The Smelly But Very Nice Man


We lived in a large brick house in the centre of town, with a tiny backyard and a carport that my dad built because he did everything himself, and without a building permit too! I'm still amazed that half our house didn't fall down around us, knowing the kind of work my dad did. He was very proud of his work, don't get me wrong. Only problem is, he kind of cut corners a lot, and always because he knew "a better way". Often, that meant extra holes drilled, and lots of screws and bolts left without a home.

My dad bought this house in 1962, and I grew up in there. It was my home. I guess you could call my dad frugal. He worked very hard for his money, and didn't spend it frivolously. I remember when he would get paid, out would come the budget envelopes, and in each one he would put a certain amount to take care of the bills each month. The rest went into the bank.

What my dad also did was rent out the rooms upstairs to people who needed a place to stay and who didn't have enough money or the need to rent out an entire apartment. So, at times, all four bedrooms upstairs were rented out to people my father called "the roomers", which I always confused with "the rumours" and never quite understood why he called them that, except that maybe they went around talking about us a lot to other people...

Anyway, I digress.

So, one of our longtime "roomers" was Steve, but we all called him Jai (pronounced 'Jy'), and I have no idea why. He was Jai in our eye. Jai was short and stocky, and quite a strong man. He worked in construction, so he was often out the door before daylight struck, and came home everyday at 4 p.m., lunchbox in hand. He would often stop on the verandah if my dad was sitting out there, and they'd shoot the shit for awhile, usually talking about the weather, or who did what to whom the other day and how dare they. They were like little hens, cluckcluckclucking away to one another. One day Jai got hurt on the job, and he never returned to work. Instead, he collected workmen's comp and went on Unemployment Insurance. And he continued to live in our home, and every morning he would leave and go for a long walk that lasted all day. Often, he'd end up at the local park and there he'd stay, but there were days when I would see him way on the other end of the city, walking. Just walking. Or I'd see him at the beach, fully clothed, walking. He also always wore a white undershirt and long pants, regardless of how warm the day.

Although Jai was a good guy, and he never did anything wrong to me per se, I avoided him like the bubonic plague. The reason, you ask? I avoided him because he stank. There is no other way to say it, I'm sorry. The guy reeked to high heaven. Imagine the following smells all mixed together to form one strong, visible glob of stench: cabbage, cooked slowly in a big soup pot; kielbasa (Polish sausage that has a certain scent to it); something left in your fridge for about eight months that you finally find and take out and open, to your chagrin; stale cigarette smoke; a big healthy chunk of nicely aged Limburger cheese; and effervescent body odour of every dimension you could ever possibly imagine. That was how Jai smelled. Of course, I am ignoring the many times he would leave a most unimaginable smell in the only bathroom we had on the second floor, in which he would sometimes spend an hour. And I won't even go into that. You're welcome.

I honestly don't know why he smelled this way. He just did. I named this smell "the Jai" in honour of Jai. The Jai would not allow me to leave my room in the morning, and there were many times I would be late for school because of The Jai. I would always try and time my sojourns to the second floor, or even to the foyer downstairs, with great care, listening attentively for any sign of a recent Jai appearance. However, no matter how hard I tried, sometimes I would mistakenly walk right into the midst of a full-blown Jai cloud, and I think I must have died a thousand deaths. God knows how I am here writing this right now. Of course, sometimes I had no choice but to enter into the thick brown cloud of Jai, and those were some of the worst days of my life. I would actually gag and have dry heaves. And sometimes, I had no choice but to enter the Jai dungeon we used to call "the bathroom". Breathing through my mouth became an art. I also became an expert at holding my breath.

The Jai was so bad that my brothers and I created the "Jai Alert", so that if one of us saw him approaching, or heard him leaving his room, we would emit a sound resembling a burglar alarm to warn all others to take cover. If I saw him coming up the street as I sat on the front verandah, I would quickly get up, open the screen door, and scream the Jai Alert for all to hear. Doors and windows would shut as we waited for Jai to pass by on his way up to his hovel -- I mean, room. We watched out for one another because we knew what it meant to be accosted by The Jai. It meant certain death of neurons and brain synapses, to say the least. Nausea was a given.

When my dad decided to sell the family home and downsize, it was time for Jai to find a new home. By this time, Jai was the only tenant left in our house, and I'd known him for a good part of my life, so he was kind of like family...I guess. He was sort of like that family member you try to avoid no matter what. You know what I'm talking about. We all have one. Admit it. I know I'm not alone.

So, as we put the house up for sale and started packing, I felt sorry for Jai. He was all alone, had never married, had no children, and now he was being forced to leave the only home he had known for almost 20 years. It was sad.

I don't know where Jai ended up living. We lost touch after the house sold. But I used to see him on the streets once in a while, walking, talking to his buddies, going to the beer store, sitting in the park. He seemed to be okay.

This one's for you, Jai, wherever you may be. Hope you're doing well, still smiling, and enjoying life. The only thing I'd ask is: What air freshener is being used in your home? And why didn't we use it?

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