Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Let's talk dirty.




I missed the height of the hippy era - I was a kid – but I remember hearing older conservative types venting about "dirty hippies". I always assumed they were using "dirty" as an epithet rather than literally. I didn't see what having long hair and colorful clothes had to do with personal cleanliness. I thought the old folks were a bunch of bigots, which they probably were. But even bigots get to be right from time to time, and when it comes to hippy hygiene, it turns out they had a point.

Here in the Bay Area, there are still a lot of hippies, ages twenty to seventy-something, and they really do have an aversion to soap and water. In yoga class, I have been in down dog next to a couple of fellows who had probably been marinating in their own juices for a good 3 or 4 days. When class gets really crowded, I've hovered above the floor in chaturanga six inches from a pair of feet stinky enough to shame a limburger. One of the instructors appears to never wash her hair - either that or she's doing some kind of conditioning treatment that has to stay on for six months.

My son claims cutting down on the hair washing is a good thing – something about the natural oils. For a while, he had the same theory about brushing teeth, minus the natural oil part. He gets these ideas from some of his more malodorous friends. (There's one boy - Rocky - whose presence I can detect 30 minutes after his departure, due to the pungent cloud he leaves in his wake. Remember Pig Pen from Peanuts? That's Rocky, minus the big giant head). Fortunately, my own kid actually does maintain basic cleanliness and mostly talks like this to get my goat, although he is way behind on his laundry.

What I find most disconcerting is that this benign neglect of one's person appears to often be a conscious life choice rather than a gradual slacking off – not that there's any excuse for that either. A pilates teacher I know was complaining that her friend had ripened past the point of social acceptability since deciding to "go hippy". The woman cut drastically back on her ablutions, stopped shaving her underarms and edited deodorant out of her beauty regime because "it's just not natural". Well now, let's get real here, neither is a back full of tats. And what, exactly, is the philosophical point of forgoing personal cleanliness? If it's saving water you're concerned about, take a damn sponge bath.

So I'm riding on the BART and these two twenty year olds, a guy and a girl, get on with their bicycles. They settle in across from each other by the subway doors and start talking about a guy they know.

"Yeah," he says." You're right, Pete really smells."

"No." she replies, in a you-don't-get-it tone of voice, " I mean he REALLY smells."

"Oh, that whole crew, they all smell. They don't wash much."

"Yeah," she insists,"Well, Pete doesn't wash, ever."

That girl was kind of cute. And if she can help it, Pete will never get within ten feet of her. Oh well, maybe Pete and the Pilates teacher's friend will find each other. Probably by the smell.

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