Friday, February 17, 2012

mysterious odors of unknown origins

Bad news about the lightsabers. [image via]

After seeing the above graphic in this week's New York magazine, I immediately got to googling, but the news I found didn't yield much additional information about the stink at Staples: 

by Andrea Swalec and Wil Cruz
GREENWICH VILLAGE — Paramedics treated two people after they were overcome by a mysterious odor in a Staples store Wednesday, fire officials said.

Firefighters responded to reports of the smell in the store at 769 Broadway, at East 9th Street, just after 9:15 a.m.

The two people were treated on the scene for smoke inhalation, but were not transported to the hospital.

The cause of the smell was unknown.

Business was back to normal a short time later at Staples.

"The store did not close," manager Daniel Elliott said.

Calls to Staples' corporate offices were not immediately returned.
Call again, Andrea Swalec and Wil Cruz! This mysterious odor, with unknown origins, demands additional description. I tried to think of the weirdest things I've smelled at my local Staples, but the scent of hot copiers and new office chairs dominates. Surely, a smell that required medical attention must be worthy of a few adjectives beyond "mysterious" and "unknown." The shoppers were overcome!

The search term "unidentified odor" returns fewer Google results than I would have expected: a relatively modest 6,400. "Mysterious odor" is more common, with almost 53,000 results, including this one, about a "widespread and mildly irritating odor." What mildly irritates me is the lack of even a gesture towards describing the smells in these news stories. I thought reporters loved a good, gross quote. What was the smell like? Was it human or elemental?  Human and elemental? Sulfurous? Chemical? Medicinal? Like death? Did it have a color? That sticky fuchsia of some cough medicines? Was it putrid or acrid? Stale or just shat? Was it rotten? Or sharp in a way that scraped at your nose hairs? We don't know how to talk about smell, but isn't it better to try?


Anonymous said...

Haha, here, here!
A+ post, Elizabeth.

Natalie said...

The last line of your wonderful post, nosy girl---"We don't know how to talk about smell, but isn't it better to try?"---should be the sub-line of this blog. It is better to try, and thank god for Nosy Girl.

Britta said...

I second Natalie--always better to try to describe something as nebulous as smell. And thank god for Nosy Girl.

Preets said...

Terrible reporting, I agree! How could they not even *compare* it to something, even if they couldn't find a pithy adjective?!?

nosy girl said...

Thank you, friends! I think people worry about being "wrong" when it comes to scent description, more than they may worry about other sensory details. Though who would call them out on any supposed inaccuracies? None of us know what we're talking about!

Janet Brown said...

Thai chili fried in a hot wok makes everyone in the area cry--a little garlic in the mix just makes things better. When this happened in London in the early 2000's, people with stinging eyes thought they were victims of a terrorist attack, instead of somebody's lunch.

Your Cousin Nick said...

Two comments.
There is a wasabi ramen i get from a place near my house that so wasabi-y that i have to close my eyes while i eat it or i start crying.
A few years ago whole areas of manahattan were subjected to unidetified maple-like smell. So serious was this that mayor bloomberg held more than one press conference on the matter

nosy girl said...

Yes, Nicky, I remember news of that maple syrup-like smell! As I recall, it turned out to be from one of the flavor-making places in New Jersey that I am simultaneously frightened by and desperate to visit.

nosy girl said...

P.S. As ever, I await your nosy interview! I know you are just rolling in free time over there.

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