it's mostly pee i think
August 20, 2015 9:20 AM   Subscribe

The Smells of Summer (slnyt)

On certain days in July and August, simply walking down a New York City block means being assaulted by smells: garbage, sweat, cigarettes, food carts and the hard-to-classify odors that come blasting on waves of hot air out of subway grates and building vents. How, we wondered, would a true expert describe the scents of summer in the city?
posted by poffin boffin (77 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good timing, we're just a few short months away from the 10th anniversary of the greatest NYT headline ever: Good Smell Perplexes New Yorkers.
posted by griphus at 9:22 AM on August 20, 2015 [37 favorites]


où sont les sirops d'érable d'antan
posted by poffin boffin at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


I always like when you're away from the city for a while and then you come back and there's that half second of WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SME- oh yeah hot rotting garbage the perfume of home.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


(Although these days it's more hot rotting garbage, skunk weed, and sweaty European tourist)
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2015


me and another mefite recently came up with the concept "trash hookah"

only in new york
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


"As autumn comes to New York, the natives' minds turn to one thing: Fenugreek."
posted by boo_radley at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Good Smell Perplexes New Yorkers

I was in high school when that happened and it was weird as hell. Everyone assumed some kind of terror attack, because 2005.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:39 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was working on St. Mark's and had a bunch of really puzzled customers that day. But not before I spent a solid like 30 mins thinking I was crazy or having a stroke or something b/c my boss came upstairs from the basement and I asked her if she smelled the very distinct syrupy odor and she said no and I had forgotten she couldn't smell stuff because of surgery.
posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


10/27 Never Forget
posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Turns out that syrup smell was the rotting corpse of the Bowery being colonized by sneaker boutiques.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:48 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always like when you're away from the city for a while and then you come back and there's that half second of WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SME- oh yeah hot rotting garbage the perfume of home.

I've visited NYC only twice, both times during hot summers, and it's funny how strong sense memory can be.

A few weeks ago I was walking around Chicago on a hot, sunny day and was suddenly struck by a very clear memory of one of the things I had done on my last visit. I looked around and noticed that for some reason, everybody on the block had their trash sitting out front on the sidewalk. (Usually that never happens here.) What had triggered the memory was normal city stank + the bouquet of hot ass rotting garbage.

(On closer inspection, there was construction in the alley to the extent that a garbage truck couldn't go down it.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:48 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't worry soon all the subway vents will be filled with Febreeze & the garbage wind will have to move to jersey city
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:50 AM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was working in one of the London streets that got evacuated in a full-on terror alert due to a smell that started making everyone cough, and it turned out to be a restaurant making its annual batch of ultra-hot chilli sauce. The police thought it was poison gas but nobody fled, the pubs were heaving. The chilli sauce will never win etc.
posted by colie at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


it was weird as hell.

It was weird as hell. I still blame US military psyops experiments (I mean, there's precedent).

For me, the smell of NY in summer leads with the acrid tang of grilling lamb kebab.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on August 20, 2015


A bunch of years ago I was walking down the block around 45th and 2nd, and I passed a bunch of Business Dudes and as I walked by them one of them, who I believe was from India, made a smell-face and said to the others "ugh, New York smells worse than India." And I thought it smells fine out here don't exaggerate bro and then walked right into an invisible cloud of the foulest stench I had ever encountered. Hand to god it was so offensive I suspect it may have been sentient and angry at me.
posted by griphus at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


The vomit plant this is real.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2015


Come to scenic New York City and experience your choice of tree smell: vomit or semen.
posted by griphus at 9:57 AM on August 20, 2015


There is also some tree that smells of jizz but idk which one it is or why it is so terrible.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:57 AM on August 20, 2015


I am honestly wildly curious to try smelling that sexy poop perfume
posted by invitapriore at 9:59 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Dogwood is the jizz tree, spring in St. Louis smells like an apocalyptic orgy every year.
posted by invitapriore at 9:59 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


A few years of kayaking on the weekends has actually gotten me to the point where I actually like the smell of the East River.

....There is one smell that I never got used to in 20 years of living here - there is some kind of a warehouse in Chinatown, on East Broadway between Allen St. and Essex St., which I think does something with tofu or kimchi or something because if you're walking down the block and you pass by the door, you are walking through a near-visible cloud of some kind of fermenting cheesy gak, but only for about ten feet as you pass the door and then it's gone.

I have never found out what it is, nor do I care to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2015


Okay the jizz tree is a legit fascinating thing, they're ginkos, pretty much the last surviving member of thier species, who would've developed flowers before common pollinators so they had to attract SOMETHING to pollinate them and apparently whatever that something is it likes the smell of jizz/rotting meat. It's an evolutionary anachronism! Like the fact that no giant sloths exist to crap about avocado pits but still they exist.
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Huh, the article says it's some other thing, guess I need to bone up on my jizz trees ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by invitapriore at 10:01 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also I like how in most places, when you quit smoking and get your sense of smell back it's this wonderful re-awakening of the senses that inspires you to stay off cigarettes because you can smell all the wonders of the world.

Here it's just an added difficulty to quitting smoking because you've just compromised your one functional defense against the way this city smells.
posted by griphus at 10:02 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: guess I need to bone up on my jizz trees.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:02 AM on August 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


The jizz trees on my block are definitely the same white-flowered trees as pictured in that article so idk.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2015


there are definitely some bars in Chicago that smelled better back when people could smoke inside. even as a non-smoker, they make me wish for the noxious cancer clouds.
posted by misskaz at 10:06 AM on August 20, 2015


who can forget the beloved children's book, The Jizzing Tree
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


Not summer specific, but there are so many chains here now that have distinctive smells that make their way to the sidwalk. Subway (gross), Chipotle (good), Sephora (kinda good), etc.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:08 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


"When it's fall in New York, the air smells as if someone's been frying goats in it, and if you are keen to breathe, the best plan is to open a window and stick your head in a building."
-- Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


my daughter used to be legit terrified of walking in front of an Abercrombie & Fitch because of the one time their acrid cologne stank reached out from the storefront and attached itself to us for 24 hours
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


he has never been more wrong, autumn in nyc is the best smelling season imaginable.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


We need a jizz tree expert up in here to clear up the confusion
posted by The Whelk at 10:13 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I (happily) don't know the jizz tree, but my old job across campus had a ginkgo right outside my window (unhappily), and I can tell you all, when it's dropping fruit and they're rotting on the ground, a ginkgo is better classified as a dog-shit tree. Like, big time.
posted by BlackPebble at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My wife says she's known all along that they were pear trees, and so allowed me to persist in my loathsome ignorance out of kindness, I suppose.
posted by invitapriore at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2015


From wikipedia:
The tree is known for its pungent, often unpleasant smell during its flowering stage, which has been described as reminiscent of rotting fish,[8] chlorine,[8] or semen being cooked on a stovetop.[9]

As distinct from microwaved, oven roasted, or barbecued. Those would probably be some other tree.
posted by Kabanos at 10:27 AM on August 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Sometimes you really fancy a cum omelette.
posted by colie at 10:30 AM on August 20, 2015


It has a steamily simmered/boiled sort of quality to it. Like if you were making a pot of semen soup and took the lid off and breathed in the steam.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Okay the jizz tree is a legit fascinating thing, they're ginkos

Gingkos are the pukeberry trees.

The jizz trees are usually Bradford pears.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


As far as I can tell the smell difference between Chicago and New York is entirely because New York doesn't have alleys for garbage and casual murder.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:32 AM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


didn't know we had so many jizz-sniffers
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:33 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


it smells like baking soda.
posted by boo_radley at 10:36 AM on August 20, 2015


The smell of the jizz-tree, you'll all be happy to know, is the result of a chemical compound called spermine, which I have had the occasion to smell inside of a laboratory and... well. Appropriately named.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:39 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm intensely allergic to callery/bradford pear trees and so of course live on a block lined with them. Their only redeeming feature is that the wild parrots of Greenwood Cemetery love their teeny tiny pears so for a few mornings in October I wake up to a pandemonium* of noisy parrots just ravaging them, which is disorienting and awesome.

Agree that ginkgos smell like dog poop. I think they smell sweet the way dog poop can smell sweet but understand I'm a little weird that way.

*Not using the whimsical collective noun here; I mean a big freaky demon-party with all the demon-parrots at once.
posted by miles per flower at 10:42 AM on August 20, 2015


Yeah, it's Bradford pear trees that smell like old fish and/or jizz
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:46 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Bradford Pear (note: does not bear pears therefore worthless) was the beautiful street-lining tree of choice in this neighborhood - every single house has at least one if not two.

And I can't smell it. Couldn't smell it in college (also pear-lined). We spent two perfectly good weeks of spring this year with my husband going around behind me closing windows and refusing to sit outside, claiming he was being tormented by the stink. We had a party and I said to the guests, "Uh, I guess if you smell spunk it's the trees and not our house," and a number of people were like "oh god, that is what it smells like!"
posted by Lyn Never at 10:58 AM on August 20, 2015


On a somewhat related note, there is a very potent conglomeration of liquids that gathers in the dipped wells of New York City street curbs. This foul quaff, dark in color with bubbles of dubious origin swirling on the surface, distills and then diffuses the city's broad compendium of scents, aided often by the helpful tires of a passing taxi.

A friend of mine named this fetid brew "city juice."
posted by flyingsquirrel at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


there's also the greasy malodorous stains on the areas of the sidewalk where the trash gets heaped up every other day, which are rank enough just in the smell that walking near them is a heinous ordeal, but then you are further traumatized by the fact that the stain is legitimately very slippery and if you are forced to walk over it by crowds or construction there is a decent chance you will slip on it and get really up close and personal with its vileness.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


there is one really terrible such patch on the east side of union square across the street from the babies r us store, combining two of my least favourite things on earth into one hellish block.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2015


Jizz trees are Bradford pear trees. Anything else you call a jizz tree is not a jizz tree. Thank you.
posted by aydeejones at 11:16 AM on August 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mitchell and Webb claim it's the linden (lime/basswood) that smells of cum. Inflicted on Britons in the 19th century. (But it makes delicious honey so why complain.)
posted by ambrosen at 11:22 AM on August 20, 2015


In Camden Town back alleys over the years occasionally I've walked into a kind of warm, electro-magnetic bad strawberry kind of fug, and it's been a recent human turd. Very different to dogs'.
posted by colie at 11:27 AM on August 20, 2015


As far as I can tell the smell difference between Chicago and New York is entirely because New York doesn't have alleys for garbage and casual murder.

No, it's because New York doesn't have Garrett Popcorn. The shops vent their kitchens onto the sidewalk and sweeten the air for blocks around.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:29 AM on August 20, 2015


I've always thought ailanthus were the most common jizz-trees in NYC.
posted by neroli at 11:29 AM on August 20, 2015


What I've never been able to understand is the popularity of sidewalk cafes in Soho. Less than 6 feet away are the puddles of "city juice" and heaps of fetid restaurant garbage. I hold my breath and walk fast... how to sit and eat with it?
posted by bastionofsanity at 11:37 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ginkos come in two sexes - male and female.

The male ginko smells strongly of jizz when flowering, the female of rotting meat / feces when the fruit is ripe.
posted by idiopath at 11:43 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was definitely my take away, after my first grownup trip to NYC in the early 90s. I did a lot of walking, and it was like, Block 1: kebabs! Block 2: urine! Block 3: kebabs and garbage! Block 4: is that fish? simmered in urine?
posted by theatro at 11:47 AM on August 20, 2015


Also, I slapped my forehead at the reporter accepting a dab of the cab driver's personal fragrance blend. You're walking around with people who are trying to smell things! Make sure not to smell like anything!!

And, P.S.: On Mott Street, they gagged at garbage smells and what Ms. Lepeltier pronounced was an odor that came from a rat. (“I don’t know; I’m not a specialist,” Ms. Barel said, shrugging.)

...is that a subtle burn?
posted by theatro at 11:51 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those who fail to learn from jizz tree are doomed to rebreathe it.
posted by Kabanos at 12:43 PM on August 20, 2015


In NYC it's always garbge mixed with _______________.

You also realize that the NYC subway doubles as the the worlds biggest toilet.
posted by freakazoid at 12:45 PM on August 20, 2015


Mitchell and Webb claim it's the linden (lime/basswood) that smells of cum.

Our street is lined with lindens but they don't smell at all. They do, however, attract a huge number of aphids who will poop superglue all over your car during the summer.
posted by octothorpe at 1:11 PM on August 20, 2015


You also realize that the NYC subway doubles as the the worlds biggest toilet.

I'm not sure how to compare the two, but I've always considered the stretch of beach between Brighton and Coney Island to be the world's biggest toilet.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on August 20, 2015


I had never catalogued the Bradford pear smell as "spunk" (just "headache-causing stench), so thanks for that I guess.

They are the worst trees. Invasive, disease-prone, weak wood that splits in storms, and stinky.
posted by emjaybee at 1:29 PM on August 20, 2015


No, these are the worst trees. No word on how they smell, though.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:26 PM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


No word on how they smell, though.

Even money it's spunk.
posted by maxwelton at 4:58 PM on August 20, 2015


After a decade living in San Francisco, I've learned to tell the difference between human and dog feces strictly by smell.
posted by bendy at 5:48 PM on August 20, 2015


Gingko tree fruit smells like dog poop that your dog ate and threw back up again. And there is definitely a garbage juice that garbage trucks leak - riding my bike after the trucks went through in Portland I could track them by the tiny gray spots on the street that had an odor so strong it really deserved visible cartoon-style waves. For some reason, when people wax poetic about hip Portland (a city I loved), they never mention that on damp evenings, of which there are many, it smells like an old sweat sock, because of the pulp mills and the storm drains (which connect directly to the sewers, a problem only partly rectified by the $1.4 billion Combined Sewer Overflow Project, which also meant giant slippery steel plates on every street for years, another circumstance notable by the passing commuter cyclist.)

I assume that NYC has bigger and more trucks with bigger and more leaks, resulting in bigger and more smells.
posted by gingerest at 7:49 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, where are you people smelling all this vile shit in New York? 25 years I've lived in this city, at most some parts of lower Manhattan are smelly in the dead of summer before the trash has been picked up. 99% of the time, no smell. Are you guys hunting down rancid trash piles or something?
posted by Itaxpica at 7:54 PM on August 20, 2015


Itaxpica, maybe it's like when you have cats and don't notice your house has a cat smell?
posted by phunniemee at 8:40 PM on August 20, 2015


on literally every single block that has people living on it or restaurants operating on it. every single one. all of them.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:41 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mitchell and Webb on trees that smell of cum.
posted by tickingclock at 9:13 PM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Y'all sure do have a fine expressive poetry for y'all's city stank.

Austin mostly smells like hot car engines and baking asphalt. Too hot for trees to bloom much.
(although I have been engassed by something awful near a frat house— an overheated mixture of vomit, piss, and cum}
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:37 PM on August 20, 2015


I remember visiting NYC for the first time in the early '80s as a kid, and being instantly struck by the odor. Why was nobody talking about this? I felt like it deserved a warning. Hey, NYC is a blast, have fun, but seriously it smells pretty bad so just be aware... It's normal, don't worry, you sorta get used to it, but yes it's like being near a pretzel cart inside a giant urinal.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:22 AM on August 21, 2015


I was so excited when I moved to a neighborhood that does curbside compost collection. But dear god, you have not smelled hot rotting garbage until you've walked down an otherwise peaceful Park Slope block on compost pickup day.
posted by twoporedomain at 11:04 AM on August 21, 2015


That's those brown garbage cans they make everyone have, right? That you're not supposed to put bags into?
posted by griphus at 11:08 AM on August 21, 2015


Yeah, the brown bins. You can use biodegradable corn starch bags, but they just melt and become part of the teeming mass of goo inside.
posted by twoporedomain at 12:16 PM on August 21, 2015


When I lived and worked in NYC back in 1989-93, the odors that I remember as being the summer smells were piss, rotting garbage, and the peculiar wet-cardboard scent of the leaking steam pipes. Subways were always a ratty, rotting stench, with a bit of ozone and the occasional hot metal odor wafting in on the breeze as a train forced the stale air to move out of its way. I live in rural VA now, where we get the occasional pig farm and mown field in the air if the wind is wrong, but normally it's just air.
posted by Blackanvil at 8:45 PM on August 21, 2015


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