Friday, April 13, 2012

My Mrs Robinson moment . . . or . . . True Love Don't Stink!

This post is about the smell of love, sort of anyway.  

Yes really, that's the subject, the smell of love, in it's own strange biological way . . . 

In my most recent post, telling the story of meeting Serafina for the first time, I divulged a little bit of my history as an avid backpacker and environmental activist.  Well, I've not followed anything like a normal career path, I had a unique history before my time in the trenches fighting for social and environmental justice.  

I was once training to become a Chef . . . 
Today's story begins at Grand Canyon National Park, something like 25 years ago, in the days when I literally called that park my home.

Oh yes, my dear reader, I spent a year living with a natural wonder just a couple of minutes outside my back door.  It was a good year, a tumultuous year, an era where I had an overwhelming number of new experiences in relatively short period of time.  I know the period will remain unmatched in my lifetime, in my personal experience.

I was 23 years old, and everyone I knew, everyone who thought they knew me, everyone everywhere was already telling me, had already been telling me for years, that I was wasting my life.  It can be unnerving being told that you are ruining your potential.  It was overpowering to be told I was going to regret the choices I was making for the rest of my life.

I think I'd been hearing that refrain for 10 years . . .

The thing is, I couldn't just comply with the wishes of my parents or friends, they didn't understand me, they didn't know my motivations, and they certainly weren't going to tell me what to do.  I simply figured that I knew better than everybody else.  I'd already arrived at that conclusion by the age of 17 . . .

In seeking to escape all of my detractors, I slipped away one day with little notice or fanfare, and disappeared to the employ of Grand Canyon National Park Lodges (GCNPL).  It was the time when Japan was looked to as the world's greatest economic power.  And, strangely enough, despite being an employee of a vendor who had an exclusive arrangement with National Park Service for the Grand Canyon, my ultimate employer was a Japanese conglomerate who had purchased the fabled Fred Harvey chain of restaurants and lodges.

At the time it didn't bother me who ultimately signed my checks, as long as they were signed.  There wasn't a lot of money to be made, but ultimately GCNPL took decent care of it's employees, so we did OK, better than most restaurant workers.  We had subsidized housing and subsidized meals, we could get reduced cost airfare to and from the National Park, we could also access reduced cost rafting trips and expeditions.

looking at the El Tovar at sunset
All the benefits were nice, they drew me to a seasonal job with a three month contract.  I stayed on afterwards to train to become a chef under our highly respected Executive Chef, a rising star in the world of fine dining.  I was working at the El Tovar, a 4-star restaurant and lodge situated on the Grand Canyon's South Rim.  I learned to prepare escargot and rack of lamb among others, not to mention a whole world of sauces, gravies, and other gastronomic delights.

It was there I met Nancy, the real subject of today's post.  I was in my 20′s, she was in her 40's, but she had the best body of any woman I'd ever dated.  She was a marvel.

As an literate backpacker and outdoorsman, I read a number of periodicals, Backpacker and Outside magazine being among my favorite selections.  Soon after meeting Nancy, I learned that she had dated more than one of the authors who were regularly featured in those periodicals, and that she'd was an avid mountain and rock climber herself.  Among her other accomplishments, Nancy had been one of the first women to summit Denali (Mt McKinley) in Alaska.

One of the most interesting and pioneering climbers, a fellow who I honestly wished to emulate, had lived and slept with Nancy for over a decade, a fact that didn't escape an impressionable young man like myself.   If you were an outdoor junkie back in those days, you might remember the guy who pioneered the art of carrying a mountain bike to the top of some of the worlds tallest summits, then biking back down.  He was the guy who'd been her boyfriend.  Well, among others . . .

I met Nancy at my dorm room's door, where she was insistently knocking.  I already knew who she was from the El Tovar, where she was a waitress.  Before you get the impression that she was some kind of downtrodden waif, waitresses at the El Tovar made very good money for those days.  It was the Ronald Regan era, and the minimum wage was $3.35 per hour.  On a fair night at the El Tovar, a good waitress could expect to pick up $100 in tips.  On a busy night, it wasn't unheard of for one to earn $200.

Nancy was at the door of my dorm room looking for my roommate, who she'd dated the night before.  My roommate Gary was, at that moment, hiding in the bathroom.  Gary had observed Nancy bike up to the dorm, but he was . . . . well frankly, he was a chickenshit little guy who didn't even have the common courtesy to face a woman he'd accepted a blowjob from just the night before.

While Gary hid in our bathroom, I got the task of giving Nancy the bullshit brush-off . . .

Well, my dear reader, I hope you'll be happy to learn that I didn't cover for a coward hiding in the bathroom, I simply stepped into the hall, closed the door behind me so my roomie couldn't easily eavesdrop, and told Nancy the truth.

I believe the words I said were . . .
"Nancy, I know Gary's a good looking guy, and he does talk a good line too, but he doesn't have much respect for women.  I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but he's hiding in our bathroom right now, as he really doesn't want to have to face you today.  He's not planning on dating you again, but frankly, he doesn't have the balls to tell you that, so he sent me to the door to cover for him.  I don't cover for cowards Nancy, and I thought you deserved the truth, as I respect you too much to let him make a fool of you, thinking you were pursuing someone with a sincere interest.  I'm sorry, but that's just not the case."
I don't think that I expected gratitude for what I'd done, in fact I'm pretty sure I didn't think at all before acting.  My heart and my instincts had guided me before my head could really engage.  WTF was I thinking, outing my roommate like that?  I mean, I had to live with this dude!  While my actions didn't endear me to Gary, they did apparently impress Nancy, who the very next day invited me to dinner to thank me for my candor and chivalry.

Now I'm not a guy like Gary, I don't come equipped with any pithy one liners to impress ladies.  When I develop an attraction, I work to build a friendship first, so I've never actually had a one night stand, nor even women who I've only made love to a handful of times.  I'm a committed relationship kind of fellow, pure and simple.

So there were no thoughts of sex in my mind when I went out to dinner with Nancy.  I didn't know her well enough yet to know if we'd even become friends, let alone become intimate.  Then she started regaling me with stories of spending the 60's in San Francisco, of living on a commune, first in the Haight-Asbury district, and then later in a more rural locale.  I heard the story of packing her two year old boy in her car and driving to Alaska, where she talked her way into a job she was nowhere close to being qualified to work.

That was all good and fun.  I'd often wished that I'd been born a decade earlier, that I'd been old enough to appreciate the Summer of Love.  What really attracted me though, were her stories about mountaineering and rock climbing.  My Dad spent all his summers at a YMCA boys camp near Estes Park, throughout all of my childhood I'd been told stories of summits and peaks climbed and conquered.  Now as an avid backpacker and aspiring climber, I'd met a woman who just offered to climb with me.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!

Grand Canyon Village is like a small town, everyone there knows each other's business.  It was just the next day when I started hearing comments about my "date" with Nancy, and how her fellow waitresses thought we made a nice couple.  I wasn't so sure about being any kind of couple, but we did go out for dinner together the next two nights,

And it was on that third date that I gave in and slept with Nancy.  She told me afterwards that she was beginning to despair that I'd ever get interested enough in her to make a move.  I told her that she was lucky I gave in so easily, that I usually made a girl work a lot harder before I'd sleep with her.

And finally, we reach the crux of this story, the point all these words are building towards.  That first night I slept with Nancy, not long after we finished with out first round of lovemaking, she placed her nose squarely against my underarm and inhaled.  Then she looked me square in the eye and asked how long before I could do it again . . .

After I replied that all I'd need were five minutes and a cigarette, Nancy told me that she was very impressed with my skills, so she had been checking to see, by smell, if we were going to be sexually compatible in the long term.  Nancy went on to relate that she'd divorced one of her six previous husbands because she couldn't stand his odor.  Even fresh from the shower, he'd been offensive to her olfactory senses, and it eventually led to her leaving him behind.

And there's the point of my sordid Mrs Robinson like tale.  Besides being an exercise in sharing a little bit of my life story with you, my dear reader, this post was also written to illustrate some little known science, not to mention being a response to a posting on Violet Blue's blog by Thomas Roche titled: Love Stinks: The Truth About Pheromones and Pheremone Parties.

In discussing individual’s body odor, Nancy and I used the term “body chemistry” rather than pheromone, but she was very much of the opinion that an individual’s scent after a good workout offered more to her than just the smell of sweat. Nancy swore that she could predict sexual compatibility based on what she called the “sniff test.”

It would be my understanding, in retrospect, that there really may be some science behind what I called the "scratch then sniff" technique (in addition to being a "cougar" before older women who enjoyed younger men had such a name, she was a real wildcat in the bedroom - I did, upon occasion, a wear significant scratches) this has little to do with pheromones.

Instead, it probably has everything to do with some other different factors that do have their basis in modern science. The stories I’ve read related this effect to specific genes called the MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex) that are part of our immune system.

Here's how the scientific theory was explained by the Los Angeles Times:
Researchers have long studied how certain traits -- square jaws in men, narrow waists in women, facial symmetry in both genders, for example -- seem to signal good genetic fitness to potential mates. But recently scientists have zeroed in on specific genes that might play a surprising role in how we choose hookups -- and possibly settle-downs.

Known as MHC (for major histocompatibility complex), these genes control how the immune system recognizes and fights off microscopic foreign invaders such as viruses, fungi and bacteria. Doctors also look at this portion of the genome to match up compatible organ donors and recipients.

Apparently the nose uses these genes too -- albeit for a different type of compatibility. Imagine you were to work the crowd at your singles bar by sniffing potential dates' sweaty underarms. (Urine aromas would work, too, but let's stick with armpits for now.)

Studies suggest that owners of the underarms you found to be most tolerable -- primally sexy, even -- are likely to have different histocompatibility genes than you. And those who have similar immune system types probably smell more like gym socks to you.

It's plausible that natural selection rigged the mating game in its favor, explains Randy Thornhill, a biology professor at the University of New Mexico and an immune-system-genetics researcher. If men and women with complementary immune systems are inexplicably drawn to each other, their kids will have an advantage in fighting off pathogenic nasties.
I learned a lot from Nancy, perhaps more than I thought.  She might really have been on to some things that science is only catching up to today.  It's more than canyons that are grand my friends, life itself is a grand adventure.

I'm pretty sure we'll run across Nancy again.  We had some good times as we dated, our relationship lasted for more than six months, and I know there are more stories worth retelling . . .

1 comment:

  1. Oh, WOW! What a story! I love, love, love sticking my face in my husband's armpit, but it never occurred to me that there was some chemistry going on there. Such a fascinating, well-written post. Thank you for sharing.

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