INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO. 92: Where there's smoke


INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO. 92: Where there's smoke

New York City, June 6, 2023

[NO STARS] The morning began overcast and humid, with rain falling around 9. Then a whole different morning arrived, a sunny and welcoming one. That mood lasted past lunchtime, until there was approaching thunder like heavy steel plates being dragged into place over an excavation site, followed by direct cracking thunder and a quick rush of rain. The streets were dry within the hour, but the shaded path through Morningside Park was puddly and muggy. Water droplets sat on sassafras leaves. Overhead—overhead was trouble, the forecast smoke from Canada mixing with whatever else was in the sky to make a haze with the ugly translucence of old Tupperware. The last uphill stretch on the walk home from school pickup felt like the tilted treadmill at the cardiologist's office. A neighbor was heading out with a mask on. It got worse. The light dimmed into something green and eerie, thunderstorm light, but what was coming was no thunderstorm. Things kept getting dimmer, till by 6:30 everything lay in deep, malevolent gloom, some two hours before the scheduled sunset. The smoke from Canada was not a tint or a filter on the sky but a reeking presence, pushing in through the windows. The sky was brown. Visible smoke loomed in the space between buildings. Through it all the air was cool and would have been pleasant—a beautiful day at the height of the year, so defiled it was necessary to shut the windows against it.


Everybody Talks About the Weather but Nobody Does Anything About It

THE JOKE ABOUT reviewing the weather, originally, the first time around, was of course that the opinion of the weather critic didn't matter. It couldn't matter. I was not in dialogue with my subject; a bad review was not going to change anything about the way the weather got made, the way that the right theater critic in the wrong mood could turn out the lights on a Broadway production, or a restaurant critic could turn a quiet mom-and-pop spot into a runaway sensation.

The longer I did it, though, the less funny or harmless that impotence seemed. Day after day, in aggregate, I wasn't just marking down the caprices of a distant God or the breathtaking variability of our changeable planet—I was, I had to understand, taking notes on a crime scene. A sweltering week in March or April didn't simply mean the shorts came out early, it was a reminder that the weather was slipping out of its proper place. The anomalies lost their charm when they kept being anomalous in the same direction: hotter, more unstable, more violent.

Yesterday evening, when my wife came home in the premature dimness, she said it was just like Beijing outside. I'd been watching the smoke thicken from indoors for a couple of hours, closing the windows as it got worse, so I made sounds of agreement: it certainly did look a lot like the bad days had looked when we'd lived in Beijing. The discoloration out there was not unlike the way things got when the mountains trapped the factory smoke from the plains, or when the dust blew in from the desert.

Then I stepped out into the stairwell to go get the mail and I smelled what I'd been shutting out of the apartment, and I understood. It was 15 years ago and I was on the concrete stairs of our apartment in Hujiayuan Small Community, on a filthy day. The sense-memory was overwhelming. If I focused, I could tell the aroma notes weren't exactly identical—the essential pungency of Beijing's coal smoke was missing—but it was so close, the difference didn't matter. The bad air had found us again.

Joe Manchin got his fossil-fuel pipeline in the debt-ceiling deal. When people get angry about arrangements like this, the carve-outs to keep the fossil-fuel industry going, our political experts rebuke them for being unrealistic. Joe Manchin's demands are a fact built into our system. You can't deny the way the world works.

But you can't deny that the streets of Manhattan are full of smoke, either. Canada was hotter and drier than usual this spring, and now it's on fire, and the workings of the world are pumping it down here. The smoke two or three weeks ago, from the fires in western Canada, was high up in the atmosphere. You had to be informed to know it was there, to recognize that the scattering of the daylight and the extra color in the sunsets were the residue of a distant catastrophe. Now I step outside and it's like an apartment house is on fire in the next block. The smoke is hanging right there.

Earlier this year, Joe Manchin joined up with Ted Cruz to introduce the Senate's version of the Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act:

No Federal funds may be used by the [Consumer Product Safety] Commission to regulate an existing or new gas stove as a banned hazardous product under section 8 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2057) or to impose or enforce any consumer product safety standard or rule on existing or new gas stoves under section 7 or 9 of such Act (15 U.S.C. 2056 or 2058) that would otherwise result in a prohibition on the use or sale of gas stoves in the United States or would otherwise substantially increase the average price of gas stoves in the United States.

Freedom! My email says the public schools' District 3 STEAM Expo is canceled tonight because it's not safe for the kids to go out and breathe the air. Music-composition students are being told to stay home. None of this is worse than people choking on particulates for years in Beijing, or people being driven from their homes by the flames behind that wildfire smoke, or the people sweltering under the heat dome in Puerto Rico right now. But the more of this there is, the more evenly distributed it’s going to be. A realist might take it as a warning.


Indignity Morning Podcast No. 83: There’s nowhere to go to get away from it.

Tom Scocca • Jun 7, 2023

Listen now (3 min) | The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.

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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of sandwiches from One Thousand Favorite Recipes, by Seattle, Washington’s Congregation Temple de Hirsch, Ladies' Auxiliary, compiled by Mrs. Sigismund Aronson and Mrs. William Gottstein, published in 1908, found in the public domain and available at for the delectation of all.

SALMON SANDWICHES. Free cold canned salmon from all skin and bone and shred finely with a silver fork. Add a little lemon juice, a little paprika and tomato catsup. Mix to a paste with melted butter. —MRS. E. MORGENSTERN.

SMOKED SALMON TOAST. Cut as many slices of bread as required, trim crusts, toast to delicate brown, butter them and lay on each slice a very thin piece of smoked salmon; sprinkle with pepper, cover with sheet of buttered paper, and place in brisk oven for few minutes. When very hot, arrange the pieces of toast on hot dish on which is spread a folded napkin. Garnish with parsley and serve. —MRS. WM. GOTTSTEIN.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, kindly send a picture to us at


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