From time to time we may find ourselves wondering what all the stink is about.
Why do people suddenly turn on each other, even when no ill intent is meant? These thoughts wafted into my brain the other day when I dropped into the public library to log onto the Internet.
I've been taking advantage of the library's computer accessibility. Judging by the swarm of other people also buzzing about the terminals, it's a popular way to conduct research, exchange e-mail, write school papers, or, heck, even compose quirky reports about quirky weekends.
Writing ordinarily is a solitary pursuit, so I find it fascinating, albeit sometimes distracting, to work amid a group of others clacking away at their keyboards. Accustomed to working alone, some of us occasionally even mutter to ourselves.
Then, all of a sudden, I got it. The stare.
I try to keep a check on my tendency to speak my mind, so to speak - especially when I'm in a newsroom or a library or other public place where everyone is concentrating and you're supposed to be quiet. And usually I think I succeed.
I've never been "shushed" by a librarian, for example. To me, librarians have always been excedlingly helpful and informative.
But I wondered if I had unwittingly strolled into Outloudsville the other day, because of the cold stare of a gentleman at a nearby computer.
This icy stare was not simply cold, it was downright cryogenic - we're talking colder than Jack Frost's little toe after a bracing winter swim off the coast of Antarctica.
What, I thought, daring to meet this cruel gaze - to bait this hook and throw the look right back at him. I haven't done anything wrong.
An otherwise mild-mannered looking, middle-aged man with glasses and gray hair, he continued to look at me. I didn't think I had blurted anything aloud, but even if I had, there was no call for this pointed expression, accusatory beyond all reason. Why do people suddenly turn on each other, indeed?
Fortunately, he released the visual grip when I glanced at the others in our midst, as if to ask, through the gesture, "Is it someone else?" He resumed his attention to his computer screen.
A short time later, though, awareness carried itself silently into my brain - not through my eyes or ears, but my nose. Something smelled suspicious, something smelled faintly foul. It was constant, slight but seemingly bound to stay.
That was it, I thought, looking back at the man. Something or someone smelled bad, and you mistakenly thought I was the source.
I smell it too, now, I wanted to say, but that would have been more embarrassing to blurt than anything.
Just for good measure, to be certain I hadn't accidentally forgotten to use deodorant or something, I tried to give myself a quick, casual self-check. I pretended to rub my nose on my shoulder, as if I had an itch on my face but did not want to stop typing.
No, my armpits smelled just dandy, thank you very much. But the smell lingered, and I realized I may have detected it the moment I had arrived. I looked up again to see another man at a different terminal, a young guy in a polo shirt, looking my way, too, momentarily.
He smelled whatever it was, too, and he did not like it. His nose scrunched. I scrunched my nose as I looked at the people on either side of me - a guy with poofy hair, dressed slightly slovenly. Was it him? Or on the other side, a woman with a beaded necklace. It couldn't be her, could it?
Maybe whoever it is can't help it, I thought. I felt ashamed at that moment, trying to unravel the mystery of the stink to prove my innocence. I finished my work and left.
So be it, I thought, glad to be heading back into the fresh air outside.
Several blocks away, as I stood at an intersection waiting for the crosswalk signal, the smell returned.
This can't be happening, I thought. I looked around me. Had one of the other library patrons followed me? What's going on? I won't stand for this. I'm going to have to put my foot down.
Then it occurred to me to take a closer look at my shoes. There, on the sole of my left foot was the sole source of the problem - a little bit of a leftover "present" from a dog owner who apparently hadn't done the doo-doo pickup duty they were supposed to do. Eeew!
I chuckled to myself as I cleaned up the mess. I was the unwitting culprit in this mystery of accusation. The solution was as plain as the nose on my face, and all along I had carried with me the clue. Who knew the answer was on the bottom of my shoe?
Brad Bolchunos may have a nose for news, but admits does not always smell danger when it comes to his own shoes, or when he must choose who to accuse.