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July 15, 2024

The Smell of Fear

By Sand Pilarski

The only safe rooms are the ones in my own house. That is because no one is going to set foot in my house who doesn't know my rule and take measures to abide by it. It's not a hard rule to live by or visit by; it doesn't require people to spend lots of money or take fitness courses or even wear clothing. In fact it's quite simple: No perfume allowed.

The rationale behind imposing this rule is equally simple: I'm allergic to perfumes. They make my eyes burn, make my nose run. They make my throat tighten up and my lungs feel like they are on fire. Make me sit in a room with a woman wearing a lot of perfume and I'll cough until my throat bleeds and I can't utter a word.

Given that, you can understand why I feel unsafe out in the heedless smelly world. I try to sit where I can get a fair amount of air when I go to church, but by the end of the service, I generally can't sing along with the final hymns. More than once I've had to get up, leave a seat in the pews and go stand in the back along a wall.

My husband, Bernie, acts as my guard, when he can. If we're headed for the checkout line at a store and he catches a whiff, he warns me away so that I can go outside. We frequently scoot through the aisles of the supermarket nearly at a run to get away from reeking women who have drenched themselves with some substance that is to me as Raid is to spiders.

When I was growing up, my mother and I had colognes we liked to wear. A dab of Evening in Paris behind each ear and on the pulse point of a wrist was considered alluring, inviting an admirer to perhaps give one a hug in order to better savor the delicate scent. The colognes were light, and evaporated fairly quickly. Maybe in those days the formula used only natural bases -- essential oils of flowers and leaves, real musk and ambergris. In these modern times, synthetic fragrances are formulated to provide standardization in mass production as well as ensure that the perfume product is not dependent upon how well a crop of flowers does, or the diminishing of the animals from whose scent glands the raw materials are extracted. I suspect my allergic reaction is to the synthetics, because even the smell of a skunk in the neighborhood doesn't make me cough.

Years ago, there was legislation proposed that would have made it illegal to wear perfume in the workplace. I was jubilant. At the very least, it would have raised the consciousness of millions to the plight of those of us who are allergic to perfumes. Alas, the legislation never got the support of lawmakers, and languished.

Well, one of these days, one of us unfortunates are going to get stuck in an elevator with an over-perfumed individual and die from it. That ought to get the ball rolling again. Or at least make The Weekly World News along with the World's Fattest Cat.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-11-20
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