by Sterling Warner
All eyes fixated on Professor Reese when Susan, a well-groomed 28-year old, approached him on behalf of her classmates with a request. “When Mr. Chambers arrives, would you please tell him to shower or something? He stinks and always sits next to me in class.” The class nodded in unison, looked at Susan, and stared once again at their favorite literature instructor.
Professor Reese looked perplexed. “Mr. Chambers does tend to smell like excessive baby powder mixed with cheap shaving lotion all the time but, believe it or not, I’m not allowed to talk to students about their body habits, even when they’re adults taking a graduate seminar.”
“Come on. He offends everyone. I tried sitting in the back of the classroom, and what does he do? Follow me!”
“Shaming’s wrong, Susan. He’s 53, and—”
“Which is why all students — even you, Professor — call him Mr. Chambers. Please cut the PC crap,” she pleaded.
“Here he comes,” Professor Reese cautioned, aware that they all smelled Mr. Chambers long before he walked through the doorway. “I’ll try and address this issue diplomatically before he leaves today.”
“Thanks,” Susan replied, moving to her usual seat.
After class, Professor Reese called Mr. Chambers up to his desk and asked, “May I speak with you in private for a moment?”
“Sure, Professor. Did I do something wrong?”
“Not exactly,” Professor Reese replied as Mr. Chambers twisted his head, knit his brows, and inventoried the day’s events.
“Shall we go to your office or meet right here?” he inquired.
“Here will work just fine.”
“Okay, Prof, so what’s up?”
Professor Reese took a deep breath, gazed at Mr. Chambers, and asked, “Have you ever seen the film epic El Cid?”
“Yes, Professor, when I was just a boy.”
“Did you know that Charlton Heston hated kissing Sophia Loren because he claimed her body in general and mouth in particular smelled like garlic?”
“No, I didn’t, Professor. He probably gave her a complex about it, don’t you think?”
“Nah. Hollywood Legend maintains Heston never mentioned that her odor repulsed him. Apparently, a lot of Hollywood stars look great on the screen yet neglect personal hygiene.”
“Oh?” Mr. Chambers glanced across the room thoughtfully.
“Sure! For instance, Gwyneth Paltrow would tell friends that she’d rather be smelly than dead and so doesn’t wear deodorant.”
“She looks so hot on the screen; who’d a thought her scent upset anyone? I mean, This Smells Like My Vagina, her $75 candle, sold out the minute it hit the market. People loved it!”
“True, comedians and tweeters had a field day, but that’s another issue!”
“Excuse me, Professor. Now, what were you going to say?”
“Male actors have issues too, though. Many people who worked on Russell Crowe’s films like Gladiator complained the actor’s body odor mixed with the smell of alcohol and curry made them dizzy; however, they didn’t dare tell him that to his face.”
“You must read a lot of entertainment magazines and watch gossip shows on TV to remain so well-informed about movies, actresses, and actors, Professor!”
“An article here, a Facebook entry there. You know?”
“Hey, I got one, Professor! Did you know that Julia Roberts hates to wear deodorant and seldom uses soap?”
“Never heard that one, Mr. Chambers.”
“Also, according to people who know her,” he continued, “Roberts likes the smell of her oils, which is why she goes days without bathing. Others notice but remain silent.”
“You know, I recall hearing about that on Oprah,” Professor Reese quipped, realizing his indirect conversation had achieved nothing! Instead, he found himself responding to stories of smelly movie stars.
Professor Reese recognized that he might’ve connected the dots clearly and efficiently if he’d told Mr. Chandler simply to use an antiperspirant as a courtesy to classmates. However, directness, the most obvious and immediate communication path, also seemed rude. Thus, he tried another example.
“You know, contrary to Matthew McConaughey’s belief, women really didn’t all love his natural scent. In fact, actress Kate Hudson told him he stank and offered to let him use her own deodorant, but he didn’t.”
“Oh. I guess honesty’s good, right Professor?”
“Er, yes, Mr. Chambers,” Professor Reese answered, embarrassed that his Hollywood hygiene tales beat around the bush rather than address his student’s body odor.
Chambers began fidgeting and turned towards Professor Reese. “I’m sorry to change the subject — and if you’re recruiting me to take your evening class on comparative film history, I’m down for it — regardless of its actors.”
“Well, three weeks ago, the water main burst outside my house.”
“Did you report that to the Santa Clara Valley Water District?”
“Yes, but it won’t service the plumbing problem, because the broken line is nowhere near the curbside water meter in front of my home.”
“Sorry to hear about that.”
“So am I,” Mr. Chambers sighed, “A plumber estimated the damage at $3,700!”
“Ouch!” Professor Reese grimaced.
“I can barely get by on my disability checks as it is. Since I can’t afford to fix it, I’ve shut my water off entirely.”
“Oh, that must be hard on you and your family.”
“I live alone.” Mr. Chambers squirmed a bit. “Hey. Are we good? It’s getting late, and I gotta go.”
“Sure,” Professor Reese cowed, fully aware he had failed today and might never resolve the complaints against Mr. Chambers tomorrow. “We’ll talk again soon.”
“By the way, Professor,” Chambers added, clearing his throat.
“Yes, Mr. Chambers?”
“Could you sneak me into the gym locker room to take a shower? I can’t afford a hotel room where I might bathe.”
Copyright © 2020 by Sterling Warner