. Jeff made no sense. I spoke to him for three hours that night, and nothing he said made sense. I tried to make sense of him when he spoke. I tried to find something linear that would cause Jeff to make sense, whether he liked it or not.

normal in chaosPsychologists suggest that our dream world tries to make sense of our day. “Let me sleep on it!” is more than a clever catch phrase they say, sleeping and dreaming are actually tools we use to make sense of the flood of information we encounter on any given day. I could make no sense of what Jeff was saying during the day, and when I failed to make connections in the dream world, it ejected me back into the real world in frustration.

When we were both awake, and he wasn’t invading my dreams, Jeff said that he liked to work with his hands. He said he had an agile mind. He said that when left to his own devices, he could make miracles happen, and he turned to me with a smile that attempted to punctuate the point. He didn’t say he was a misunderstood genius, but that was the import of his almost uninterrupted dialogue.

“We all are,” I would’ve said if he tried to plant that flag on me.

Jeff’s stories were as satisfying, and nutritionally valuable, as cotton candy. I was a stranger in a strange land lured in by the premise of his confusion. Everyone was polite to me in this world, but most of these people couldn’t think of anything to say to me. Most people try to come up with interesting things to say to people they don’t know, but they’re also frozen in place by the fear that they can’t. Most people can’t speak just for the sake of speaking. They often ask questions about you and feign interest while you’re speaking. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, and everyone knows this, so they ask questions to help you get started. Most people aren’t so driven by the need to be interesting that they’ll talk and talk, until the listener is forced to try and find something interesting in what they say.

Jeff was eager and earnest, in a manner similar to Alan Alda. Jeff was so interested in minutiae that he bogged the brain down with it. I wondered if Alan Alda did the same thing when he wasn’t on being edited by a number of people before his words are televised.

I know that Jeff just wanted me to understand him, and he wanted me to like him, and when I did end up showing him a little interest he went off like a liquored up alkie at the end of a bar at closing time. I did understand Jeff. In many ways, I am Jeff. I think I’m complicated and loaded with potential and promise, and I want people to understand how I plan to get there. I also want them to be entertained by me, but I know how to clip my stories better. I know good stories have beginnings, middles, and endings. I know how to arc.  Jeff does not arc. He is the literary equivalent of those novels I should read. He is complicated, nuanced, and loaded with description. There is no greater understanding reached, and no culmination for the listener. He is cotton candy.

Cotton candy has all the visual allure in the world when you’re young. When a young person sees it, they have to have it. It’s big. It’s fluffy, and it sticks to people’s tongues when they laugh. No one can explain this allure sufficiently, especially when they’re young, but they’re so intoxicated by cotton candy that they will willing to suffer the ramifications of badgering their parents to have it on their tongue when they laugh. Meeting someone new has that same allure when that person is interested in interesting the listener. When he gravitates to us in a room full of strangers, we appreciate the fact that he’s singled us out to help us feel a little more comfortable than we were in a room full of strangers. That appreciation ends when we become more acclimated to the crowd around us, and we want to venture out to them, but people like Jeff don’t pick up on visual cues. They don’t even pause. His allure is gone, and you’re stuck searching for ways to finish the conversation, but like cotton candy, you can’t just throw it away after you went and badgered your parents relentlessly for it.

Jeff is a hodgepodge of quotes and anecdotes that he’s heard over the years, but he forgets that it should all mean something at the end. It doesn’t matter what it means, you think while he’s speaking, as long as it means something. There’s no personalization to his stories. He just talks. He forgets to personalize his anecdotes so that you’re more interested in him. He forgets to have a point. He forgets to have a central theme, and you forget to concentrate on the stories for which you’ve displayed interest. At one point, you’ve worked your way through the Rolodex of responses you know, and you fear that your last couple attempts at appearing interested were unsuccessful. You don’t want to appear rude, but there was some response that you gave that he smiled at. You can’t remember what that was.

My wife nods off in the middle of one of Jeff’s stories. When she nods off, her head falls. She pulls her head up quickly. She’s embarrassed. She nods down again and pulls her head up and says, “Yep!” on the second pull up. To Jeff’s mind, she’s just given him an exaggerated nod of full agreement to everything he’s just said. He has no idea he’s just put this woman to sleep. I find art in her action. I don’t think a person can perform such a reaction once, I tell her it takes skill, and all skills require practice to hone to perfection, and I consider her recovery perfection. I applaud her for this action later, when I asked her about it, but I want to know how many times she’s done it before. I want to know if she’s ever done it to me. She has no explanation for it, and she says that she’s never done it before. She says her goal was to try to avoid being rude. I cannot accept that as an answer, and I marvel at her reaction while continuing to ask her to dig deep for influence. She tires of my questions after a time, and she suggests that my line of questioning is bordering on ridicule, and she says that she finds it insulting. We move onto other subjects. 

Luther

Even in her most blatant moments, my wife has never been as rude as a man named Luther. Luther, Jeff, and I are all attendees of a funeral of one of my wife’s best friends. I meet Luther in the dining hall of a church, following that funeral. Luther is a nice guy. I ask Luther about Luther, and Luther is more than happy to tell me what makes Luther tick. He is a Colorado Buffaloes fan. I can’t remember much of what Luther said about Luther, other than the Buffaloes thing, and he said a lot. I had no problem with that though. I asked him about him, and I was curious about him. I like to know what makes people tick. We exchanged a few competitive statements about the Huskers and the Buffaloes, all kind ribbing, and I thought that was the end of our conversation. Luther wouldn’t let it end that way though. He wanted to know a little something, something about what made me tick. He was being polite, and I knew it.

The first question Luther asked me was where I was from in Nebraska. I tell him. The city I’m from has three syllables in it, and before I hit that third syllable, Luther is looking around the room to see if there is someone more interesting. It might have something to do with the idea that I bore more people than the average person, but I am keenly aware of the signs another offers when I am boring them. I can spot these signs within seconds, but I didn’t have to use these skills with Luther, for Luther made it abundantly clear, within seconds, that if anyone else expressed any interest in him, he would prefer to speak to them. 

I developed a rule for Luther, if he feels stuck speaking with a person he has no interest in, or he’s stuck speaking with a person because no one else will speak with him. I decided that Luther should require himself to feign interest for ten seconds. Ten seconds is an entirely arbitrary figure, of course, but I decided that it is enough time to avoid having the speaker believe they are not interesting. Ten seconds is enough time to leave the speaker with the belief that it is the material they chose that the listener is not interested in hearing. Ten seconds is also enough time to avoid having a more confident speaker believe that the source of discontent lies with the listener’s rudeness. 

I purposely cut my answer short and begin looking around the room in direct retaliation to Luther. Luther asks me a follow up question. I turn back to him to answer. He’s off to someone else again. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I’m done with Luther. I stop my answer short again, and he breaks into a third question. This time, I lay a trap for him. I insult my people. I insult the Huskers. He enjoys this, and he joins me. He doesn’t know I have a haymaker waiting for him on the other side of his rejoinders. I’m going to lay his people out. I have good material. It’s factual. It’s damaging. I decide I’m going to slip this shot in, I need to make it an Ali v. Liston slip shot. It’s going to be a shot he doesn’t see coming, and he won’t know what hit him. I’m going to be genuinely curious. I’m going to see if he will defend his people, the Buffaloes, after we all had such a whale of a time insulting the Huskers. I’m going to see what kind of character this Luther is. I’m going to see if Luther has character. It’s rude, of course, but he’s been playing games with me, so I’m going to try this out on him. I’m going to see if Luther has the moxie to wriggle out of my game with political finesse. We get cut off by the emcee of the event making a profound statement about why we’re all gathered here today. I’m disappointed by the interruption, but the emcee’s words take me off point.

Luther comes up to me later, when he’s decided to leave, and he is surprisingly gracious. “I was hoping we would have a chance to talk, but with so many people around … well, you know.” I say something insultingly funny about my people again, and he laughs hard. He laughs so hard and so congenially that I’m taken off point. I still want to get this guy, until he drops a rejoinder that’s quite funny. I’m shocked by this. Is Luther a good guy, and I’ve read him wrong, or is he in departure mode? 

In departure mode, those that want nothing to do with another can shore up any perceived acts of rudeness by asking the speaker to indulge any acts of rudeness, and the one in departure mode doesn’t have to pay the price of continued involvement because they are leaving. 

I politely wave away any perceived acts of rudeness with a smile, but Luther continues to stand before me for a couple of seconds, and I do not know what to do. We don’t know each other, and we have established the fact that we have little to talk about, but we get along. How do we prolong this? Is there a progression? Before I can fully digest these thoughts, Luther is politely parting. It was a quick, worried, and harried exit. His game is clear to me then. He’s not rude, and he doesn’t find me as uninteresting as I thought. He’s just worried that I’m going to figure out how uninteresting he is.

I refuse to use the word scentilessly to describe these two days of Summer, and the run-ins I had with the people that surround my people, but I do begin to see the sense and senselessness these two players brought to my bipolar understanding of humanity and myself. Jeff was so easy to figure out that he bored me, and I wanted to be anywhere but the focus of this man’s attention, and the next day I experience the exaggeration of the opposite in the form of a Luther growing bored with me before I can say two words. Am I one that others try to figure out, or do I blather? Has anyone ever seen me as such a blatherer that they wanted to escape a conversation with me, or do I cut them off and make a hurried and harried exit before they can find anything out about me? 

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Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine


How much time, money, and effort do we spend in our quest to be attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our bodies, so someone, somewhere might find our scent pleasant? How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary? Recent surveys report that scent factors very low on our list of priorities when seeking a mate. Why, then, do we spend so much money and effort to present the illusion that we don’t have an unappealing odor?

What drives attraction, if not scent? Societal conditioning leads us to believe it’s more about muscles, glands, and bulges in the front and back, but do these visual cues override our sense of smell? Does a person with a sculpted, angular face, great hair, perfect teeth, and a strong chin have an advantage in the world of attraction, regardless of their scent? Pablo Picasso believed they do. He believed the basis of human attraction involves visual cues in the symmetry and angles of the face and the human form. Blunter groups argue that it’s all about being sexy. “Sex sells,” they chant, “so, show your angles, reveal that symmetry, and display those organs and glands in a tasteful or tasty manner. Wear tighter clothing, reveal more cleavage, and accentuate that walk in a manner that will have them flipping and flopping on their path to your pelvic floor.”

In her Serendip Studio piece, Meghan McCabe wrote that attraction is not as complex as Picasso theorizes, nor is it as simple as the blunter groups’ chants.(1) She says sexual attraction centers on “airborne chemicals called pheromones,” and she adds that these “airborne and odorless molecules emitted by an individual can cause changes in the physiology and/or behavior of another individual.” We sense these pheromones in our vomeronasal organ (VNO), which is part of the olfactory system and located inside the mouth and nose. She believes pheromones are “chemically detected, or communicated, from one human to another by an unidentified part of the olfactory system.” Those of us who cake our necks with perfumes and cologne, in other words, are just wasting a whole lot of money on chemical scents, because most research on human pheromones concludes that the main odor-producing organ is the skin, courtesy of the apocrine sebaceous glands.

The skin produces more attraction agents than the entire line of the products in the personal grooming section of your local drugstore. This notion is impossible to sell, however, so we don’t buy it. We don’t buy the idea that the subtle smell of underarm odor could be a valuable tool in attracting a mate. We don’t care for the smell of underarm odor, and we don’t think anyone else does either. On the surface, the whole idea may seem humorous or even ludicrous, yet even those laughing must admit that our understanding of why we do what we do, even on the surface, is subject to further review. When we submit the word subconscious into our argument, most people stop laughing. That word is loaded with a stable of ideas most of know little about, and we’ve been on the wrong end of that argument so many times that we now concede to the idea that we don’t know why we do many of the things we do.

Even those who are open to the idea of body odor as some kind of subconscious agent of attraction would be far too insecure to walk out of the house with even a hint of organic odor on them. Most would feel insecure carrying even a subtle smell, to the point of being afraid to talk to a prospective mate. Therefore, we wash and scrub those odors away when we fear that masking our scent with a topical deodorant might not be enough.

Jousting is commonly understood as a martial game of the Middle Ages. Jousting was a popular form of entertainment that involved two armored knights attempting to unseat one another from their horses. The goal was to replicate the clashes that occurred during heavy cavalry. The spoils of victory, which many of us have witnessed at Renaissance fair reenactments or in the movies included a damsel’s handkerchief, and the victorious knight huffing on that handkerchief with celebratory joy. Most believe the greater importance of such a scene is symbolic. We believe it is a visual depiction of the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet or showering a locker room in champagne. The portrayals of this moment in modern cinema may illustrate it as a damsel giving her hand to the victor, but in historical actuality, the damsel would have carried that small swatch of fabric in her armpit for the entirety of the jousting match. According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, it was coated with her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was greater knowledge of the damsel’s true essence when he huffed it.(2)

Having said all that, people needn’t look to the animal kingdom or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs to find an attractant. We might be able to unlock the greatest attractant ever known by bathing less often. It may seem contradictory, but the modern ritual of daily bathing deprives us of the very human scents that are, in many ways, attractants. That said, if you do not bathe very often, your visual cues would suffer. Some might consider this a juggling act fraught with peril, but if we manage our bathing rituals in such a manner that our visual cues still score high in the world of attraction, we might be able to maximize our smegma production. Doing so, according to the research scientists quoted here, could land us atop the dating world, without us having to say so much as a kind word to anyone. As our culture dictates, we are required and expected to bathe and wash away this smegma, which is particularly located on and around our reproductive organs and in our urine, on a day-to-day basis. The same prospective dating community then requires us to replace those scents we wash away with those found in a beaver’s castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs or their preputial glands.

It’s also impossible for us to believe that the subtle smell of urine can sexually excite a prospective mate. Urine stinks. The very idea of the smell of urine causes revulsion when we walk into an unsanitary bathroom, and we associate the smell with a general lack of cleanliness. We think the key to attracting a mate is convincing them we have no natural odor and that we don’t engage in impolite body functions, or at least we don’t want those thoughts at the forefront of a person’s mind when they’re talking to us.

We are an insecure people, but we are also competitive. Our insecurity might provide subtext for our competitiveness, for we seek assistance from companies that spend millions in research and development to come up with the perfect chemical combination that will put us over the top in the race to attract others. McCabe and Dr. Goldsmith believe most of these products are not just a waste of money may also be counterproductive.

Contrary to what the marketing arms push so hard to sell to the public, the key to sexual attraction lies in the skin. The apocrine sebaceous glands mentioned before produce pheromones in great abundance, particularly in the sweat glands and in tufts of body hair that are located everywhere on the surface of the body.

“They [pheromones] do tend to center themselves in six primary areas,” Melissa Kaplan writes in her Herp Care collection piece. (3) “The underarm, the nipples (of both genders), the genital region, the outer region of the lips, the eyelids, and the outer rims of the ears. This is not due to the fact that the hairs [on these parts of the body] produce these pheromone messages, but that the hairs hold onto the chemical stimuli that the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands produce.” Nevertheless, most of us shave these pheromone holders away to attract a mate.

While many believe we have natural predilections to these pheromones, we are not attracted to them all the time. Women, for example, are no more attracted to the smell of musk than men are during a woman’s menstruation cycle. Ten days after ovulation, however, women become very sensitive to it. Production of this musk substance also occurs by synthetic means, as it is in exaltolide, but it is also a substance produced in a cat’s anal glands and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs or their preputial glands. Ten days after menstruation, women reach a peak in estrogen production, and this causes them to be far more susceptible to the musk scent.

Production of musk tends to occur in the underarms, in  smegma found on and around the reproductive organs, and in urine. The fact that men secrete these substances and women have a greater sensitivity to them when they are most fertile is an indication that there may be an olfactory role for these substances in human sexuality.

It is also important to note that while researchers believe the (VNO) is a powerful organ in detecting chemical stimuli that leads to attraction, other stimuli can overwhelm the messages this organ receives. If a person provides no visual stimuli to a prospective mate, for example, chemical messaging might not play a dominant role in attraction. In addition, while VNO functions link to the sense of smell, this does not mean its relation to scent is as direct as one might guess.

The VNO detects these chemical messages, these pheromones, and it is possible that an overwhelming scent could impede the VNO’s ability to do so. If the sense of smell dominates, the message the brain receives might be only the smell, and the chemical message will be secondary. Coating oneself in urine, in other words, will not increase one’s chances to attract a mate. It is also not true that fecal matter contains sexual attractants, even though it gathers some as it makes contact with areas of the skin believed to produce these pheromones. So dabbing a little fecal matter behind the ears before going out on the town will induce no sexual attraction. The messages sent to the brain by other senses regarding visible fecal matter would drown out any subtle chemical stimuli the VNO detected, even if it managed to gather sexual attractants as it made contact with the skin.

Urine, in and of itself, is not a pheromone-producing agent, but when the liquid we drink makes contact with the various parts of our body that produce pheromones, it holds those pheromones in the same manner that body hair will. As stated above, however, urine does produce a slight musk scent that women are attracted to at certain times of the month, and in faint doses –when the overall smell does not dominate– it could contain some attractants

The study of pheromones, VNO functions, and the very idea that humans are susceptible to them in the same manner other animals are, is controversial. For every study that suggests that humans are no different from any other animal when it comes to chemical attraction, another study counters that these definitive conclusions are anything but conclusive.

1) http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/2052

2)https://www.questia.com/article/1G1-113079856/the-mag-health-the-smell-of-romance-valentine

3) http://www.anapsid.org/pheromones.html

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