Lessons from the armpit

OK, San Antonio. We need to have a chat. 

Summer’s here, and sure, it feels like ol’ Apollo’s cranked up the dimmer switch. You’ve started carrying around hankerchiefs to mop the perspiration mustaches off your upper lips, and many of you, in defiance of all fashion logic, have traded your slacks for above-the-knees shorts. I know you think it’s warm outside, but really, you need to stop complaining about it.

“But it’s so ho-”

Don’t. I — along with City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Fire Chief Charles Hood, and Rollergirl-in-training Bri Black — mock your summer moanings. We’re from Phoenix, yo, where summer is serious.

“But Phoenix is a dry-”

Just don’t. When the mercury plateaus in the hundred-teens, it doesn’t make a spritz of difference whether the heat’s wet or dry. Have you ever found the blistering outline of your seatbelt key burned into the palm of your hand, or on the top of your thigh, like some sort of St. Ford stigmata? Has your congressman ever appeared in public in an elaborate Phantom-of-the-Opera bandaid mask to protect the biopsy wounds from his latest skin-cancer treatments? Have you ever pulled over to the side of the road because your streets and sidewalks, shadeless under the cacti, have become one dizzying reflective mirage?

No, I didn’t think so. In short, summer in Phoenix is deadly, and you can’t go outside. San Antonio is merely uncomfortable. Get over it; go out and play.

Sure, San Antonio’s humidity is kinda gross, I’ll give you that. Every day you feel coated with a thick summer slime, and you get stuck in that broken-record neuroticism: “Can that person-on-the-other-side-of-the-office smell me?” I’m here, as a veteran of nearly two-dozen Phoenix summers, to tell you not to give a shit.

When I was a teenager, and those short ’n’ curlies began to sprout in the most impractical anatomical crevices, I became obsessed with neutralizing my body odor. Like Dennis the Menace and his slingshot, I never left the house without my roll-on Speed Stick holstered in my back pocket. I’d apply it to my torso, from sternum to belly-button, and I’d rub it under my armpits until it stung, until I couldn’t let my arms rest naturally and I had to swagger like a weightlifter or a kid wearing invisible floaties. The burn was the only way I could be sure I’d put on enough.

I stopped in 1998, when the Associated Press published an article about a 16-year-old boy in England who died of an aerosol deodorant overdose:


“Jonathan Capewell had 10 times the lethal dosage of propane and butane in his blood when he suffered a heart attack and died July 29, coroner Barrie Williams said.

Jonathan’s father, Keith Capwell, said his son would cover his entire body with deodorant at least twice a day.

‘When we told him he was using too much, he said he just wanted to smell good,’ Capwell said. ‘Even when we were in a room downstairs we couldn’t just smell it, we could taste it ... What a price to pay for smelling nice.’”


There is a difference of course between spray and roll-on, but both can still be deadly. Dr. Christine Farlow, author of Dying to Look Good, has identified at least seven deadly ingredients currently being used by mainstream deodorant manufacturers that can be absorbed through the skin directly into the bloodstream. The key ingredient of  beloved Speed Stick (“Ocean Surf” scent these days) is propylene glycol, which according to Farlow and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is a neurotoxin that can kick the crap out of your kidneys and liver. In other words – if the sun doesn’t kill you, your deodorant might.

I’ve since come to realize — and this after a stint in equatorial Africa, where deodorant’s unnecessary because you can’t smell B.O. over the  steaming open sewers — that the aroma of summertime is so much sweeter if we all don’t sweat the sweat. It’s easier if you remember that the smell of sweat is also the smell of sex: According to a UC Berkeley study published in February in the Journal of Neuroscience, a few sniffs of male sweat will cause a hormone reaction in heterosexual women. (No clinical trials are necessary to show that men are suckers for a little glisten.)

My advice: Change your shirts and socks regularly, and c’mon, lose the short-shorts.

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