The Writer’s Corner features poetry, essays, short stories, satire and various fiction and non-fiction from SCAD Atlanta students. To submit your own work for the Writer’s Corner, email features@scadconnector.com.

by Shannon Gillespie

I got a call from a coworker last week that began like this, “Ugh! They’re here again.” 

“Who?” I asked. 

“It’s about the smell,” he said. 

“Smell?”

“It’s the third time they’ve been out here.”

“Huh?” I asked, still confused.

“In only two weeks,” he replied. 

“I’m sorry?”

“This is getting ridiculous. They’re going to stop coming out soon if they can’t find something.” 

“What?” 

“What if they stop taking our calls all together?” he asked.

There was a beat of silence between the two of us before I spoke up again. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” 

“Didn’t I tell you? The people we work with have been calling the building management company to complain about the smell,” my coworker said.

At this point, I writhed in my chair, as I imagined a terrible scent radiating from the walls of the squat, 70-year-old building. As I tried not to get lost in the possibilities, I reached for the lavender-scented lotion I keep on my desk and breathed it in. 

“What smell?” I asked.

“From down the hall, the cleaning company,” he replied.

“It’s not inside the office?”

“No. The one that’s four doors down.”

“Why are they worried about another company’s office, that’s got at least four walls between them?” I asked.

“They burn incense,” he said.

And that’s when I understood. The frequent calling and the attempt to bring in an authority figure. This wasn’t about scent. This was about control and the desire to gentrify an office floor. 

I drive through the neighborhood version of this every day — multiple neighborhoods, actually. Fifty to 100-year-old homes, with trees that are even older reaching over them and blocking out the waves of heat that will be here sooner than we realize. New owners buy them and renovate the houses if they have architectural styles like “bungalow” or “shotgun.” If not, the houses don’t earn the title of vintage and are torn down to build something new — something bigger. Something that looks like the new house a couple streets over. 

As this replacement happens over and over again, other new things begin being implemented. The potholes and burnt out street lights that had been ignored are finally repaired by the city or county. New fiber-optic lines are run so that internet access is faster because apparently, only the new homeowners benefit from higher internet speeds. And, calls are placed to the police about behaviors that are outside the new residents’ standards of how a neighborhood should function.

I am not advocating on behalf of incense. In fact, I could never smell patchouli or Nag Champra again and still live a full and happy life. But I am advocating against the behavior of assuming your preference is the default or inherently more important. That kind of thinking is rife with prejudice.

We need to do better. We need to use the correct words, especially when identifying the prejudice people think is subtle. And, we need to be prepared for the rest of the conversation to sound like the following.

“Oh, um, I don’t think I would call it that. I mean those words get used a lot. They’re kind of a gotcha-type thing. I know I’ve seen behavior like what you’re describing, and I didn’t like it, but I wouldn’t use those words exactly to describe this.”