The waiter recoiled like he had nearly put his tongue on a fresh dog turd. As he bent over the menu the customer was pointing to I could imagine him sticking his head into a toxic yellowish green cloud, the cloud being the bad breath of the customer.
I had been traveling with Mr. Halitosis for several days before I caught the first whiff of his devil’s breath. We were standing next to each other at the counter of a mini mart and he turned to ask me if I wanted to add a bottle of water to the bill which he was paying. My lungs were on the intake mode, preparing to answer, and I nearly leaped backwards from the smell. His breath smelled like what I imagined would come out of a skunk’s ass.
I turned away and told him, “No, but you might want to add some of those breath mints for yourself. You’ve not got baby breath this morning.”
His face scrunched up as if he could not decipher the reply I had given him. I walked out to our parked motorcycles and waited for him, assuming he had gotten the bad breath message about as softly as I could give it to him.
Not knowing whether my subtle suggestion had been accepted or not, I stayed away from his oral exhaust port for the next days. But seeing the waiter reel backwards at breakfast when Mr. Halitosis had drawn him into the unseen cloud of skunk ass fumes, I realized the message had not been received.
This was confirmed when the receptionist at check-out quickly backed away from Mr. Halitosis when he asked about a charge on his bill and pointed to it. At first, she leaned forward to inspect the item, and then, like the waiter, her head snapped back and she stepped backwards, politely cupping her nose with her right hand.
During the day as we rode, I pondered what the inside of his helmet must smell like, and how much of the cloud could be pulled away by the passing wind. My conclusion was his breath must have left a layer of stink on his face only a mother or a new gold digger wife with a serious sinus blockage could love.
We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe where several Harley-Davidsons were parked. After our meal we enjoyed some time in a parking lot confab with two of the HOG members trading tales and comparing machines. While looking closely at some odd tire wear on Mr. Halitosis’ front tire, the grizzled Harley rider stepped back and said, “Whew, you must have had the garlic, onions and Fetid Stinking Bishop cheese on your burger for lunch.”
Mr. Halitosis replied, “Nah, I went with the salad,” and smiled. All of us could see proof of his fresh vegetable lunch stuck between his front teeth.
In the bar before dinner that night I decided that if I was going to stay with him on the road for the next days, he needed a more direct lesson in oral hygienics. After he had a couple of drinks I started with a story about a German motorcyclist I had traveled with who had a dental quirk I could not accept, so quit riding with him. The German was so obsessed with saving money and the weight of his luggage that he would not purchase a tooth brush or tooth paste. He brushed his teeth with his right index finger using tap water and baking soda which often left food particles wedged between his teeth and the smell of what he had eaten or drank at an earlier meal. Mixed with the hand rolled cigarettes he smoked I decided not to address his personal choice of hygienic lifestyle and found a reason to part ways.
Mr. Halitosis listened to the tale and said, “I was raised on a farm and my mother taught us to brush our teeth once a day, using a toothbrush and toothpaste. That bumpkin German must have grown up in the forest.”
I saw my opening, took another sip of beer, and said as politely as I could, “My father trained to be a dentist, so I was taught to brush my teeth after every meal and to floss at the end of the day.”
“Seems like a waste of time,” said Mr. Halitosis. “I brush every night before I go to bed, so clean out what has been collecting throughout the day. On the farm it’d be a waste of drinking water, time and toothpaste to over clean what is already clean. Plus, we’re on the road, so who cares if we brush at all?”
I’d realized the soft approach wasn’t going to work with this farm-bred boy, so used the method I was taught when I worked on a ranch for dealing with mules: hit them over the head with a 2×4 when you want them to get the message.
I said, “You’ve got bad breath, the worst I’ve smelled in six rides around the world. As for who cares and being on the road, unless your start dealing with your skunk ass breath we’re going to take different routes. I care and want you riding well behind me, so I do not have to imagine what the wind is wafting out of your helmet and past my face when you are in front.”
Mr. Halitosis didn’t seem offended by my 2×4 approach. He set his glass of beer down on the bar and said, “We’ll, that’s just your opinion man, and I think you’ll wear out your teeth with all that brushing. Once a day was good enough for my mom and she lived to be 90.”
I didn’t argue but took the front in our tandem riding. For the following days I wondered if his mother had any of her own teeth when she passed over at 90, and if her skunk breath son kissed her goodbye.
This story originally appeared in our July 2018 issue.