It rained last night or so early this morning it felt like night. It was still raining when I woke up so that I could hear the water splash against buses’ fat tires, even as I tried to remain sleeping in my tenth floor apartment. But no matter how hard I convinced myself I was still tired, my eyelids popped open and I had to face the fact that it was a Monday and that I needed something to do, and probably the best thing to do to avoid getting in trouble would be to go to work.
The rain was just a drizzle. Not big fat plops on my head that would make me look draggled and weary by the time I got to the bus stop, but the kind of rain whose misty droplets just sat there on the strands of my hair like little crystals, threatening to make me look draggled if I ran a hand through my tresses.
By late morning, the rain stopped and the sky opened to reveal a light blue sky, the sun’s heat coaxing the moisture from the red-iron ground. As the ground heated up, so did the worms. And I think there is nothing grosser than worm smell.
What is it about worms that make them smell? Maybe it’s just that all they do is eat and excrete dirt, but I can’t imagine what about dirt makes them smell that bad. I remember being especially disgusted when we got to dissect worms in 7th grade with Mr. Parmalee, their pruny, translucent hotdog skin slipping through our oversize-gloved fingers as we tried to pin them down onto the pan of black wax; but smelling the fresh worms today made me wistful for that time fifteen years ago when it was just the odor of the formaldehyde that repulsed me. Fresh, living worm smell is simply revolting.
I don’t seem to remember, when I lived and worked outside in Vermont, or when I traveled and camped around various parts of the globe, the smell of fresh worms being quite as potent as it is here. I think, for whatever reason, that worms who live in cities smell much worse than their country cousins. I don’t mean to discriminate. It is simply an observation. Maybe it’s because they–the city worms–have much more polution to process through their tiny digestive systems than the simpler folks out in the clean farmland. Out there, maybe they just have to re-chew the cow dung and compost…all organic stuff, or at least it should be anyway. But here in the city? These poor worms probably have to deal with gas spills, cigarette ashes, and god only knows what else. Stealing a word from the book I’m reading now, “A Prayer for Owen Meaney,” these city worms probably even have to deal with left over “beetleskins.” Gross. And all for what? So they can be mocked and shunned by humans like myself who can’t appreciate that by their simple existence, their chomping and chewing through veritable poison, that beautiful red-iron dirt I love so much is perfectly aerated and contributes so greatly to this landscape I have grown to admire and by which I have often been moved into a silent awe? And these city-dwelling worms probably suffer malignant growths infinitely more often and more seriously than the country worms, which may in time, prove to affect generations of Brazilian worms to come. Had it not been for these tiny, smelly, cylindrical, mushy, and probably cancer-ridden creatures, I would not be able to enjoy the view from my classroom door of a beautiful old tree providing shade for me even as I type this.
My god. How selfish.
And so now it is later in the afternoon and I sit in my classroom reflecting on the role of the worm in the Great Order of Things. The day is warmer, the dirt is drier, and the worms have probably retreated back to their worm dwellings, probably painfully aware of their own odor. I leave school today a little more humble, yes, but absolutely no more able to tolerate worm smell.