I spent the better part of my workday in one long meeting, the conference room table so full we were elbow to elbow all the way around. My mind wandered as the chairs wedged on either side of me pinched first an arm, then a hand – and I caught the occasional smell of an unsavory scent. And as my mind wandered, I reflected on being brought up in the South where a high premium is placed on good manners. Being brought up right meant I was taught to respect my elders, hold the door for those behind me, and be gracious in my dealings with others. Never was I to stray from the path of courtesy. It was imperative to avoid being rude to others at all cost.
So how then was I to tell the man sitting next to me that his breath could bring a bull elephant to its knees?
It’s understandable that most people’s breath can’t constantly maintain the freshness of a spring zephyr, but this man (who shall be referred to as Mr. Malodor) didn’t have breath that fell into the temporary category of “Excuse me, I had garlic at lunch.” He had breath that fell into the category of “Hello, I chewed my way through a dumpster to sit beside you.”
As my eyes watered, and between dry heaves, I scanned the room for another seat. There were none. About that time something gave Mr. Malodor a reason to laugh. The floating blast of filthy stench that came from his mouth had me looking up to watch birds and stars encircle my head. Just as things were going black it was announced we would break for lunch. I came to, hopeful to make an escape. Mr. Malodor stood to get his box lunch and as he disappeared into the hallway I decided I would stay put. Maybe the table would fill up before he got back and someone else could sit in the midst of his mouth fog, a cloud that could surely melt iron ore.
It was as I finished my lunch that I felt movement to my left. Mr. Malodor was back. He sat down and began to do what I feared most – talk directly to me. Subconsciously, I reached for the peppermint included with my box lunch. It would be no match for his laser breath, but it was my only defense.
“Mint?” I almost pleaded as I pushed it towards him.
“I stay away from sugar.” He said. “It rots the teeth.”
Too late sir.
He continued to assault me with the fetid fog. “How was your weekend?” He asked, with what seemed to be a very breathy “Howwww…”
“Oh I didn’t do much.” I answered curtly, trying to curb the conversation. Courtesy compelled me to ask, “And yours?”
“Great weekend for me. I went hiking for a couple days. Love to see the wildlife.” He puffed.
I had visions of him on the trail, skunks high-fiving as he passed. “Well done!” they’d say. And then I had visions of birds flying… and stars circling… Oh no, it was happening again… I was saved though, by people returning to their seats. Mr. Malodor pivoted to get back in place but left me with one putrid parting shot as he said “Yep, it was a fun trip until I lost my backpack. Not a big deal though. Nothing much in it except another pair of shoes and a map. Oh, and my toothbrush.”
You don’t say.
Stuart M. Perkins