Something terrible happened last night: I used twitter. There were extenuating circumstances, and I'm ashamed to say that I have formed a begrudging respect for the twits who tweet.
Around 3am, Charrow woke me up and said "it smells like burning. what is that smell?? is there a fire?" I have always harbored a secret fear of middle of the night fires (sometimes I lay in bed trying to go to sleep and imagine how I would react to said disaster so that I have a basic formula for how to get out of the house), so we got out of bed to investigate. We both poked our noses out the window to catalogue the smell. Not cigarette smoke. No visible flames or plumes. Excessive chemical/plastic tinge. Very mysterious and noxious.
Charrow was satisfied with closing the window and trying to call 911 (busy), but I stood at the window to see if I could witness anyone else reacting to the weird odor. Not long into my observation campaign, a man popped out of his front door wearing only sweatpants and looked up and down the street conducting his own surveillance. He looked perplexed, but satisfied that he had investigated the situation and went back inside. Having had confirmation from the outside world that strange things were afoot, we decided to go have a look for ourselves. This was mostly my fault, because all I could think of was that some old lady in our building had fallen asleep with a candle burning and maybe there was a polyester blend afghan ablaze 2 floors above us.
The smell outside was, according to charrow, akin to a mouse caught in a toaster. Smokey, but not altogether natural. As we stood on the street gawking at the lack of evidence, a couple walked toward their car with their noses buried in their coats. We asked them if there was a fire somewhere and they told us that it was supposedly a tire factory in New Jersey. We went back inside and turned on the tv to confirm the rumor, but there was no breaking news to be found. After a minute of listening to NY1's squawking correspondent, I realized that we needed the instant reaction of the masses on twitter. So we did a search for #smell (a coarse method that produced surprisingly accurate results) and saw the twitter feed of dozens of people horrified by the smell that had been confirmed by several police precincts: Tire fire. New Jersey. Smoke made its way to brooklyn. Of course it's New Jersey's fault. etc., etc.
Damn you twitter for actually serving a purpose.