You step into the elevator and bam! It hits you. A perfumed wave that punches the insides of both nostrils and does a Capoera flip-kick-jab-step up both of your nasal passages then left, right across both cheekbones through you maxillary sinus cavities. You feel the sting, a bright burn in the back of your throat. You breathe short shallow puffs of air in a failed attempt to filter the chemical assault, but each inhale brings a tidal wave of tingling that saturates your throat and oozes down your esophagus into your stomach and intestines.
feel dizzy, stoned, nauseous. You have trouble reading the elevator
buttons because your eyes are watering, but you can clearly see the
slice of outside air in front of you disappear as the elevator doors
begin to slowly close.
Panic. You panic.
invisible poisonous fog clings to you like a million tiny burrs digging
into your skin. You stifle a scream. Try to calm yourself down, but
it is difficult because you are still trying to not breathe too deeply.
You end up panting quietly. The doors click shut. She turns to face
you, a cloud of strawberry shampoo, vanilla conditioner, lavender body
wash, “spring” body lotion, “decadence” perfume, country fresh dryer
sheets, peppermint chewing gum, and lingering dry cleaning fabric
softener all competing for top olfactory billing.
“What number shall I push for you?” She asks you.
thanks.” You choke out. You try to smile and stop panting for a moment.
A throbbing headache is making a grand entrance as a wave of fog
pounds up your frontal sinus cavity and is demanding to be attended to.
You may have to pee, but you are not sure because everything inside you
feels flooded. A scent overload.
wipe tiny tears from the corner of your eyes with the back of your hand
hoping the scent is not layering on top of your skin in an invisible
film. You picture tiny foam bubbles with microscopic sinister smiles
floating around you, silently landing on your arms and face.
You close your eyes, listening to the elevator’s internal mechanisms whirl as it makes its assent.
panting is making you lightheaded so you stop. When you inhale a full
breath through your mouth, you taste the “decadence” in her Decadence
perfume. It tastes like someone sprinkled gasoline and orange juice on
watch her through watery eyes. The smart black pantsuit with it’s
matching blazer and crisp white blouse. You watch her standing, one arm
crossed in front of the other, tipping back and fourth from one plum
pump to the other, noting that she probably has lower back pain and
pinched baby toes.
notice her “Saturday Night Special” red nail polish that eats into the
nail bed making them yellow and brittle under all that shine. A hazy
chemical aura radiates around her. A reddish shadow outlines her
business casual self and occasionally reaches out with foggy fingers to
touch the world around her. You have to stop yourself from stepping
away from her, from retreating to the opposite corner of the elevator.
You wonder if you are leaning back unconsciously.
smiles at you with “Dusty Rose” lips shimmering with phthalates and red
# 40 made from coal tar. Her bright bleached teeth remind you of the
chlorine you tasted when you swam in your neighbor’s pool as a kid. Her
chemical aura sways along with her as she tips back and forth from foot
to foot, occasionally reaching up to touch her hair with careful,
are strikingly aware of how much we live awash in chemicals, each of us
so saturated with products that seep into our skin from multiple
avenues, slowly dissipating and sometimes more frightening, not
dissipating. The chemical compounds that make up “country fresh”,
“line-dried”, “crisp and clean” “fruity” and “herbal essence” smells
need to be stable over time, temperature and conditions. If the
chemical compounds are unstable, they can break down, re-form into other
compounds which is not good if you want your laundry detergent to be,
well, laundry detergent the entire time it sits on your shelf.
same chemicals that make the smells stay stable, the colors last
longer, the brights brighter are introduced into and then stay in our
bodies. These chemicals seep into our cells, blood and bone marrow
through our hair follicles, cuticles, pores, skin—any accessible avenue
will do. Once they have taken up residence inside our bodies, they can
transform, like a rogue chemistry experiment, binding together to form
and re-form new and different microstructures.
have no idea how these chemicals and the new ones formed when they
enter our bodies affect us. Scientists can say they are safe, but
science does always not have a great track record. With thousands of
new compounds being created daily, we will surly discover, at some
point, the impact of our caviler introduction of new chemicals into
thousands of products we use daily. Claims that despite being toxic the
levels are so small as to be insignificant and so are safe, ring hollow
along side rising rates of cancer, autism, and unexplained neurological
and tissue diseases.
and any voice of warning are continuously drown out by massive
marketing machines churning out messages that tell us we can’t live
without these safe and good smelling products that are not correlated
with, and certainly not related causally to, growing rates of birth
defects, cancers, hormone problems and nervous system disorders to name a
want to believe. We want to look healthy, shinny; we want our hair to
bounce just so, our teeth to gleam, our clothes to remain sweat stain
free. And at the end of a long work day, is it too much to ask to get a
mocha latte and drop off your clothes to be dry cleaned before you head
home to eat a take out dinner and try to get at least 5 hours of shut
eye before facing another day of cranky supervisors and exhausted
co-workers? Don’t we deserve popping nail colors for our $20 bi-monthly
mani-pedi indulgence? If a new shimmering eye shadow or over-sized
handbag (which it was recently discovered contain lead that can leach
into people’s skin) makes you happy and helps you get through a busy and
overwhelming day, why not splurge on a bottle of Decadence perfume?
By-products be damned.
a nice day!” She tells you, smiling over her shoulder as she trots out
of the elevator, a haze of purple, red and green trailing after her.
You see bits of her foggy chemical aura clinging to the sides of the
elevator doors as they begin to close. Unconsciously you begin your
shallow panting, push number 6 on the elevator button panel and begin
slowly rising towards your destination.