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Friday, August 31, 2012

Chemical Aura

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.

You 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.

The 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.

“...6, 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.

You 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.

Your 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 your tongue.

You 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.

You 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.  

She 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, curious fingers.

You 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.

The 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.

We 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.

Caution 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 few.

We 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.

“Have 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.

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