Something had changed at Blockbuster and it was not the annual rearrangement of shelves and their culling of the excellent in favor of the trite. I hurried. Taking advantage of my grise, if not eminence, I leaned toward the young man at the check-out and said, "This place smells like vomit". "We are required by management ..." - shades of Nuremberg! Bereft of empathy, he switched off his smile and said, "Due back Wednesday".
Even before middle-age, when phobias translate to self-righteous smugness, I had started a one-man war against other people's smells, and I don't mean BO. So I was pleased, in '95, when I read an article in TNR by Richard Klein titled "Get a Whiff of This". OK, two-man war, I thought. The article was nowhere to be found on line and I had to rummage through my archives for a copy I had squirreled away.
Klein, a professor of French, had previously published the book "Cigarettes are Sublime"; I feel your winces. Though I am still on the cusp of criminality myself in that respect I do not like the smells associated with the vice. The smoke and others' exhalations suck, and my enjoyment, if not the habit, is a matter of the past. Cigars, that vaunted concomitant of success and those seeking it, are an abomination to me, as is the stench surrounding uncultivated pipe-smokers. It is easy to elicit your sympathy by saying that I too am revolted by the odors that assail me when I come back home from the movies, open a long unused closet, or board a German train (the very worst).
As for that other commonplace, everyone has a threshold of tolerance for body odors that get adjusted up or down depending on who it is that offends. There are those who for little reason are afraid of it in themselves and resort to masking with deodorants. Compassion kicks in when I smell the presence of another so afflicted, but not when they over-compensate for it. When bathing at least once a month was considered a quaint custom of the French rich, hygeine consisted of changing shirts daily, or more often. Rank clothes these days are more objectionable to me than humors that can't be helped.
Aside from my nose and brain, my COPD scarred lungs protest, for perfumes are a health hazard.