On Irons, And Being In Them

Midnight, and it just got freakin’ toxic in here.

I’ve never done well in mines.  I’m a canary:  put me in a low-ventilation environment and I go right down about an hour before anyone else knows anything is wrong.  Very often, they don’t think anything’s wrong at all, never go down themselves, never notice a blessed thing out of the ordinary.  But all you have to do is up my carbon dioxide intake a little and I get stomach cramps, break out in ferocious sweats, drop about fifteen IQ points, start looking for things to hit.  Toss some chemical fumes in there, varnishes, inks, whatever ya got…I turn green in minutes.  An odd thing for a smoker to say, but it’s true:  keep me off of mountaintops and out of subways, I need as much oxygen as I can lay my hands on at any given time, because when the air gets stale I wilt like flowers in a nature film.  Smog?  I’m useless in smog;  can’t tie my shoes.  Fresh paint?  Pass the respirator.  New parking garages?  Call for the helicopter.  I’m a basket case.  Just throw a blanket over me.  I’m done.

So, late this afternoon I got back to my apartment, which of necessity I’d left closed up for a couple weeks.  It’s a messy, dusty, muggy place, a big concrete shoebox facing side-on to the hot afternoon sun, and with all the windows closed it bakes while I’m away, bakes just like a sauna made out of ashtrays.  It needs airing out.

Fortunately, the windows all open, and I have a fan.

Problem solved in half an hour, ordinarily.

Not today.

Two floors below me, the windows have also been flung wide on somebody’s 850 square feet of freshly-Varathaned flooring, so the fumes don’t build up in her apartment.  No fear there;  over the last few hours I’m pretty sure I’ve sucked ’em all into mine instead.  Oh, and it’s also about ninety degrees outside.  So it’s pretty much like being the first man on Venus, and I am seriously considering sleeping in the laundry room.

Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with it, basically, is that fumes don’t make noise.  If they made noise I could wake this woman up right now (actually I couldn’t:  obviously her apartment lies vacant until it’s expelled its Venusian atmosphere, but in theory I could call someone), and scream bloody murder about what’s with all the goddamn noise? until somebody somehow, someway, had someone’s boot applied to they ass…and no one would bat an eyelash.  Yes, noise is something that it’s very easy to complain about — because no one can say they don’t hear it, you see.  Well, maybe Michael Palin.  But smell, odour, atmosphere…these things have a lot of plausible deniability to them.  I recall one horrifying day when I was started awake by an overpowering smell of incense emanating from my downstairs neighbours’ apartment, at seven in the morning.

I went down there.  Not to be a dick;  but holy fuck, when a smell’s so intense it wakes you from a sound sleep, it better be either coffee or bacon, you know?  But incense for breakfast…no.  So I go down there, shuddering with self-consciousness, and reluctantly BANG ON THE DOOR.  The guy comes out (of course it has to be a couple), I tell him the story, he basically demands to come up and smell for himself.  We get up to my place.  The smell is UNEARTHLY.  Quoth he:

“I don’t smell anything.  …Maybe a bit.”

With a fantastic effort of will, I refrain from escalating the situation to total war.  I want to, of course.  But my primary goal in all of this, I’ve decided, is simply to make sure the really very nice folks downstairs are given a decently comprehensible motivation to reduce the general smellitude of their apartment.  It’s not necessary for them to believe me right.  It’s not even necessary for them to think me a nice guy, or even sane.  Of course one would not like to be known as That Neighbour, but in order for me to get anything like reliable sleep in future it’s become plain that ONE of us has to be That Neighbour.  I’d rather it was him.  But he claims not to smell anything.  So it has to be me, instead.

I decide I can live with that.  Just that, and I’m obviously already there;  and so there’s no need for war.  No need for a philosophical discussion about trees falling in forests complete with raised voices and threats…uh, the discussion complete with raised voices and threats, I mean, although about the trees…well, obviously no one can be sure.  But anyway, my policy:  all I have to do is come across as weird. Then he can go downstairs and tell his girlfriend “that guy’s weird”, and presto my problem is very likely solved.  Fortunately I have a lot of experience with being taken for weird (hint:  the easiest way to do this is to be bothered by something no one else cares about), in fact I would say I’m well-suited to represent Canada at the Olympics if Weird ever becomes some sort of track event.

Of course much later it turns out that there were three separate sources of that incense-smell, with my neighbours’ morning meditation practices being just one of them.  Oh well;  gold medal, please.  Wherever you are, largely-blameless-on-that-occasion couple, you’ve got my partial apologies.

But the problem, i.e. that some irritants are such that they cannot even be measured by someone they don’t bother, remains.  A friend of mine is deathly allergic to fish, which means that everywhere he goes he must announce very very loudly that he is deathly allergic to fish, or people will serve him fish.  But the problem with this is that there are certain people in this world who simply do not believe that when a person makes such announcements it’s because they happen to be true…rather, they think the so-called allergic person is just trying to say they are somehow better, special, or more important than everybody else in the room.  People are usually not thinking about things, you see:  only reacting with a sort of conventional politeness to a magic medical formula.  But not everyone enjoys beings polite in the face of such formulae, and no doubt there are even people out there perverse enough to fake such things…and therefore there is a constant, if minor, danger that when my friend says “I AM DEATHLY ALLERGIC TO FISH SO I CANNOT EAT ANYTHING WITH FISH IN IT”, that someone will get their feathers ruffled by this and proceed to serve him fish anyway, only without telling him.  “Heh heh,” they would think, perhaps, “I don’t believe for a second that this pompous ass is allergic to fish, I happen to love fish myself, so I’m going to serve him fish and then when he tells me how delicious it was I’ll say HA HA IT’S FISH, and then he won’t act so big anymore…”

Aaaand cue the sirens.

Not that this has happened to anyone, that I know of.  But I wouldn’t exactly bet against it.

Sorry, where was I?

I mentioned that I’m a canary, right?

Jesus, I can feel myself getting stupider by the minute…

So about twenty minutes ago, a little breeze sprung up outside.  Good news!  Because the Varathane fumes are coming in here anyway, but if they could be so much as mixed with a little fresh air, then I could probably sleep.  But then ten minutes ago, the little breeze died down again, and now once again I am basically typing to keep from puking.  The laundry room is looking better and better.  Of course, you can’t go sleep in a laundry room when your apartment is filled with noxious fumes.  You can make prior arrangements to sleep elsewhere, and no one thinks you’re crazy.  But you cannot do anything drastic or last-minute or last-ditch about such things, or they will.  Think you’re crazy, that is.  If they, you know, catch you at it.

So…only six more hours ’til dawn, I guess.  And then an hour or two after that I can go outside and nap on the roof, and pretend I’m sunbathing, or something socially-acceptable like that.

Alternatively, another little wind could spring up.

Let’s just see which happens first.

3 responses to “On Irons, And Being In Them

  1. I know the feeling – to get to my work I have to go past three shops in a row that sell perfumes, soaps and other such chemical-stink items. I have to hold my breath from about 30 yards down the road and try to keep it held til I’m way past them…

  2. Couldn’t you just sleep on your roof during the night? Maybe take a telescope or some binoculars up there, say you were stargazing and fell asleep. If you say something about how Mars is in opposition to Sirius, and you can probably b.s. non-astronomical folken.

  3. Just do your best “Kidney Lady” impersonation and watch them get the fuck out of your way.

    Anyway, I’m allergic to fish stuff myself.
    EVERYWHERE I go to eat, if they have anything even remotely fishlike on the menu, I have to make the announcement, complete with tale of the few times that I almost died, and BOY HOWDY, I;d sure hate to become the “dinner theatre” (murder mystery themed, natch) with follow-up law-suit.

    The less-tan veiled implication of litigation usually makes DAMNED sure that I get no fish contamination.


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