One of the hazards of the long New Hampshire winters that I have to suffer through every year is something I refer to as Vaseline nostrils.
For some reason, the minute the furnace pops on for the first time each year, the interior of my nose dries out worse than the Sahara and starts to sprout these sadistic little cracks that decide to bleed whenever the mood strikes them.
“Buy a humidifier,” my family doctor advised. “Your house obviously it too dry. Get some moisture in there – and into your nose.”
If I wanted moisture, all I’d have to do is go sit downstairs in my basement – a place so damp and dark, after only an hour down there your skin starts to grow moss. So the thought of adding dampness to the rest of my house really didn’t appeal to me.
“Or…” my doctor added, “you can keep the inside of your nose moist by using a saline spray or coating it with a thin layer of Vaseline.”
Of the three options, the Vaseline sounded the easiest…and the cheapest. So about 10 years ago, I started coating the insides of my nostrils with Vaseline every winter.
To my relief, it worked. No more cracking. No more nosebleeds.
And no more sense of smell.
I soon learned it was pretty difficult to smell anything when my nostrils were stuffed with Vaseline. Granted, it probably was because I was a bit overzealous when applying it and the “thin layer” was more like a big blob, but I didn’t want to give my nostrils even the slightest opportunity to dry out like raisins again.
As a result of my Vaseline nostrils, I’ve eaten spoiled food because I couldn’t smell it. I’ve stepped in “surprises” my dogs left for me, and I’ve set off the smoke detectors more than once because I couldn’t smell dinner burning.
But the worst complication of Vaseline nostrils occurred a few weeks ago, when I decided to use a gift card I’d received for Christmas.
“I’m looking for a nice light scent,” I told the sales clerk in the fragrance section of the store’s cosmetics department when she asked if she could help me find anything specific. “Something lemony or citrus-scented would be nice.”
“I have several choices you might like,” she said.
She then proceeded to spray several colognes onto these little blotter-like cards and handed them to me one at a time.
“What do you think of this one?” she asked, smiling.
I sniffed the little card. I couldn’t detect even the slightest scent of any cologne. It could have smelled like skunk pee for all I knew.
“Mmmm, that’s lovely,” I lied, embarrassed to let her know I essentially was wasting her time because all I could smell was “Eau de Vaseline,” which was kind of like a faint scent of motor oil.
She handed me the next card. “This one is a little stronger.”
I felt my spirits rise, thinking I might be able to smell that one.
But once again, I couldn’t smell anything that even remotely resembled cologne.
Five samples later, I finally managed to get a slight whiff of something that smelled vaguely like lemons.
“I’ll take this one!” I told the clerk, quickly handing my gift card to her. I was so relieved to finally have been able to smell something, I wasn’t about to pass it up.
Two days later, I went grocery shopping. Before I left the house, I decided to use some of my new cologne. I sprayed it on my wrists and then sniffed them. I couldn’t smell anything, so I sprayed a little more cologne on them…and then a little more.
As I walked through the supermarket, I noticed that people kept turning to stare at me - and when they did, their expressions sort of resembled those of someone whose septic tank had just backed up into the house.
After a few minutes of constantly being stared at, I began to develop a complex. Was my eye makeup smudged? Was my hair sticking up? Did I have a hole in the seat of my pants? I decided to detour into the restroom to check things out.
I was alone in there, in one of the stalls, when I heard someone walk in.
“Whew!” a woman’s voice gasped. “The last person in here must have taken a bath in cheap perfume! Talk about stinky! It's making my eyes water!”
“Yeah,” came another female voice. “Anyone who wears that much perfume is probably trying to hide the fact she has body odor or something!”
I sniffed the air. I didn’t smell anything. I thought maybe it was a good thing my Vaseline nostrils were protecting me from the obviously stinky restroom, because the way the two women were talking, I wouldn’t have wanted to be subjected to the choking scent of cheap perfume.
I emerged from the stall and both women stared at me as if they just had seen the Ghost of Christmas Past, ready to whisk them away.
I smiled at them, washed my hands and left. But just before the restroom door closed behind me, I heard one of them say, “Oh, Lord, I’m so embarrassed! I didn’t know she was still in here!”
It took a moment before her words sank into my thick head. I was the stinky woman wearing the cheap perfume! I was the one making people’s eyes water!
Luckily, I had only two items in my cart. I quickly put them back, then ran out of the store, all the while wondering if the place would soon have to be evacuated because the lingering stench I left behind was causing the customers to suffer respiratory problems.
The minute I got home, I leapt into the shower and scrubbed the cologne off my skin. Then I blew my nose about six times and wiped out all of the Vaseline until I actually could smell again.
Taking a deep, calming breath, I hesitantly picked up the bottle of cologne, sprayed it into the air and sniffed it.
It smelled like a combination of overly ripe bananas and armpits. I was so embarrassed, I vowed never to show my face in that supermarket again.
Fortunately, winter finally is over, so I can quit using the Vaseline. But next year, I think I might be wise to seriously consider investing in a humidifier.
Either that, or I can move down into my damp basement. Heck, a little moss never hurt anyone.
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