Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Smells in the City

I've been devouring Bill Willingham's comic Fables in the trade paperback format (I'm up to Volume Five of eight that are currently published), which depicts a world where the characters of classic children's fables are immortal beings living in New York City. Snow White is the deputy mayor, Little Boy Blue is her assistant, Cinderella runs a shoe store, and the Big Bad Wolf has been transformed into a human named Bigby Wolf, the town sheriff who has to smoke tobacco continuously to dull his senses to over-stimulation in the non-Fable world (referred to as the mundane, or "mundy" world).

One thing I really don't care for in this city are the smells. Scents in New York assault you like muggers used to, lurking around every corner, in subway cars, on sidewalks - everywhere. There's a section of Penn Station that I pass every evening that smells like cheeseburgers that have been left on the grill too long, then wrapped in brown paper bags and left out in the rain for the afternoon. I wish I didn't have to walk past that spot every day, but it's the most direct path from the subway to the New Jersey train gates, and usually I'm in too much of a hurry to take an alternate route.

The worst example of this is when homeless people commandeer a subway car and use it as their personal toilet. This has the effect of emptying the entire car into adjacent cars, which become terribly crowded. It's almost comical when you see a train where one car is nearly empty and both cars on either side are stuffed like cans of sardines. The same thing happened several months back on a NJ Transit train when the woman sitting in front of me vomited all over the floor.

Just walking on the streets you encounter less than pleasant scents, like the incessant cigarette smoking, the garbage piles on sidewalks, charcoal fires from street vending carts, even the heavy cologne and cheap perfumes people wear can be annoying. It all almost makes me wish I could turn off my sense of smell as easily as I can block my hearing with my noise-canceling earbuds connected to my iPod.