An Open Letter to the Smelly Guy Next to Me on the Train

by: Bobby Crowley

Dear Fellow Passenger Smashed Up Against Me on the Train,

We are all here for the same reason. We all want to get somewhere. We don’t need to converse with strangers, that’s not what we’re looking for. I don’t need you to compliment my dress and I certainly don’t expect you to expect me to do so either. We will never be close friends, because we were meant to be strangers. We were meant to have this experience together, like a one night stand with an unknown, some silent understanding, a bit of physical interaction, and an unspoken goodbye.

You’ll never buy me a pet raccoon. I’ll never water your plants while you’re on vacation. Do you even have plants? Or are you the kind of person whose plants wilt and die before the first week is out? I will never know. But that’s okay, I like it that way.

There is something so beautiful about the potential that exists in every stranger I come in indirect contact with. One gesture, one word, and I could change their lives forever. They could be my future person of honor at my wedding, or I could just be that strange girl that once said that one thing to them. I usually don’t, of course.

Until now. Now, I have something to say that merits the destruction of all of that beautiful potential and I hope you bear with me on this because it’s important. You know how the el is a wonderful public transportation option because of its low cost compared to other forms? You know how the train is divided into smaller sections called cars? You know how these cars are loaded with people, often too many for seats, smashed together like a stagnant mosh pit? You do? Oh, good.

Then, you must also know that despite my best intentions, I cannot help but inhale a big whiff of you. You know this and I know this. This is an understood truth. Your body, being crushed against mine, is the barrier to other, crisper, cleaner air. Just as, my body is the barrier for old Judy back there. These are cold, hard facts on a hot and sweaty day.

You know what else is hot and sweaty? Your armpits. Your entire body, for that matter. So is mine, don’t be embarrassed. The almost unbearable Chicago heat is what drags us out of our houses and into these barely air conditioned cars, following whatever whim to do whatever we want. It’s summer–no, it’s Chicago’s summer, after all.

However, knowing the oppressive heat beats down on me, knowing my body will ache to melt in this sun, knowing this melting body will be pressed up against you and old Judy calls for some preemptive measures. I’m not saying I’m going to surgically remove my sweat glands, if there is such a thing. No, my bank account is too small and my nerves are too tight for that.

I will, however, take a soft, white bar of soap to my coarse, spongey loofah and scrub down my body like it’s been injected with whatever epidemic might appear in a Matt Damon movie. I will, also, crank my gel deodorant up TWO extra notches to get maximum pit protection. I might even splash on a bit of artificially scented goodness from a bottle. I do this for you, fellow passenger. All I ask in return is that you show me the same minor courtesy.

It’s not so much that you smell like the backside of a donkey in a field where all of the hay has been replaced with poo. You do, but it’s not just this truth that causes my frustration. It’s your doubtlessly existent knowledge of this scenario that cranks my goat. If you feel the heat (we all do), acknowledge this city’s population (how can you ignore it), and have any bodily awareness, these preemptive measures should be a force of habit by now.

Maybe you don’t believe certain companies should test products on animals. Maybe you cringe at the idea of chemicals entering your body through your pit pores. Maybe you’re allergic to artificial and floral scents. None of these issues, though justified, excuse your PigPen-like stink cloud. In this modern medical miracle creating and technologically advanced society, there must be an animal-friendly, vegan, unscented solution somewhere.

This is more than a call for hygiene. This is a courtesy call. Please, think of my face, smashed into the depths of your odorous, sweaty pits in that moment we all dread, where our lack of balance and slippery palms get the best of us. Think of my hands, blindly grasping for something to hold onto as a shove-y teenager passes me on the train, only to find the moist crevice in your back. Think of the hellish heat that inspires sleeves too short to hold up to my nose in a time of body odor crisis.

No filter, no fan, and no fucking escape. Think about that. I’m not blaming you for your smells. As animals in the sun with flesh and fur, we were meant to evoke some moisture and a bit of stink. I am, however, asking, now that I’ve raised your awareness, that you take action and work to prevent this sticky situation.

This really is in the best interest of us all. One day might come where some unfortunate person gets caught in your cloud and passes out, unable to stand its power. Or maybe, some child might point at you and uncouthly call you out on your odor issues. It isn’t their fault, children don’t understand the laws of social interaction.

What I’m trying to say is that I worry about you and I say these things, hoping they will improve your social life, or at least your train life. Or maybe, what I’m trying to say is that, in this unfortunate situation, you have all the power and you can improve your world if you just try. You know what, now that I think about it, what I’m trying to say is that you smell awful.


Weird Girl Smashed Up Against You Making the Katrina DeVort Face

P.S. Sorry about the informality, I never got your name.

Bobby Crowley is a Queer woman with a love for all that is fabulous. She is currently working on her Creative Writing degree at Loyola University where she is also on the board of Advocate and a writer for the alt. magazine LUChameleon. She is in love with Andrea Gibson, her labradaniel puppies, and singing loudly in the shower.

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2 responses to “An Open Letter to the Smelly Guy Next to Me on the Train

  1. Check your privilege. Sometimes when you encounter people with poor hygiene on the train, they are mentally ill. In fact, poor hygiene is a marker of mental illness. Other times, they are homeless and can’t necessarily shower all the time. So maybe before you write another piece about how smelly people are on the CTA, consider that.

  2. I’m not completely ignorant, I am aware of mental illness as well as homelessness. I have worked with people with both and I would never demean them or their situations. I am quite aware of my privilege in this matter. I’m sorry you truly believe this is anything more than a light hearted conversation starter about people who don’t pay attention to their hygiene even though they have the ability and resources to. It is not. This is not a letter damning all people in the world who smell, this is not a letter meant to hurt or damage anyone, this is clearly just commentary on a situation many people come across.

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