What would your official state smell be?

Last week, lawmakers in the state of New Mexico took up one of the most pressing issues to face that state in decades — declaring an official state aroma. State Sen. Bill Soules (D-Las Cruces) got the idea while visiting a group of fifth-graders in his district.

Now, he’s pushing a bill to make the smell of green chile peppers roasting over an open flame the official state aroma. It’s already passed its first committee hurdle and is unlikely to face much opposition on its way to making New Mexico the first U.S. state with an official state aroma. (The fifth-graders’ other major concern — whether to declare cooties the state’s official pandemic — may have to wait until the 2024 session.)

It’s possible that you may have missed this big news about New Mexico’s smell because there were a few other big stories last week. There was that Chinese kid who lost his balloon at his 5th birthday party, only to have it float all the way over to the United States, according to Chinese officials. Then there was another FBI search at one of President Biden’s homes, where they didn’t find any classified documents but did find a remote control in the sofa cushions that he’s been looking for since 2005. And, of course, President Trump began his deep dive into 2024 presidential campaign issues by labeling potential GOP rival Gov. Ron DeSantis “Ron DeDoofyhead.”

(Actually, that last one is not true, but I think it’s the kind of high-road intellectualism that Mr. Trump would appreciate. And I want a nickel every time he uses it in the next 12 months. I’ll be a millionaire by August.)

Quite frankly, I thought Georgia O’Keeffe was the last human to actually live in New Mexico, and I certainly didn’t think the state had enough residents to fill a fifth-grade class. New Mexico, though, has a huge pepper population and produces 60 percent of the chile pepper crop in the U.S. That’s just one of the many things I’ve learned about the state — such as how it was named after Old Mexico, a Mexican restaurant in my old stomping grounds of Montezuma, Georgia.

I also learned that my home state, Georgia — aka The Peach State, The Empire State of the South, The State That Gave Us Jerry Reed and Burt Reynolds — does not have an official state aroma. Well, inspired by the 27 residents of New Mexico, including the 22 in Mrs. Adams’ fifth-grade class, I’m ready to help Georgia move forward. I’ve smelled this state from top to bottom, so I nose what I’m talking about.

Of course, many people think Georgia and Atlanta are the same thing, so perhaps an Atlanta smell would be appropriate. As a kid, the smell I most associated with Atlanta was tar and melting asphalt, which is what Six Flags smelled like to me because every time I went, the temperature was about 114 degrees and 175 on the pavement. Now, though, Atlanta just smells like marijuana. The few places I’ve had to go in that city in the past year — hotels, the airport, downtown, Great Aunt Ethel’s house — all smell like skunk weed. Instead of HotLanta, they should call it PotLanta.

Of course, when I think of Georgia, I think of where I grew up. Therefore, I’d prefer the state aroma to be something like a double-chili-cheesebuger from Troy’s Snack Shack, fresh country air (also known as cow, chicken and pig poop), the muddy Flint River, that rotten egg smell from the pulp mill, or the dust from those orange dirt roads when a pickup truck rumbles by in the dead of summer.

But I’m going to have to propose fried chicken as the state smell. That’s an aroma that can lead you to death by heart disease, but it actually saved my life when I was 11 in my hometown of Oglethorpe, Georgia. That’s when I got a bad report card and ran away from home … for hours. I had decided to live out my days alone by the shores of Oakley’s Pond. Then I got a whiff of folks frying chicken in 27 nearby kitchens of poorly insulated old houses. I got hungry and raced home to trash my farewell note.

I knew that whatever fate awaited me at home, it couldn’t be as excruciating as smelling fried chicken without being able to eat it.

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