Thursday, October 15, 2015

Scents and Sensibility

You know how when things get old, they begin to smell a little? I think that’s starting to happen to me. Don’t worry, I still bathe and buy deodorant, but if I go just one extra day without washing my hair, at some point during the day while getting into my car or throwing my purse over my shoulder at the grocery, I will catch a whiff of that subtle scent; the one that tells you, “you-should-have-definitely-taken-the-time-to-shampoo-this-morning.” I duck and head toward the closest door and hope there is not a cloud swirling about my head a là  Pig Pen in the Peanuts comic strip. The one that makes everyone take a few steps away from you.

Many years ago, one of my girlfriends fixed me up on a date with a man who was about ten years older than me. Going out with an older man didn’t bother me . . . until we sat next to each other all night at a bar. It wasn’t the smoke, or the spilled beer or all the forlorn ladies doused with cheap perfume that got to me. It was this man’s smell. Not bad, not good, just . . . present. A pervasive scent of what I decided was bachelorhood; flannel shirts that needed to be washed more frequently than say, once a month.

It makes sense doesn’t it? At some point it’s not worth washing those bath towels anymore because they’re old and they smell. Off you go to Target for a couple of brand new sets to hang in the bathroom. (We’ll talk about how you don’t walk out of Target with only bath towels another time.) This happens to everything that gets old; clothing, food, furniture, shoes, buildings. Everything that gets old smells. Why not people?

You think I’m trying to be funny, but there is Science to prove it. It seems that the scent of older folks is as tied to our biological origins as the sex drive and the fight or flight reflex. From a study by Johan Lundström of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, humans may be able to recognize age by odor as a way "to distinguish the sick from the healthy—not overt sickness, but underlying cell decay," he says. "The older we get, the more natural decay we have."

See that? He actually said “decay.” Like when you’re walking through the park in October, taking a deep breath and thinking, “Ah, the smell of Fall!” but what you’re really smelling is decay. Those beautiful orange, yellow and red leaves are dying and we can smell it.

We humans don’t have nearly the highly developed nostrils that dogs, horses and other animals have, but we do pick up important information from our noses. Am I right, mothers? Do we know practically to the teaspoon how much beer our kids drank as they propel themselves through the door late on a Friday night? We ground with confidence. But not only mothers; women all over the world use their noses to divine the who, what, how and where of any given excuse. Men do not have this faculty; as soon as you ask, “Can you smell that?”, the male of the species shrugs his shoulders and says, “What rotting bananas?”

It is slightly discouraging to realize that my body, it’s cells and pores could be in a state of decay. But, as I said it makes sense. (Scents?) These days, those of us 50ish and over have the opportunity to be in the best shape of our lives. I had lunch with a sixty-something woman recently who said she felt the best she’s ever felt after using a nutritionist to lose 42 pounds and learn how to drink more water. Another sixty-ish friend sat at my kitchen table and practically glowed from her recent two-week hiking vacation, even though we were Googling our recently prescribed prescriptions. We may be decaying . . . and smelling . . . but we can be healthy and look good doing it. And if I forget to wash my hair one day, I can always go hang out with a bunch of old guys.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Good Shoes

As summer fades slowly into a distant memory, I welcome the days of cooler temperatures and a reason to hibernate with the earlier curfew of shorter days. Some women (not me) get excited about changing their wardrobes over to their Fall/Winter collection and going shopping to add or update accessories. Me? I just pull my black sweater out of the back of the closet and situate it closer to the middle so it’s there if I need it. (Which I never do, because, let’s be honest: what woman over 50 needs a sweater anymore?) No, it’s all pumpkin spice and a reason to stay home that excites me about Fall. Some fear lurks in the coming days, I will admit, and it’s not just the very real danger of buying--and eating--14 bags of Halloween candy before October 31st.  The dread creeping toward me is having to put on real shoes. I am a flip-flop gal. You’d think I might choose to live in Florida or California to accommodate my footwear choices. Since I don’t, there are many reasons I need to acquire regular shoes for certain occasions--like snow. For winter, I have chosen to wear UGG boots--the real thing, not the knock off Faux Uggs (or Fuggs as I used to call them). So, summer footwear-flip-flops. Winter footwear-UGGs. Fall footwear-ugh.

Because I am so clever and know myself so well, I played a trick on myself in order to get out and go to the store for new shoes. I needed a comfortable pair to wear to work or just out; flats (of course), not too dressy, not too casual. The two pairs I have had for about, well, many years, made a whooshing sound as I walked. The sound came from the various splits and worn edges on the bottom--of both pairs! I tricked myself into getting new shoes by throwing both pairs into the garbage on garbage day. This way I couldn’t have second thoughts and dig them out in a panic and I would be forced to go to Marshall’s and buy a pair of good shoes.

Best laid plans, right? What I didn’t factor in to this brilliant plan was that two days later, I had to appear in court. And even though there are a number of simply astonishing clothing and footwear choices people make to appear before a judge, I didn’t think wearing flip-flops to court would be acceptable. I was appearing as a witness, a professional. (Yes, I am a professional who gets away with wearing flip-flops most of the time. Yes, I am lucky.) Fortunately,  I hang on to most every article of clothing that isn't torn in half,  so a pair of those black Eddie Bauer loafers everyone was wearing about 15 years ago is tucked away in my closet. I pulled on black tights, squeezed into the loafers and was presentable for the 10 minutes I needed to be on the witness stand.

I still have a problem, though, don’t I? I have yet to go out and get those shoes for myself. When the immediate crisis was averted, there was no pressure for me to leave my house for the shopping plaza. My daughter went, though. And while there, she sent me this in a text: 

She even offered to bring them home for me to try on. I said no. She said, “Really?” (I could hear the exasperation--even in her text.) She tried, but she knows it will take more than a change in seasons to get me out of my flip-flops. Because it’s not just my preference for showing off my I'm-Not-Really-a-Waitress red painted toes that keeps me from going out and trying on tight, blistering shoes. At some point in my aging, my feet grew. That seems like one of nature’s cruel jokes to me...having your feet get bigger. Like when men get more hair in their ears and on their backs, but lose it on top of their heads. Not funny, nature. So now that I have gargantuan feet, flip-flops suit me. I feel like Cinderella’s evil sister when I try to squeeze my feet into my once comfortable size 8s. “No! Let me try again! I know it will fit!” It's not a pretty sight.

One thing I’ve learned as I age into my 50s and 60s is that comfort is essential. Not just feeling comfortable, but making decisions based on my comfort is a reasonable thing to do. It may mean I have to move to California or Florida. Or southern Italy, but those are decisions I can live with. Meanwhile, I know I will have to go out of my house, go into a store and buy shoes. Size 9 probably. But I’m comfortable with that.