It’s Sunday night and I’m lying on my couch watching television and sipping Gatorade. Remember my brother’s son being sick? Well, to be a good uncle, I decided to babysit my nephew and give his exhausted parents a break. I caught the stomach bug that was plaguing the little tyke and, as a result, spent the weekend watching body fluids fly out both ends of my alimentary canal. No good deed ever goes unpunished.
Just as I’m about to half watch yet another cheesy action movie, my cellphone starts ringing. I squint at the number. It’s my friend Mike.
“Hey man,” I groan. “What’s up?”
“Dude,” Mike replies. “You sound like death.”
“I’ve got gastroenteritis.”
“You’ve got what?”
“The stomach flu.”
“Oh,” Mike says. “Puking and shitting the brown water, huh?”
“Thanks for the describing my symptoms so eloquently doctor.”
“You’ll live,” Mike says. “Just drink plenty of fluids.”
“I’ve been sucking down Gatorade and water.”
“So what’s new with you?” I ask.
“You hear what happened in New York?” Mike says.
“They found out what that maple syrup smell was.”
Ever since 2005, New Yorkers have been wondering about a mysterious maple syrup smell that has wafted through Manhattan’s canyons at random intervals. At first the smell was very disconcerting and the city’s emergency system got flooded with calls from people concerned it was terrorists launching a chemical/bio attack. Others though it was the Feds simulating an “event” and evaluating how the prevailing winds would carry lethal agents throughout the City. Still others however, though it was the scent of degrading maple tree biomass carried on the wind, chemistry majors pulling shit, or Mrs. Butterworth having a bad case of gas. Whatever it’s cause, the city government rolled out the chemical sniffers and reassured the public that whatever the smell was, it was harmless. Yet, with millions of dollars worth of gear to detect nuclear, biological, and chemical threats at their disposal, the powers that be haven’t been able to track own the source of the sweet stink – until now.
“What was it?” I ask.
“It was a fucking food flavoring plant in North Bergen.”
I stifle a laugh. “That’s all it was?”
“Yeah,” Mike says. “They process some kind of seed to make artificial maple syrup flavor.”
“New Yorkers thought it was terrorists,” Mike crows. “And it was just Jersey.”
“I smelled that stuff when I was in New York once,” I say. “Didn’t bother me at all.”
“You know why don’t you?” Mike asks.
“Because you’re used to it. Remember Fritzsche Brothers?”
When I was a little boy growing up in Clifton, New Jersey, my grammer school was in back of the Fritzsche Brother’s fragrance plant. Sometimes the smells pouring out of that factory reminded you of candy or flowers. On other days, however, the teachers would have to close the windows in order to keep the potentially lung blackening dead body smell out of the classroom. And since my house wasn’t far from the plant either, the odors emanating from that factory were a weird olfactory companion throughout my childhood. Honestly there were days you didn’t want to go outside the house. In the industrial blue collar area I grew up in during the Seventies, the stink was just something you got used to.
“Fritzsche Brothers?” I reply. “How could I forget?”
“We used to go sleigh riding near the storage tanks, remember?”
“And we just didn’t smell maple syrup,” I say, shaking my head.
“Nah,” Mike says. “We used to smell dead stuff.”
“I read somewhere that they use cat testicles to make perfume,” I say. “They extract some rank shit called civet.”
“Oh man,” Mike says. “That’s what we grew up sniffing? Dead cat balls?”
“Those people in New York are pussies,” Mike says. “Getting all upset over a little maple syrup smell. Suck it up. We did.”
‘I hardly think people in Manhattan are strangers to bad smells,” I reply. “Have you been in that town during a garbage strike?”
“That is bad.”
“I rest my case.”
“But I’ll tell you one thing though.”
“If that ‘New York Subway Summer Smell’ ever wafts over here I’m calling in an air strike.”
“You do that Mike.”
“They’re a bunch of wimps!”
I sigh. Mike’s hatred for New York City is legendary. Then again, Manhattan’s collective despisal of Jersey can be just as bad.
“Listen Mike,” I say. “I’m fading fast. Can you call me tomorrow?”
“No problem. You need anything from the store?”
“Then rest up.”
I hang up the phone and burrow my head back in my pillow. Just as my god awful Steven Seagal movie gets into it’s fifth ass-whipping in ten minutes, I start noticing a foul smell in my own house. At first I sniff to determine it’s origin. Then I realize something – I haven’t showered or changed my clothes in two days. My pillow’s soaked with feverish sweat, I haven’t brushed my teeth, and the air in the apartment hasn’t been cycled out in forty eight hours. No wonder my roommate’s been AWOL.
The stink. in this case, is me.