Altitude Sickness
April 26, 2017

From unwashed gym socks of a teenager to my ski boots: stenches of a reformed slob

Remember those socks that sat all year in your high school gym locker? Calcified, petrified with sweat, they felt like sandpaper putting them on; they smelled like a kimchi factory staffed by gangrenous skunks. Had your mother known that they even existed, she would have slapped you, washed your mouth out with soap, and burned those socks at the stake in a rite of sacrifice to Ajax, the god of cleanliness. The contamination from burning would have led to a mass poisoning of the surrounding populace on order with the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India.  Jim Jones would look like a poser compared to the devastation wrought by the burning of a teenager’s gymsocks worn more than a hundred times without washing.

Left to their own devices, many people are slobs.

I used to think that this was mainly a male trait until I lived with my ex-wife for four blissful years. Under the best of circumstances she did laundry or dishes on a quarterly basis, and folded her laundry on a semiannual basis. Her modus operandi was to have a pile of musty-smelling cleanish clothes on the floor next to a musty pile of dirtyish clothes. This was of course compounded by the fact that once she tried something on and decided not to wear it, it was in the dirtyish pile.

Apartment dwellers, she always complained that if we had a dishwasher, she would do dishes.  Thus, out of spite, I bought a roll-away dishwasher on craigslist, in which she occasionally put a dish. Most of them she left in the sink.

The only really effective way to ensure that she would clean anything at all was to thoroughly piss her off. I would know I had offended her (somehow, inexplicably) when I would come home to a house where the dishes were half done, the laundry was half folded, and the vacuum cleaner was out of the closet, plugged, in, but mostly unused. The more pissed off she was, the more she would clean. Frankly, I should have pissed her off more.

Left to their own devices, most humans will stand over the sink eating questionable meat that sat in the fridge too long (they were too lazy to go to the store).

I am not one of these people. My mother would debate this, because my room, as a child, was a complete mess. As a teen, my room was a very smelly mess (think gym locker, only 12’x14’).

When I went away to boarding school for my second senior year of high school (I loved high school so much, I decided to graduate twice), I quickly learned that when your room is your only space, you need to keep it clean if you want to be productive (and not have your dad slaughter you for wasting a ridiculous amount of money on a school that does not, as intended, get you into college—though it did, all of them, some even with scholarships), you have to keep your room clean.

When I went to UVM, I learned that not only is cleanliness next to godliness and surrounded on all other sides by effectiveness, but also that it is especially sucky living in someone else’s mess.  Luckily my roommate (who would then be my roommate for the next three years) was not only a slob, but highly agreeable (“Hey, we need to start keeping this room clean.” – “OK.”), and the cleanliness of the room was rapidly unproblematic!

This learning episode was exacerbated, however, by our suite-mates, who were slobs of the highest order.  Now, we were college males, we partied our butts off four to five nights a week, and we glued every beer can that we drank that year to the wall of our common room with a hot glue gun (the “beer wall”), assuming (rightly I might add) that this practice would pay for our end of the year party. It also meant that at all times, we college men smelled of nature’s own college aphrodisiac: beer.

This was, however, just the start. Our suite-mates (to be fair, one of them was a neat freak, and his single room was ALWAYS pristine) were the kind of slobs that used the entire suite as a combined laundry hamper/garbage can.

Three times that year our suite was condemned by ResLife staff, and we were made to clean it up. We had countless meetings with the RA, who got steamrolled into negotiating for the slobs as to how long they could leave clothes and garbage around without cleaning.

When anyone would walk through the suite, clouds of house and fruit flies would rise into the air, startled by a giant walking through their domain of slowly decomposing compost of food and textiles. This was especially popular with women. My future martial arts master was the father of the neat freak,

so he saw this suite. He still gives me crap about it to this day, nearly 30 years later.

My first apartment after college (on 19 Green St. in Burlington) was also populated by slobs who would leave piles of moldy dishes in the sink, buying paper plates instead of doing dishes.  The apartment was so crappy that the owner had put up blueboard insulation around the inside walls and then put up fake wood paneling.  When he did this, the insulation/beaverboard met neither the shag carpet nor the drop ceiling, so in the winter there were lines of frost along the floor and ceiling. I remedied this in my room by using my butter knife to stuff newspapers in the cracks to stop the draft, and put plastic over my one window.

Luckily, the plastic on the window still allowed me to see the feral cats drinking from oily mud puddles and homeless guys looking for cans in our trash in our unpaved driveway, next to my miraculously inspected primer red 1976 Pontiac Phoenix (with a manual choke lever that I installed myself, fenders/floorboards I had rebuilt using a furnace I cut up with tin snips, a rivet gun, and furnace cement, and a stereo—hanging by one knob—that would literally vibrate the windshield).

Those things were all good, but it was the bathroom that broke my mother. The bathroom was in such a state of filth that it literally had mushrooms growing in the shower.

This is not hyperbole. There were mushrooms growing in the shower.

My mother cried all the way home.

In any case, I am acquainted with despair, despond, squalor, and the desert of the real. As an adult, I keep a very tidy dwelling, never going more than a couple of days without cleaning.  I do my laundry every three weeks, but that is because I have a big hamper and three weeks’ worth of shirts, underwear, socks, etc. None of my clothing speaks (or even moves) on its own, and my dishes go in the dishwasher when I am done eating.

But then, tucked into this tidy life, are my ski boots. Those of you who read me often know that I am passionate about skiing. Back problems not withstanding I have skied every operating day this year, I skied almost every operating day last year, and I was short about a week of operating days the year before. In addition to operating days, when the lifts do not run I crampon hike Superstar daily until it is gone, and sometimes go out to Tuckerman’s Ravine for further adventures.

What this means is that in the last two years I have put at least 400-500 hours into my ski boots, likely more. Now much of that time is lift-service with cold feet, but much of it is conversely sweating my butt off hustling up Superstar once or twice a day.

This year, I encountered an issue I have never encountered before: smelly ski boots.  These boots, should your face come close to them, have a neck snapping aroma worthy of a zombie eating a three day old horse carcass in a landfill.

Now before you get all judgy at me, I wash my socks, ok? I wash them often. I even keep my boots in the furnace room so that they warm up and dry out daily.

These boots, however, smell exactly like the permanently unwashed gym socks of a teenager, but compressed into a much tighter, more moist space. So I bought lemon-scented Lysol. I even stuff the spray can way down in and spray into the toes of the boot.  This was, for a while, fairly effective at stemming said odor.  It was effective, anyway, until the weather warmed up and I began to really sweat, sweating like a man should.

Now my boots smell exactly as they would if you took my ancient high school locker (in all its moist, fecund glory), and sprayed it heavily with Lemon Pledge. I think vomiting on these would actually improve it the smell.

“If these boots could talk, the stories they would tell.” Just wait.  These boots are currently evolving the ability to talk as you read this article.  By next year these boots will be learning the mathematics behind Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (Lorentz’ contraction and all; if my mother has not burned them at the stake while an exorcist performs the rite of the skibooticus sanctus).

These boots are currently plotting my untimely demise. Every time I open the furnace room door they have moved closer to me. Next year this column will be written (with more intelligence and flair at that) by my ski boots, and no one will notice. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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