THIS WEEK, THE extraordinarly sensitive Paris-based American expatriate writer Thomas Chatterton Williams apparently found himself back in the United States—specifically, on the island of Manhattan—and was upset by what he smelled there. On Twitter, he complained:
The degree to which Manhattan air is now just saturated with the aroma of marijuana is frankly absurd.
He followed this up with a little moral panic about drugs, a disavowal of that moral panic—
For the record, I don’t care if people smoke (or drink!), but the imposition of the odor all over public spaces is weird and feels deeply unserious
—and the sort of Challenging Opinion that has made the name “Thomas Chatterton Williams” the byword that it is today:
Also: smell of cigarettes > smell of weed
Ooh la la! J’prefer ze aroma of ze Gauloises, non?
It is true that the streets of Manhattan not infrequently carry the smell of weed, especially on a nice day. And it’s true that, as a simple country transplant to the big city, I used to catch a whiff of the smoke from 21st century strains of marijuana and reflexively think I was smelling roadkilled skunk. Yet the passing smell of roadkilled skunk is perfectly fine in its place, on a warm summer night, and it is greatly preferable to the smell of cigarettes.
And complaining that spreading an odor into public space—in Manhattan!—is “deeply unserious” is, to borrow a phrase, frankly absurd. It can be inconsiderate, or unwelcome, but that’s a different question. There is no such thing as olfactory dignity in this town, pal! And weed smoke is but one player in the odorous symphony. If the smell of somebody’s blunt bothers you, just widen your nostrils and keep walking. You’re guaranteed to smell something worse.
Here is a necessarily incomplete ranking of noticeable smells of Manhattan, by their salience or dominance:
- Curbside garbage.
- Nuts 4 Nuts carts.
- Body odor.
- Subway brakes.
- Car exhaust.
- Weed smoke.
- Fish markets.
- Food cart grills.
- Truck exhaust.
- Cigarette smoke.
- Spilled coffee.
- Damp earth from Central Park.
- Restaurant exhaust.
- Infused scents from boutiques.
- People eating takeout.
- Certain days, when the wind is right, the vast Atlantic Ocean.
- Human shit.
- Sidewalk bleach.
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