Walking the dogs after lunch we stroll  past a diner not far from where we live. It’s the kind of place that serves meatloaf and mashed potatoes for breakfast. I glance inside. It’s populated with men and women parked in slick booths in front of heaping plates smothered in gravy.

Smells like meat and wheat.

Outside on the curb I catch the sweet smell of grilled corn-fed beef and fryer oil, mixed with burnt Bunn coffee, an aroma comparable only to week-old road tar. Poky stops to sniff a tree coated with a molasses of dog pee years in the making that reeks of unsatisfied urges. He lifts his leg and makes a contribution.

A couple exits the diner. Mishu wags his tail, and they walk over to say hello. They reach out to pet Mishu’s fluffy black head, and in the process their armpits cross my airspace. Their smells couldn’t be more different.

They’ve both eaten the blue plate special: meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy. I smell it on their breath and clothes. But their armpits tell another story of how their bodies process differently the same diet meat and wheat. The woman’s armpit smells yeasty and savory, like sourdough bread smothered in pan drippings. But the man’s armpit is rancid and sour, like roadkill that’s been baking in the sun for a few hours when crows start to peck into it.  I have to turn away from him toward the parking lot. I take take short, bunny breaths and breathe in some car exhaust to take the edge off.

I now get why the Viet Cong could whiff US soldiers in the jungle: those boys in ‘Nam were on the good ‘ole American meat-wheat diet that made them stand out like sirens in a library. This diet gave those soldiers ‘nampits. Deodorants mask the reek for a short while, but to seriously smell better, guys, do like the Vietnamese: eat rice and veggies.


A recent article in The New York Times discusses whether women and men sweat differently. The author, Gretchen Reynolds, discusses a recent study that attempts to answer this question from the point of view of athletic performance. Interesting stuff. But it makes me wonder if the researchers considered a more basic implication of their findings that women’s and men’s sweat glands secrete differently: how does sweat impact body odor? Since bacteria that feed on sweat cause the odor, these data seem to suggest that women who produce less sweat than men should also stink less, too.

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