Monday, October 31, 2005

What's That Smell?

by Nicholas Allanach

On the evening of Thursday October 27th, I had just finished watching Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” (admittedly, not one of my proudest past times). After the show, I shut off the static box and began reading. It was at this point I noticed “the smell.” Pancake syrup? Hazelnut coffee? But from where? At first, I dismissed the smell as nothing more than the lotion I had placed on my dry hands earlier. After all, it couldn’t have been coming from outside, my windows were all shut. Maybe it was coming from one of the neighbors? My living room wasn’t an airtight vacuum chamber; I suppose anything (or, any smell) could drift in.

I began feeling drowsy; brushed my teeth, and went to bed. However, before going to sleep I noticed that “the smell” was still prevalent. In fact, “the smell” was actually more like a taste coming from the inside of my mouth. Maybe it was something I ate? Of course, I had already brushed my teeth, so it wasn’t my breath. Besides when did I have maple syrup? Perhaps, it was a lingering smell from my girlfriend who had been busy baking a cake earlier in our kitchen? I dismissed the smell as something relating to her cooking and tried again to get some shut-eye. However, I tossed and turned for sometime as the smell continued, and paranoia subsequently, seeped in.

Maybe there was a gas leak? Could it be dangerous? Might it be something coming from the basement downstairs? Should I call the fire department? Police? 311? For whatever reasons, my paranoia went away, and I eventually drifted off to sleep.


The next day, New York was still here and I had forgotten all about the mysterious maple-syrup smell. At work, online news agencies were chattering about the indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby –nothing about a maple syrup smell. Of course, if I had picked up The New York Post or New York Newsday (publications I normally view as not worth the paper they’re printed on); then I would have read about “A peculiar and mysterious smell [that had] enveloped lower Manhattan for several hours last night, sparking dozens of 311 calls.” (New York Post) Apparently, people all over the five boroughs and even parts of Jersey City reported a “sweet smell.” The influx of similar calls prompted city officials to begin “running tests all night to try to figure out just what the smell was.” Unfortunately, “A spokesman [indicated that these] air samples aren't showing anything hazardous, [and that] the source of the smell is still not clear.” (NY-1)

The mysterious smell didn’t come up in any conversations I had with people at work or on the phone until Saturday night when my neighbor, Blythe, asked me if I “had heard anything about the maple syrup smell?” I hadn’t and, up to that point, had forgotten all about it since I didn’t see anything on the news or in the paper (of course, I wasn’t eagerly digging through the dailies). Of course, if I had picked up The New York Times that morning, I could’ve read about an odor “that raised vague worries about an attack deviously cloaked in the smell of grandma’s kitchen. It was so seductive that many New Yorkers found themselves behaving strangely, succumbing to urges usually kept under wraps. One woman, who never touches the stuff, said she was inspired to eat ice cream.”

Strange. Very strange, and certainly enough of a mystery (with not enough confirmed information) to inspire many conspiracy theorists with jittery post-9/11-nerves to question “what’s that smell?” Of course, no official reports from City Hall, NYPD, or the Department of Homeland Security have confirmed what was happening on Thursday night. My curiosity has certainly been peaked. Over the weekend, I asked a few people if they had also experienced the maple syrup incident. Most people agreed they smelt something strange on Thursday night and, of course, all had their own unique interpretations of what the smell might have been. My bartender and good friend, Orlando, poised the idea that perhaps “this was a test to see where a gas attack might spread if unleashed on New York.” His suggestion seems paranoid, but not outlandishly out of the question; especially, since authorities have yet to confirm (or at least make-up an excuse for) what the smell was.

I have tried to resist the urge to drift down the conspiracy rabbit hole. After all, it is often difficult to see a truth that is right in front of your face. We often construct fantastic and complex scenarios to explain mysterious, and perhaps, even banal phenomena. Moreover, something simple is often blown up to larger proportions and can, subsequently, be connected with other out-of-the-ordinary occurrences. For instance, by Anthony DePalma, writing in The New York Times, that the smell had caused “New Yorkers [to] behave strangely”; one observes a tendency to conflate the everyday with the absurd. Just because some lady on the Upper West Side decides to grab a pint of Ben Jerry’s, doesn’t mean a gas (capable of controlling the urges of New Yorkers) had been unleashed onto the city. With that said, we should never disregard the unexplainable; however, it’d be foolish to become obsessed with a mystery that could, in the end, be nothing. Of course, “the smell” is still unidentified and, for now, New Yorkers aren’t only keeping their eyes to the skies, but, their noses as well.

Afraid? Just go buy some ice cream.

1 comment:

DeHuman8 said...

also noting that some people were 'acting strange' the olfactory sense is more strongly connected with memory than any other sense. a strong maple syrup smell would be, at least subconsiouly, evoking memories. these memories, just below the surface would easily cause 'erratic' behavior. at least in the present. but most probably would ba a behavior practiced in the past.