Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Making a Stink

Why bother trying to cover up the smell of pee?

By Walter Jowers

JUNE 19, 2000:  Add Rio de Janeiro to the list of places where wild horses could not drag me. (Just so you know, other places on the list include the music venue formerly known as Starwood Amphitheater and any Metro School Board meeting.) What's my beef with Rio, you ask? Well, it seems that the locals and tourists have peed all over the public spaces, and the city fathers have decided to cover up the stink with strawberry perfume.

"We're going to spray it in Rio's 850 squares, and instead of pee, there will be strawberries in the air," Vicente Cantini, president of Rio's Parks and Gardens Foundation, told Reuters.

So far, the U.S.-made strawberry perfume has been tested around downtown monuments that attract full-bladdered beer drinkers. "It seems to be working; even the tourists are commenting on the lovely smell of strawberries," Cantini said.

Well, I'm sorry, Cantini. I know pee when I smell it, and I think other people do too. I smelled pee when I lived in New York, over the combined stench of subways, buses, roasted chestnuts, and Dumpster funk. New York can't cover it up. Urinal cakes can't cover it up. Hell, cats can't cover it up. People are going to smell the pee.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of an occasional open-air whiz. Sometimes, on a nice cool night, when I'm on my way back from taking the trash out to the alley, I'll stop, unzip, deploy, and water the compost heap. I like to watch the steam rise. It's bracing, and life-affirming. If the condo people behind me are spying on me (and I think they are), they might just catch me in the act. Let 'em call the cops. Let 'em prosecute. I'll demand a jury trial. It'll be great fun.

Here's what bothers me about the Rio situation: Cantini and his bunch are going to make people hate the smell of strawberries. I'd hate for that to happen to me, for several reasons. First, back in our early courting days, wife Brenda used to wear a little strawberry-oil perfume. It stuck to me when I rubbed up against her, which I did often. I could smell it when she wasn't around, and I enjoyed that.

Once a year, on my birthday, Brenda makes me a strawberry cake, using recently departed Aunt Bonnie's recipe. When I was a kid, the strawberry cake was one of 20-something cakes my mother made for Christmas. It was my favorite then and it still is. And these days, what with the quintuple bypass and all, my milkshake consumption is limited to the nonfat strawberry shakes at Vandyland. So I treasure my strawberry memories. I wouldn't want 'em all mixed up with the smell of stale pee.

For the sake of other strawberry lovers, I say that if they've just got to use a cover-up smell down in Rio, they ought to use Lysol. People already associate the smell of Lysol with bathroom troubles. Nobody has a happy Lysol memory, or a favorite Lysol-flavored dessert. If not Lysol, they ought to use Pine-Sol or Spic & Span. Better yet, they could go with hospital smell or dentist-office smell.

Speaking of dentist-office smell, if my elementary schoolmate Jerry Smith had ever gone to the dentist, I wouldn't retch at the smell of cloves today. Jerry had rotten teeth, and the teachers would always give him some oil of cloves to suck on. Now if I get a whiff of clove, my teeth hurt and my stomach churns. Smell is a powerful thing. It sticks in your head forever.

Seems to me the best way to stop Rio from stinking would be to stop people from peeing all over the streets and parks to begin with. But Cantini disagrees. "There's no way to stop those partygoers; they just look for the first monument, tree, or corner to relieve themselves of their beer," he said.

I'm sorry, but I'm not buying it. This is strictly a case of lax law enforcement. I'll bet if a bunch of people tried to pee in a park in Tehran, they'd be arrested and tried pretty quickly, and they'd be missing some body parts before the next sundown.

If I were in charge of Rio's parks, I'd be running some tiny electric fences around the partygoers' favorite monuments and trees, and dishing out a little electroshock therapy, Clockwork Orange-style. That would teach those people some manners. Maybe then they'd go pee in their own yards, like civilized people.

But if people must pee in Rio's public spaces, I say let pee be pee. Don't try to mask the smell. If people are having fun, they'll get nostalgic for the smell of pee, and they'll want to go back to Rio. I know it's true, because sometimes I open up my guitar case, and I can pick up just the faintest 20-year-old twinge of dirty, smoke-filled rock 'n' roll bars. Just for a second, I wish I could go back.


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