When I was twelve years old my mom and I had moved from Boyle Heights to Lincoln Heights and I was having trouble at school. Being new to the school, I had no one to hang out with. No matter what I did, the kids in my 7th Grade class ignored me. I had no friends.
When I told my mom about this, her first thought was that it was my body odor. As far back as I can remember after that santera brought me back to life, my mom would always insist that I use heavy deodorant before going out each day.
“Mijo,” she’d explain, “you have a very… special smell about you that most people are not going to like. So you must always use a lot of deodorant. And the minute you think you’re beginning to stink a little, you come right home and put on more deodorant!”
But I had used a lot of deodorant each day and still the kids ignored me.
Then one day I made a discovery that changed my life. I was taking the ally shortcut home after school when I suddenly smelled something really familiar. At first I couldn’t place it. And then I realized what it was…it was my smell, it was the same scent that I awoke to each morning and went to bed with each night. But I was heavily dosed with deodorant so I knew the smell couldn’t be coming me. I followed my nose and within a few feet I found where the smell was coming from. Behind a trash bin I found a dead cat. The familiar smell was coming from the decomposing body of the cat.
It was the smell of death.
I stared at the dead cat long and hard. I realized that this was the scent that had my mom so worried, this is what she meant by my “special” smell. For anyone who has ever smelled it, you know exactly what it is. And mom was afraid one of my friends at school, or a teacher, would get a wiff and begin to ask questions. I made up my mind there and then that I needed real protection to hide my special body odor.
The next day I took the bus to the First Street mall in Alhambra and located one of those fancy perfume stores, Sephora I think is what it was called. I went up to the perfume counter and told the lady there–her name tag said Ms. Truesdale–that I wanted a really powerful perfume for men.
“Oh, you mean a cologne,” Ms. Truesdale said. ”Yes, we have a nice selection. Is this for you?”
I lied and told her it was for my dad, that he had real bad body odor and I was trying to help him out. This TrueSdale lady was very kind and spent a half hour letting me try out different men’s colognes but none of them seemed quite right. Most had very light smells, not anything that would hide my potent body odor. I explained that I needed something more powerful, stronger.
“Do you have anything that’s really a powerful smell?” I asked her.
Her eyes lit up and she smiled, “I know exactly what you father will like!”
She went over to another counter and came back with a little bottle of brown looking fluid.
“Here,” she said. “Just put a little of this on your arm.”
I did and then took a deep breath. It was marvelous! Strong and pungent, but with a pleasant tingle as well. And so I discovered Patchouli!
The next day I started using Patchouli and, of course, the other kids in the 7th grade immediately started asking questions.
“Wow, what is that smell, Lazo?” Gloria Menchaca asked. She was cute and now that Pearl was gone out of my life, Gloria had caught my attention.
“It’s a cologne,” I told her..
“But none of the other boys wear cologne,” she replied.
“That’s because they’re still boys, “ I said. “Only mature men wear cologne.”
I explained to Gloria that the scent was called Patchouli and that it came from India and that wearing it was really cool. After that all the girls wanted to smell the new cologne that I was wearing. I soon became the center of everyone’s attention and the other boys just looked at me with envy. From then on I was accepted by my classmates, though the girls often said I was more mature than the other boys.
Finding Patchouli taught me a lesson. Here I had this major problem, zombie smell, the smell of death. By any standards you would think this was an insurmountable problem, something really hard to cope with. But by putting my mind to it I had discovered a way of masking the smell and had turned this problem into an asset.
Well, I’ve been wearing patchouli ever since. And every time I think of the scent, it reminds me that no problem is insurmountable. Any problem can be licked if you just put your mind to it. Hey, take it from a Mexican zombie!
Copyright 2012 by Lazaro De la Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions