The Stink

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.”

“Good.”

“So what’s new with you?” I ask.

“You hear what happened in New York?” Mike says.

“No. What?”

“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.”

“Unbelievable.”

“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.

“Why?”

“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?”

“Maybe.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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?”

“I’m good.”

“Then rest up.”

“Thanks.”

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.


Comments

The Stink — 54 Comments

  1. Three days. Three days is the maximum amount of time I can stand myself on a depression induced or too sick to care for myself, lying on the couch, no showering, no brushing, no deodorant binge. When you get so rank you can’t stand YOURSELF, you’ll be amazed how quickly you can dig down and find the energy reserves to hit the shower and “de-funkify”.
    Get better soon.

  2. wow you reminded me of my stinky childhood growing up near a kraft and humco plant in Illinois. there were mouthwatering days and days that in retrospect deserve their own mesothemeolia-type commercials for the diseased who dwelled nearby.
    i’m reading your book btw, our dinky library actually had it on the new in shelf. how fun.

  3. You used ‘despisal’ in a sentence!? How very brave! :)

    Good story – I don’t think I would be too worried about a sweet maple syrup smell…

  4. Never…EVER drink gatorade when you’re trying to replenish fluids. It used to be good at giving you electrolytes and keeping you hydrated, but now that they use HFCS as a sweetener, which doesn’t metabolize well at all in the body (one step below pure glucose), it’s useless as a hydration supplement. All that high-concentrated sugar completely counteracts any beneficial aspects of the electrolytes it has. Try vitamin water (crystalline fructose) or low sugar teas (lots of amino acids and polyphenols/catechins). I’m a big fan of high dose vitamin c and complex amino acids myself. Usually a cold/flu that lasts 3-7 days for other people lasts 1-2 with my body, but I also have a much higher metabolism, so a cold/flu hits me harder but lasts a shorter period of time.

  5. Ever been to Cedar Rapids Iowa? There is, or at least was a corn syrup plant, don’t know if it’s still there. It wasn’t a really horrible smell but not exactly pleasant either. The locals hardly noticed it.

  6. Mesero, you gave me flashbacks of the devastatingly funky-foul smell of Terre Haute, Indiana in the summer. Like FISH. The agony. Worse than a refinery.
    Oh, and get well soon.

  7. ““Yeah,” Mike says. “They process some kind of seed to make artificial maple syrup flavor.””

    It’s fenugreek. Indians use it in sweet baked goods and nursing mothers take it when they aren’t producing enough milk – makes the baby smell like cookies, though.

  8. I lived for a while near a tire plant (in Connecticut) that burned them – burning rubber…… that’s why I’m the way I am (nice to have an excuse, right?)

  9. As much as I hate to focus on the illness mentioned in this post, I have to say the following words to you…

    Welcome to the Plague Club, my friend! We don’t give our illnesses specific names, such as Gastroenteritis (that’s what doctors call it when they don’t know what’s wrong, according to the nurse who helped the last doctor that diagnosed me with the illness).

    Whether it’s Typhoid, Cholera, Bird Flu, or Bubonic, You are now an official member. Lord knows every server at my job has been sick this week, in 3-4 day increments, and incredibly, we’ve all actually been sick for a change!

    My faith will never leave as long as you’re still online, WR, and I’m back online also!

    RagingServer.com

  10. I live near the Gerber Baby Food plant. You always know when they’re making baby cereal because the air smells like oatmeal, apples and cinnamon. It’s actually a nice smell coming from the plant pretty often – plus in this economy, reassuring.

  11. My dad lives near the Hiram Walker’s plant…you can always tell where they are in the distilling and/or brewing process by the strong smell of yeast that wafts through the city.

  12. As I live in NJ, but work (and was born)in NY, I am always torn about my allegiances. The NJ NY hatred thing is certainly interesting, and it doesn’t exist between NY/CT or NJ/CT. I do admit that when I am home in NJ (down by the “Shore”) I am a little ticked off when I see a NY license plate. How dare they venture down to my neck of the woods! Stay in NY and pay tax on clothes!
    Anyways, I’ve smelled that maple syrupy scent over the past year or so and really haven’t given it too much thought. Ever get in a really smelly taxi cab??? You’d welcome maple syrup anyday over that.

  13. back where I grew up, we had a coffee roasting and grinding plant. Hmm, coffee. I am surprised I did not become a coffee addict (like my mother was nd my father is) exposed to those fumes of roasted java beans daily.

    Of course, across town there was the slaughterhouse and meat processing plant, and NOBODY stood downwind from the secondary compound where hides were worked.

  14. I grew up in Cedar Rapids and know that Quaker Oats smell well.

    I live in Milwaukee now, and they used to have a refinery in the valley. Now that is a truely awful odor.

    The paper mills in central Wisconsin can produce some pretty funky smells too.

    We once drove through Gary, IN and I don’t know what it was, but it was pretty rank on that summer day.

    Get well soon, Waiter!

  15. Waiter! You know how you got the stomach bug right ?
    Ha Ha! I would’ve thought a waiter would know to wash his hands after diapering a baby ! LOL.

    (sorry for the juvenile comment, I just couldn’t resist it. :p

  16. You KNOW that seed flavoring plant MUST have realized it was them making the mysterious maple smell. Workers and management there MUST have heard about the mysterious smell on the news for years. Yet they said nothing! Instead, the govt had to spend a pile of dough on an official investigation and high tech equipment. That just stinks! ;-)

  17. There is a General Mills factory on the Buffalo waterfront that makes Cheerios and LCNMCLP (Lucky Charms Non-Marshmallow Cardboard-Like Pieces). Downtown Buffalo frequently smells like frash baked Cheerios, which needless to say is AWESOME.

    Way better than the Summer-Subway smell you mentioned in the post, which I would describe as a mix of Animal urine, Hobo urine, BO, and a mild hint of leaking natural gas.

  18. Hate to do this but gastroenteritis isn’t actually from the stomach flu at all. It’s from food poisoning. Same effect though which is why people get them mixed up, you don’t recover as fast from the food poisoning though. Get well soon!!!!!

  19. The Purina plant, I believe it was, in Denver. Mmm-mmm-good.. Not.

    And just Wilmington, CA in general. You don’t even want to know.

    Feel better, babe.

  20. Norco, CA …major cattle holding pens. You can’t drive through there without your eyes watering and the paint falling off your car!

  21. You people have it easy. I live in dairy country. After a rain, the wind shifts and wafts a certain odor through the area. Love the rain, hate the day after. Also, most of the fields around here are fertilized with manure. On a hot summer day, when the air is still…there are no words to describe it.

  22. Oh yeah, the manure smell…horrible! Driving through southern Il there were days when the manure smell just took over everything. And the Univ. of Il there was the South Farms, or something like that on certain days when the wind blew just right…you were treated to the scent of pig manure. Lovely. Hope you feel better soon!

  23. you know what that smell is? thats the smell of MONEY!…thats what they say here when ppl gripe about the gasoline refinery’s smell and the pumpjack’s in the distance. whenever i go to DFW i have to pass one, and it smells like a dead, runover skunk. *sigh* to live in texas in the summer. *lol*…feel better waiter! the flu sucketh hard, but you got good karma points for watchin the nephew!

  24. I keep coming back to your site (for about a year now) for the good value and great writing, but this time you really outdid yourself. Kudos to you for having the talent and putting it to good use (instead of evil bwahaha). Just thought you should know, that’s all.

  25. once in college i got hit by the stomach flu…for lunch I had eaten the “new” chicken sandwich at McDonald’s (opps dated myself). After classes I left for the closest source of package alcohol (dry county so was a 20 mile drive -one way) and promptly vomited lunch up behind the beer store. Initially blamed the mayo on the McChicken. Proceeded to be ill over the WHOLE weekend and since I hadnt had this illness in over 12 years I thought I might die. You know your sick when your so weak it takes multiple sessions in the bathroom to reject pepto bismo.

    My high school happened to be downwind from a cattle feedlot-lots cows means lots of cow patties which tend to reek!

  26. BANANAS!!! They are the only thing that kept me alive through two major gastroenteritis attacks. I couldn’t even do the gatorade man! Good luck I hope all will be well soon.

  27. Marilyn you are right, the purina plant is in denver. I live in aurora and you can tell which way the wind is blowing by what smell is in the air. Purina/rendering plant (from denver), conoco refinery (from commerce city), cow crap (from greely), and before it closed sugar beet refinery (ft. morgan).

  28. i live by a tire plant in korea, and if i open my windows at night, the smell of burning rubber wafts in.

    korea’s sewer system also seems to be about 6 inches under ground, so when the summer comes…ugh. the smells everywhere are terrible.

  29. Right now, I live about three blocks from a commercial bakery. It’s kind of cool to walk outside and have the whole neighborhood smell of fresh-baked bread.

    And, by the way, the stench in the Gary/Hammond is from steel processing, aluminum processing and the Cargill chemical plants, all mixed with dead fish during the summer when the alewives are running.

  30. Chicken farms are the worst! Reminds me of dead animals mixed with cat poo. When they passed that law in California to force better conditions for farm chickens and the chicken farms complained that some might have to leave because of the additional associated costs, all I could think of is oh goodie, maybe that chicken farm in the next town over that stinks up the entire valley on some days will leave!

  31. The first (and so far, only) time I flew into Newark, while trodding around outside the airport getting my rental, it smelled like sewer river. I’d almost forgotten.

    And, not to be too much of a downer, but hearing the ‘bro’ conversation between the author and his friend Mike makes me really, really miss my best friend, since that’s similar to the way we talked. It’s been over three years now and in a way I still expect him to walk around the corner any moment…

  32. The absolute best thing to drink when you’re that sick is pedialyte…just bc it’s “for kids” doesn’t mean it won’t work for adults. I swear, that stuff saved my life last year, when I was so sick it was the only thing I could hold down. I keep it stocked in my house now, just in case .

  33. Very funny. I was going to post something similar about the fenugreek odor as it was very obvious to me. I grew up in NJ and worked in Chelsea at the Fritsche office. Yea the plant in Clifton, which I also lived near was rank some days. Givaudan on the Delewanna side of Clifton had it’s moments. They had to stop making parmesan cheese flavor. That was absolutely the worst.All NYC had to do was contact some of the resident companies like IFF and that would have saved tens of thousands.The equipment used cost 100k’s more. A follow-up NYT story explained it was really a drill to investigate. Some sumer days 15th & 9th Ave smelled like sweet cigar flavors from Fritsche and across the street was the meat packing district. [Now the space is occupied by Google] Sorta like your sick room.

  34. I raised my family about a mile from the plant that painted Ford trucks, and on certain warm summer days, the smell of warm paint would wash over our subdivision. Not an unpleasant smell, but I always thought it couldn’t have been good for us inhaling those paint fumes…..

    No one came down with lung cancer, tho, 30 years later.

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