Saturday, January 29, 2011

Smells Like Pee

On rainy January Saturdays at the University of Washington, Suzzallo Library becomes a warm, safe place for all the "lost" people of Seattle. There is the young Asian-American man, dressed in nice slacks and a button-up shirt, who at first seems quite sexy until you realize that he is wandering around aimlessly, having vivid and aggressive conversations with the air about malfunctioning photocopy machines and home foreclosures. At one point he yells out, "What are we going to do with all these foreclosed homes?! We gotta buy food! We gotta buy clothes!" At which point my favorite librarian (middle-aged bearded man who wears giant t-shirts, a beret-like hat, and shorts year-round) tells the young man kindly that he'll have to lower his voice or be asked to leave. Then there's the homeless African-American man in the tassled beanie who also has aggressive conversations with the air (usually in the 4th floor silent study cubicle area). Today, he's snoozing harmlessly in Suzallo Cafe's overflow seating room, his bags strewn all around him. Both of these men I have seen before. Today there was also a new homeless man, middle-aged, white, who sat down at the table next to me in Suzzallo Cafe, slumping half-comatose over some damp bagels I am pretty sure he dug out of the trash. He had a well-worn paper cup filled with some kind of sickiningly sweet tea. The smell of the tea mixed with the smell of him, which was definitely the smell of pee. Stale, musky old man pee, swirling in the air with the creamy sweetness of his tea's cardamom. Nothing like it in the world. He stretched his arms up in the air and yawned, and where his shirt lifted up, there were tiny red sores all over his belly. I was attempting to eat pork tacos. His pee smell got in my nose and in my tacos. But I didn't want to be the holier-than-thou bitch who makes a show of packing up and moving to another table just because a pitiful, stinking homeless man has seated himself too near for comfort. He looked so sad and pitiful with his second hand bagels. So I sat there and ate my tacos without breathing through my nose. If there is one skill my travels to other continents have given me, it's how to swallow successfully when I actually want to gag. (Goat blood stew in Kenya taught me that.)


  1. I absolutely love the imagery.

  2. You don't have to make a show of packing up and leaving. You can just do it.

  3. I love the imagery too, and the sensual smells as well. You have an outstanding eye for little details that stitch together a whole story right in front of my eyes.

    I feel like you could write a whole book called "Seattle People."