June 7, 2004
Scent of a Woman Cookie

Jane is headed in my direction. 

I can't actually see her yet -- she's still a hundred feet down the hallway, beyond my line of sight -- but I can hear the purposeful thwap thwap thwap of her sandals as she strides towards the front desk, where I sit hunkered over my soil density reports. At the sound of her approach, it takes every *willpower molecule* I possess to keep from leaping out of my chair and hiding in the coat closet ... just until she's passed all the way through the lobby, when it will be safe to breathe again.

I love Jane. I really, really do. She's been a friend to me since my very first day at The Dirt Company ... an ally, a sounding board, a mentor, a one-person support system. When I had my front desk meltdown earlier this year -- actually, when I had BOTH of my front desk meltdowns, one within a few weeks of the other -- hers was the office (and the Kleenex box) I sought refuge in. Jane is smart, funny, stylish, compassionate, genuinely nice and altogether professional in every way that counts. A real woman's woman, as they say.

But as much as I love Jane, that's how much I don't-love her new perfume.

It must be new.  I don't recall ever hating her perfume before. As a matter of fact, I remember complimenting her once, when we were still in the old office building -- Gee, you smell really nice today  -- although the way I remember it, the perfume she was wearing that day was warm and sweet and reminiscent of cinnamon, like a plate of fresh-baked cookies cooling in Grandma's windowsill. Whatever she's wearing these days could not in any way, shape or form be described as "cookie-like." The new scent reminds me of the stuff those venal young saleswomen assault you with, as you run the gauntlet of fragrance counters trying to get to the department store elevator: sharp, shrill, acidic, overpowering. Four hours after you get home from the mall, you can still feel it burning holes in your nasal passages. That's what Jane's new perfume is like. I can walk into any room of The Dirt Company these days -- the kitchen, the conference room, the library, the second stall in the ladies room -- and I can tell in an instant whether Jane has been there within the past thirty minutes. Her perfume lingers like the last inebriated guest at the wedding reception.

(The only other person in this office who causes me this sort of olfactory distress is The Young Prince and his daily Bucket O'Cologne. Fortunately, he doesn't spend enough time at the front desk for this to be more than an occasional nuisance.)

Now I'm hoping against hope that Jane will bypass the lobby --  that she's headed for the bathroom or the fax machine or the Starbucks around the corner for a Triple Half-Caf Mocha Caramel Frappuccino -- so my heart sinks when she makes a beeline for the front desk. Even from ten feet away, I can feel my eyes beginning to water. 

"Would you mind putting labels on these?" she asks, all smiles ... plopping an armload of fresh new proposal folders into my already-overloaded *In* Box. Ever since they fired The New Girl a couple of months ago, I've found myself doing a lot of the Marketing Department stuff again. And because it is Jane doing the asking, I don't mind. Or I don't mind out loud, anyway.

"No problem," I reply with a tight smile. I'm hoping she doesn't notice that I'm holding my breath.

"You're a doll," she says.  

For one horrifying moment I'm afraid she's going to linger for a bit of mid-afternoon chit-chat  ...  a little girly back-and-forth about our respective weekends, perhaps, or some good old-fashioned office gossip about the latest geotech to pack up his inclinometer and quit The Dirt Company.  I'm not sure I have the lung capacity for that, frankly. So it's a relief when she spins around, as soon as she's handed off the folders, and marches purposefully back down the hallway.  (Thwap thwap thwap thwap.)  As soon as she disappears around the corner, I let out my breath, all in a rush.  I immediately wish I hadn't. Her perfume remains behind ... a thick oppressive cloud of Eau d'Sinus Headache, hanging over the front desk like ectoplasm. Within seconds my nose begins to close up. My eyes get hot and itchy. My temples throb. I swear I can taste her perfume on my lips, in my hair, on the rim of my water bottle.

With a sigh, I crank up my portable electric fan to "Wind Tunnel," dry-swallow half a Sudafed and resume typing my soil density reports.

I haven't always been this sensitive to perfume. I used to wear it myself, all the time. When I was young and stoopid and considered myself the office femme fatale, I would regularly hose myself down with Tabu every morning before work. Plus I would carry the handy four-quart atomizer around in my purse, for those twice-hourly 'touch-ups.'  My favorite trick: dousing myself with a fresh coat of Tabu, then manufacturing a reason to lean across The Cute Young Sales Guy. I still wear perfume occasionally. Jaymi gave me some nice Bonne Bell Musk for Christmas last year, and I wear that sometimes. And I'm a sucker for anything that smells like vanilla or baby powder: a throwback to the Early Momhood Years, I suppose. I even spritz on a little Tabu occasionally, although these days it's more likely to be worn for a Saturday night *Yahtzee* marathon than a Monday morning staff meeting. (And one teeny-tiny bottle of Tabu lasts me for a decade, rather than a weekend.)

Lately, though, some perfumes -- especially when they've been applied with anything less than the most delicate hand -- send me into temporary olfactory arrest. 

I can't go to JoAnne about this. JoAnne, as Office Administrator-slash-House-Mother, is the logical choice to discuss the problem with, but I can't seem to bring myself to do it. JoAnne and Jane are way tight, for one thing: they tell each other everything. If I go to JoAnne and register a polite, discreet complaint about Jane's perfume -- even if I'm absolutely non-whiney about the whole thing, and I ask her to please keep my identity in the strictest confidence  --  I know darned well that Jane is going to know that it was me who complained. And I don't want that to happen, not only because I like Jane a bunch and I don't want to hurt her feelings  ... or because I'm 46 years old, yet I still cling to a pathetic childhood need to avoid confrontation at all costs  ... but because I don't want to be known as The Office Whiner. (We've got one of those already. If I'm going to be hated by my co-workers, I'd rather be hated because I'm moody and hostile and refuse to participate in any of the Enforced *Happy Doodle Fun Time* Social Activities, not because I send out all-company e-mails about somebody stealing my favorite plastic fork out of the Dirt Company dishwasher.)

The way I see it, I've got two choices here: one, I can go to Jane directly, like a civilized adult human being, and discuss the problem with her in a friendly, open, non-confrontational manner, eventually arriving at a reasonable compromise that makes us both comfortable and leaves us with dignity (and nasal passages) intact   ...   

...  or two, I can continue to suffer in silence. 

Right now I'm leaning toward the "suffering in silence" option.  (See: pathetic childhood need to avoid confrontation at all costs.)

That, and praying that she goes back to smelling like cookies soon.


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although it would probably be better if she smelled like
four ounces of fat-free/sugar-free chocolate pudding.