Patrick F. McManus is an outdoorsman and humorist hailing from the northwestern United States, and his column was a regular feature for forty years in Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, two popular nationwide hunting and fishing periodicals. I cannot recommend his short story collections highly enough. One of the most memorable characters from his tales of growing up in Idaho is the old cantankerous woodsman Rancid Crabtree. Below is an excerpt from a story that appeared in the December 1978 issue of Field & Stream, starting on page 52.
When I told mom that I had invited Rancid to Christmas dinner, she said she didn't know if we could afford the extra expense.
"Heck, he won't eat that much," I said.
"The expense I'm talking about is repairing the hole in the roof when your grandmother goes through it."
Gram didn't go through the roof when she heard the news about Rancid. She took it rather well as a matter of fact, as soon as she got done hopping up and down in the middle of the kitchen and saying "Aaiiighhhhhh!"
"Good gosh almighty, boy, do you know what you've done? That Rancid Crabtree ain't took a bath since he fell in the crick in '27. Folks pay him just to walk by their farms so the smell will drive the ticks off their critters. And you invite him to Christmas dinner! Well, all we can do is put the extra leaves in the table and set you and him down at the far end!"
"Hooray!" I shouted. "I'll even help get things ready. How many extra leaves we got for the table, Gram?
Gram shook her head. "Not nearly enough, boy, not nearly enough!"
Personally, I didn't think that Rancid smelled all that bad, but there was a story told that his approach from an upwind direction had once raised an alarm that the stockyards had caught on fire...
I once thought such a description was outlandish exaggeration. Emphasis is on the past tense. Alas, I now know better, for there are some patrons at the library who have made me realize my naïvety. This stench is far beyond that of the patchouli, other "herbs," and barnyard delivered by the odoriferous library intrusion of which I have written before. No, this is a true menace, something that literally made me gag, someone who smells so bad you can taste the offensive odors. This was utterly beyond the pale.
And there is nothing we can do about it according to library policy.
Even when the body odor, black mold, cat urine, and who knows what all else has permeated the entire building from the moment these people enter, and we are literally physically ill from its effect, we are not allowed to confront the offending patrons ourselves unless another patron complains. I do not know what hellish blend of hoarder hovel, meth lab, and cesspool these people call home, but it defies understanding. I do know that there are some people in our area who live "off grid," and have less access to modern amenities like running water and electric heat than we have become accustomed, but that's no excuse for such severe offensiveness to the senses.
But there is another layer of insanity on top of this. You see, these people are a teen boy and his elder sister, and the elder sister asked if we would allow her to offer a class on making bath salts! I am grateful I have a slight filter between my brain and my mouth, because my two initial thoughts were less than professional:
- "Based on the stench, I am certain you have no experience whatsoever with any hygiene-related products, and thus I have no confidence whatsoever in your ability to lead such a class!"
- "You do know that bath salts are illegal, right? The library doesn't condone drug manufacturing."
However, I was able to retain my composure and instead politely say that we did not want to offer that kind of program at this time, and preferred to have staff or local professionals lead the classes we do offer.
And so, while most patrons are pleasant folk whose presence makes me happy with my job, and a few may offer some minor difficulty without imposing any real burdens, there remains a handful who demonstrate the tragedy of the commons and impose real hardship on everyone else around them. Remember, kids, while cleanliness isn't actually next to godliness, it's still a good policy.
News you can use: If you find yourself in an establishment where someone is offensive to the senses or behaving obnoxiously and the staff appears oblivious, remember that they are likely bound by various policies. Perhaps if you bring it to the attention of the staff as a customer/patron/guest complaint, they will be able to act instead of being expected to grin and bear it. Most people prefer to endure inconveniences instead of being "that guy" who complains about everything, but there is a time to bring up real problems. Overuse of perfumes, excessive profanity, or insufficient hygiene might warrant a word to the management.