Monday, 29 October 2012

Sensory Terrorism

Have you suffered Sensory Terrorism? 

You’ll at least identify occasions of Sensory Abuse: when changing a baby’s soiled nappy; when in proximity to a smoker; sitting on the train beside someone whose overdose of perfume/aftershave shows she/he fails to understand the difference between hints of frangipani and toilet deodorizer; or when a stranger rocks up too close on the dance-floor, twirls around and sprays torrential sweat in your direction.  Eeewww. 

More difficult to handle are experiences where you can’t escape the nasal assault.  I was once trapped on an overnight bus from Paris to Toulouse with a bunch of increasingly drunk, rowdy, rugby players.  For every beer each consumed they let go a brutal number of farts.  If I could have slept, as they eventually did, or open a window for fresh air, I might not have been so traumatized… as it was, the percentage of atmospheric methane to oxygen was like accumulating napalm. 
Squashed near stale garlic breath, or yesterday’s alcohol coming out of someone’s skin, is never pleasant.  Nor is it easy to handle a work colleague who reeks of BO.  I mean it’s not like you can say anything, is it?  And if their odour issues are coupled with a lack of body-language awareness, it may mean they lean in the more you lean out… in which case you’ll be undecided whether it’s a good thing the windows on the 21st floor don’t open manually.  
A couple of years ago, while living in Tuscany, I experienced one of the more extreme forms of Sensory Terrorism.  First I did some casual work for a woman with so many deranged and scruffy animals the word menagerie was inadequate.  Regularly I’d arrive in her ‘office’ only to discover a cat had piddled on the desk; ruining all sorts of documents and making the space impossibly offensive.  That relationship didn’t last long. 
The following year I lived temporarily in an apartment, in the beautiful countryside near San Gimignano, with a lady who had two cats.  One cat spent its days roaming outside, like normal cats do, and my only problem with him was that he left annoying cat-hair everywhere.  So I kept my bedroom door permanently shut and refrained from sitting on the sofa or watching TV.  I went out every night or went to bed early with a book.  The problem was irritating but manageable. 
The second cat, however, was three thousand years old and should have been taken to the Vet and put down decades before.  I don’t say this just because I’m a dog person.  This blind, pitiful cat appeared to be constantly suffering - squealing day and night in a scratchy, high-pitched wail that regularly put my nerves on edge.  Her owner, however, was completely in denial and wouldn’t do anything about it.  Only later did we learn the cat’s fur was so matted and her nails so long that they were doubling back and digging into her skin.  Ouch.  This pathetic discovery explained the screaming - for which I managed to dig up a little sympathy (for the cat) - but soon the situation became dire. 
When the weather got warmer the three thousand year old cat lost all possession of her bowels.  Formerly she’d left puddles of pee here and there (though not on my desk), but as temperatures climbed she started leaving her extremely smelly cacca… merda, pooh or whatever else you want to call it… ALL OVER THE FIRST FLOOR OF THE HOUSE.
No exaggeration.  And she liked this new trick so much that she would embellish it - pirouetting in the cacca and walking little brown-footprints all over the lounge-room floor, including around and under the dining table. 
You may appreciate this was not only utterly disgusting from an aesthetic and health perspective… but gradually my senses were so totally abused and my personal comfort so compromised… it became difficult at times to locate the throbbing blob… especially if hidden behind a door or bits of furniture.  Most irritating was when she messed RIGHT NEXT to the empty kitty-litter tray - as if it were a shared joke. 
The final straw with this incontinent-excuse-for-a-cat, was when my flat-mate was away in August and the cat dumped a gross deposit immediately after I’d finished mopping and cleaning the entire house.  I found said sloppy pile of muck, melting in thirty-five degree heat, right in the middle of the kitchen tiles, immediately in front of the oven, and it was forty minutes before I had a guest arriving for what I’d hoped was a romantic dinner.  Ironically, this guest was a scientist and government-registered Health Inspector who closed down restaurants for less!
It also seemed something of a conspiracy the cat behaved worst when I was the only one home.  I had restrained the impulse to kick her, if only barely, and had been feeding her that week as requested.  How did she know I hated her?  Was her habit of messing, senility or disdain?  Phoebe from Friends’ sympathetic song Smelly Cat definitely did not apply. 
Near tears of frustration I phoned Allessandro, complaining about my sensory plight, and he said I should clean it up as quickly as possible, have a shower, then sit down with a vino and look at the beautiful view from the terrace.  Encouragingly, he offered to take over the cooking when he arrived, as well as ring around friends to see if he could find alternative accommodation for me until the house I planned to rent was ready in September.  He saved my life that night.  Or rather the cat’s!
To add insult to injury my flat-mate had been regularly putting offending blobs of cat pooh into the kitchen rubbish, spazzatura in Italian, which in that part of the world needs to be driven up the dusty road to central collection points.  I asked her repeatedly not to do this, as she didn’t have a car and it wasn’t fair I had to deal with her pet’s disgusting refuse.  However she was so long-term sensory deprived, selfish, or both, that she persisted doing exactly as she wished and several times I found the rubbish had leaked in the boot of my car leaving the most offensive grime and smell.  For weeks I had nightmares in which I was trapped in a hell of perpetual stench… and I’d wake only to imagine creative ways I could kill her and the cat in a satisfying double-murder. 
Ok, I exaggerate, but I was getting desperate.  The height of summer is not the easiest time to find accommodation in Tuscany, but the situation had become untenable.  I moved out that very weekend to stay with a friend of a friend for three weeks.  Though not before my brother, Brendan, told me I’d suffered from ‘Boiled Frog Syndrome’: which means I’d stayed stoic or patient far too long and not seen the consequences coming - the way a frog who’s been put into cold water fails to notice he’s boiling to death if the heat is turned up slowly, thus missing his chance to jump out and save his own life.  
At any rate, for weeks after I escaped this Sensory Terrorism the world smelt blissfully sweet… and my days were quiet and serene.  
But I’ll never like cats again.