"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Have you ever noticed how some people always look dirty and some people look clean?  I was just looking at a photo of Angelina Jolie, who in millions of opinions, including mine, is an absolute knockout.  She is freaking gorgeous.  Always has been.  Maybe even more so now than ever.  Every feature blows me away, and she's a hell of an actor.  But she has this slightly smelly look about her.  Not to say it isn't becoming; sometimes dirty can be sexy.  A little greasy, a little soiled from the night before, maybe.  On HER.  But not necessarily on the man or woman sharing your cubicle at work or waiting on you in the convenience store.

Soap opera people look dirty, for the most part.  I don't watch soaps now, but there was a time when I was addicted to All My Children, One Life To Live and General Hospital.  (Especially General Hospital.)  Yes, the women are all perfectly coiffed and made up (soap opera stars would have us think they all wake up in the morning with white eyeliner and glossy lips, I guess?  And no chips in their manicures?  Whatever.)  Nonetheless in my opinion, for the most part, they look dirty.  Maybe because of the makeup.  On them it looks more like primer and plaster, and none too fresh.  Try and make out one individual hair in their eyebrows.  Can't be done.  They're painted over.  
Susan Lucci, "All My Children"
Lisa Rinna, "Days of Our Lives"

Europeans seem to be much more casual about cleanliness and body odor than we are.  We have a plethora of products on the market to keep us looking and feeling squeaky-clean: body washes, shaving gel, face scrub, toner, anti-perspirant, nail files, foot soak, electric toothbrushes, mouthwash, dental floss, antibacterial hand soap, and douche.  There's even a product you can spray in your hair called "Do-Over," supposedly to get it to look freshly washed again.  (I have some.)  Use all this and its like "where did the day go??"  Europeans are out in the parks with their kids, dancing at a club, kicking back with their friends or sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe, maybe even fitting in a nap, and we're still trying to get the tamper-resistant cap off our bottle of shampoo.  

Isabella Rosellini
But while they might not be as sterilized and buffed as we Americans (I can vouch for that, having worked several years at a YMCA camp with an international staff), I don't think Europeans look particularly dirty.  Take Isabella Rossellini, for example.  She looks so clean you can almost smell freshly washed laundry and spicy Mediterranean breezes just looking at a photo of her.  Sophia Loren looks kind of dirty, maybe, but it's that sexy, exotic kind of dirty.  Collin Farrell too -- he has that dirty bad-boy appeal.   And Bono.  Anyway I think Europe has more fun than we do.  I think they discovered pheromones before we did.  By accident, maybe, but still.  
Colin Farrell...sigh...

On the other hand, there are people who just look like they stink, even if they've bathed and scrubbed and polished every inch of their body.  They can't win.  I went to school with some of these people.  They didn't smell bad but they LOOKED like they did.  I can't put my finger on any one thing as to why this is.  Some of them had hair so oily that it looked like it had never been rinsed.  Some had those icky things that my parents called "sleepyheads" in the corners of their eyes.  Some had ragged fingernails or acne.  Or a stained sweater.  Maybe none of these.  Maybe they just can't help it.  In fact they must not be able to -- I graduated high school with some kids who were in my kindergarten class, and they never looked clean.  You figure at least once in all these years they must have taken a bath, but if they did it didn't take.

You know who looks dirty?  Madonna.  She looks like she has that bar-is-closing smell of stale perfume and smoke.  You know who doesn't?  The "Girls Next Door," even though they live at the Playboy Mansion (or did) and they probably do dirty things.
"The Girls Next Door" with "Heff"

One time I was sleeping overnight at my future sister-in-law's house in a bunk bed.  I slept in the bottom bunk which is where her sister, who was having her own overnight somewhere, normally slept.  I recall quite a war of words when the sister found out someone had slept in her bed.  Then, when she heard it was me, she calmed down.  "I don't mind if it's YOU," sister said, "I just don't want XXXX sleeping in my bed.  She just looks dirty."  This is true, this other girl we chummed around with did look dirty.  She never smelled bad but she looked like she should have.

When I was a little kid my mother had to practically throw me in the bath tub.  As a teenager, however, I took such lengthy showers (every day) that my father was wont to turn on the hot faucet in the kitchen to warn me, by a blast of cold water, that I'd been in there too long.  Now consider, my parents grew up without indoor plumbing.  Consider, they bathed in a metal washtub too small to sit down in, usually next to the stove, with coats thrown over the backs of chairs for a little privacy.  They never looked dirty in any of the photos of them from those days, and they never smelled, even when I was growing up and they were lucky if they had time to take a bath or shower every week.  They were good at getting clean and keeping themselves that way, just using the bathroom sink, a bar of soap and a wash cloth.  I didn't understand it.  I figured I could never do it myself, this minimalist washing up.

Wrong!  Some years ago I had occasion to spend a couple of months out in southern California with my brother's brother-in-law, Kurt.  He lived in a one-room straw bale and adobe house with a small sleeping loft, but no electricity, phone or hot water.  He did have running water and a propane water heater in his yard, but the propane tank was always in use to keep his small refrigerator cold.  To take a weak shower -- and yes, there was a little bathroom (with an awesome view) -- he had to unhook the propane from the fridge and hook it up to the water heater.  It was a pain, but I persuaded him to do so now and again. 

For the most part, however, I (and I assume he also) just "washed up."  I used Olay disposable foaming face cloths.  I was thinner then and they covered quite a bit of territory.  I'd throw the cloth in the wood stove when I was done.  I was pleased that with just these I was able to stay clean, smell clean and look clean.  One thing, though: in southern California, when you sweat, the sweat evaporates almost immediately in the dry heat.  It's clean sweat.  It doesn't hang around in your crevices (ick) -- there is no Ewwww Factor.  This does help.

There is an aside to this story, however.  I missed taking long, strong daily showers whenever I wanted or needed to.  REALLY missed them.  When Kurt's friend Pete stopped by to see if Kurt wanted to go to the gym with him, as he had a coupon for a free workout for a friend, I asked if I could go.  Yes, I actually went to a gym where I had absolutely no comprehension as to how the machines worked, and where these svelte California blondes were unknowingly embarrassing me to a point where I wished the floor would open beneath me and I'd fall in.  I went there and exposed myself to this just so I could take a shower.  Long and hot.  Triumph!  It was about much more than just soaping and scrubbing and rinsing though; it was psychologically invigorating, washing off that desert dust in preparation for a new day, a familiar element -- water -- bathing me in a rainstorm of rebirth.  I just hope I went out of there looking good and clean.  And not stinky.


  1. First of all, I wanted to thank you for the lovely comment you left on my recent post. You lifted me and made me smile, you are so very lucky to have your dad drive by and watch out for his children.

    And this cleanliness thing is so true! Unfortunately, my husband's body odour leaves a lot to be desired on many occasions! He's a farmer and often forgets where the shower is.

    CJ xx

  2. Thank you so much CJ!!!! I love your blog. Yes, I count my blessings every day. : )

    I'll bet your husband has "clean" sweat -- legitimately acquired!!