There's a tree just outside my door. I'll give you a couple guesses what kind of tree it is (hint: look left). It's a fairly big tree, as far as trees in the city go. About 25 feet, with big droopy boughs, lushly adorned with many healthy green leaves. A great tree by all accounts.
But towards the end of summer, little golf ball sized fruits, with the shape, furry texture, and light hue of apricots, fell one by one from its branches. They were—these strange little fruits—quite dense and would make a resonant thud whenever they landed on the roof of a car parked underneath it (or with a fleshy smack when they hit the pavement).
As August turned into September, those of us who had to pass the tree every day, going to and from our front doors, started noticing a foul smell when we passed the tree and the fruit-littered stretch of sidewalk below it. One day, curious as to where the smell was emanating from, I bent over and picked the strange fruit off the ground. I brought the small, fleshy orb to my nose.
Putrefying meat, my brother's basketball shoes, my high school gym bag: these were the images that rifled suddenly through my brain in hectic montage. I threw the fruit down (smack!), retching in disgust.
I found out later that what I’d smelled was the “silver apricot” of a female gingko tree, and according to Wikipedia:
The seed is 1.5-2 cm long. Its outer layer (the sarcotesta) is light yellow-brown, soft, and fruit-like. It is plum-like and attractive, but the seedcoat contains butanoic acid and smells like rancid butter (which contains the same chemical) when fallen on the ground.
This past Sunday, between one of the countless naps I had indulged in, I heard my neighbors discussing the tree in decidedly less scientific tones:
Who cleans this up? Ain’t sanitation supposed to get rid of this? Shit, I’m tired of this. Messing up my car. Smells like shit. Can’t even sit outside no more. They need to cut this fucking tree.
I was in agreement with the disembodied voice of my block until that very last point. You see, besides bearing odiferous balls that stain Escalades and befoul stoops, the ginkgo tree outside my building is the only thing separating the two large windows in my studio, which are only a few feet above street level, from the curious eyes of passerby, the jabbing midday sun, and the midnight watch of Gingko-hating, curtain-fingering neighbors.
So, this time around, I must side with Mother Nature.
And her smelly balls.