My olfactory senses are not the keenest. Certainly, there are particular essences that I absolutely love, that can transport me years back and to places far away, but for the most part, there aren’t many scents that move me. The exception to this is foot odor. Not my own, of course, to that I feel a kinship, a loyalty, an unpleasant attraction, even. Other people’s foot odor, however, can bring me to the brink of insanity. My oldest daughter has exceptionally ripe pedals, and on several occasions, has nearly caused an accident simply by removing her shoes in the car. That is a lot of power for a nine year old to wield, by the way.
Friday was an early-release day at the elementary school – because after a week long break for Thanksgiving, then two more for Christmas, and then another week for snow, it makes perfect sense to honor those pre-determined half-days, no matter what. Anyway, we followed our normal routine after school: crash into the house; throw backpacks and coats on floor; fight over computer; reconcile; do homework; beg for snacks. And then the friends start to ring the door bell. Having wreaked sufficient havoc in their own homes, they follow innate signals which draw them to ours, similar to locusts.
Everything was moving along nicely this day. All the little girls were sequestered downstairs in a controlled-chaos environment. I ignored them completely and stretched out in another room, away and almost out of earshot, contemplating my quantum parallel universe which is always quiet and orderly. It was a perfect arrangement, until the screeches, squeals and thumps suddenly stopped and all was quiet. My eyes popped open. I waited for the wail, but it never came. The silence continued and hung in the air… I swiftly tiptoed down the hall to listen more closely, to let it tell me what was amiss below, as every parent knows that there is nothing more foreboding than the paradox of a room full of soundless children. I placed my ear to the door. Nothing, not even the shh’s and ess’s of whispers.
Fear gripped me and in three bionic leaps I was in the den, whereupon I found four little angels perched carefully on a crafted nest of cushions and pillows, preparing for the start of a movie, just patiently waiting. I studied them suspiciously, but they seemed in order. I studied the room suspiciously, and nothing was broken. Everything okay down here? I asked casually. No response. The grating voice of Barbie suddenly broke the peace in the room. That shrill voice and gumless smile were enough to keep me from lingering longer, and that’s when it hit me: a smell.
I couldn’t put my finger on it right away; something unnatural and putrid, but not immediately identifiable. What on earth is that smell?? No response. Great, I thought, Make a mental note to add another week to Latin camp this summer to counter The Barbie Effect. I lifted my chin and let my nose guide me around the room, lifting costumes from the floor with the tip of a pencil, expecting to find something huge and moldy and unidentifiable, an Ah-HA! just waiting to leap out.
As physical evidence eluded me, there it continued to hang, the tart stench, lingering invisibly, taunting me, daring me to inhale deeper. I ask again, a little louder, Girls, what on earth is that smell??? One of the girls quickly looks up a me, the big one with the knotted blond hair, and says, Oh, it’s probably my Uggs. Uggs???
I do not understand Uggs. Firstly, it sounds like ugly, which they are, and which I do not aspire to be, not even my feet. Foot-haters is what they are, Vietcong-esque woolen sweat boxes. Why torture them so, poor feet, trapping them in their own brine, marinating them in bacterial waste? It’s just too disgusting to contemplate further. When I see people walking around in them, I know they smell, without ever having to know them, or smell them. And to pay a premium for a branding of stink is simply bizarre to me, maybe even insane.
If I pay several hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes, which I’m not opposed to doing, it will make me smarter, younger, thinner, and taller, and generally make the world a more pleasant place. With the right pair of shoes, it’s totally doable, and then even the priciest of tags seems a great bargain. The complete opposite seems to be the case with Uggs. Even their brownness is an affront, like dirt or poop, and they’re not fooling anyone with the pinks and purples: underneath we know it’s just brown brown brown. As if that’s not enough, they splay, which connotes Neanderthal, and it just doesn’t get more inelegant than that. Australia, what were you thinking?
But this, this was too much. A seven year-old with overpriced quarantine-worthy boots stinking up my basement. Just then I looked down and noticed the offenders: purple, they were, all disguised to make them appeal to children despite their inherent unattractiveness; like a McDonald’s Happy Meal, that is neither happy nor a meal, and posing as both to those who do not know better. These need to go outside, honey, I say in my Compassionate Mother voice. No need to humiliate, she’s just a kid. The little girls laugh and the big one with the knotted blond hair, laughs the loudest and cheerfully bounces from the pile of cushions and bounds over to her boots, at which point the smell intensifies ten-fold. My eyes water and my face pinches, Dear god above, could that possibly be coming from her FEET??? It was. The smell, all along, was feet. Smelly feet, rubbing into rugs and smearing up and down stairs, in and out of rooms all over the house. I moved into emergency mode: this is where crucial decisions are made lightening fast and you feel like a wizard. I gave the little girl a fresh pair of socks and instructed her to take her own, stuff them in her boots and place them outside the front door, quickly. Done and done, or so it seemed.
While Barbie droned high in the background I glided back upstairs to assume my repose. But that smell, that horrible smell, nothing at all akin to my running shoes or ski boots, oh no, that is special and earned, those smells have miles and memories to them. This was the smell of willing entrapment, and there it was, stained on my smell receptors, burned into my cerebral cortex, and smudged all over my house. It stayed with me like the sensory memory of an amputated limb. I lit candles. I vacuumed. I walked around the yard. I would have opened the windows, but it’s cold, so I sprayed white linen, and it all just managed to confuse me, and the last thing I needed was a cerebral short circuit. I put the boots in a plastic bag and tied it, which seemed to do the trick. Even my receptors know that little escapes a sealed plastic bag.
With that, I popped a huge pot of popcorn for the girls, to their delight, and all was well again as the house filled with the aroma of exploding kernels and melted butter. Happy smells that canceled out all of the others, a short circuit narrowly averted. And herein lies the moral: that replacing something unpleasant (smelly feet) with something delightful (homemade popcorn) can be transformative beyond all reason, and it works both ways. So, when you come to our house, we advise keeping shoes on at all times, and if you’re donning Uggs, expect a preemptive, fragrant bowl of buttered popcorn to follow your arrival.