I get so paranoid sometimes, like way too paranoid. It’s overwhelming, crushing, really. It’s all stupid crazy stuff, and it sounds just like how these blog posts sound, only out loud, in my head, with no word limit, just this constant stream churning a million different detailed scenarios about how I’m going to die, how, yeah, things are going pretty well right now, but it’s just a matter of time before everything takes a sharp and dramatic turn for the worse.
Like this morning, I was feeling especially on edge, I couldn’t find a comfortable spot, not sitting down, not lying down, not standing up. So I thought I’d go for a long run, get into that soothing rhythm where I focus on my breathing. Only this backfired. As I got maybe a quarter of the way over the Queensboro Bridge, I noticed how windy it was.
Specifically, I could feel the wind coming at me from the other side of the bridge, taking all of that gridlocked traffic, accumulating all of that slow, idling exhaust, and shooting it straight into my lungs in concentrated bursts. I tried to ignore it, to just deal with it, to tell myself that, hey idiot, you live in a big city, this problem probably isn’t limited to being on a bridge.
But then I started thinking about all of the bridges and tunnels in the city. I started thinking about all of those bridge and tunnel workers, the cops that stand there and do whatever it is they’re doing, the maintenance guys, the toll collectors. They always have these crazy World War I style gas masks on. And here I am like an idiot running across the bridge, getting my respiratory system into such a state that I’m actually taking in more air than necessary, I’m taking in as many large gulps of pollution as I can.
OK this isn’t helping. I needed to put that out of my head also. What am I going to do, never go outside? Never run across the bridge? It’s not always this bad. Sometimes the wind comes from the other direction and I get to enjoy what it feels like if there were no cars around. But that taste. I could taste exhaust on my tongue. And I wanted to wipe the taste off somehow, but there was nothing to do, I kind of just moved my tongue around, rubbed it on my teeth. And now I was totally going crazy, because I swear I could feel like a film on my teeth, like the inside of my mouth was just covered with this grime.
I was getting out of control here. Clearly this had to be at least somewhat in my head. New York isn’t that dirty. It’s not like how people describe Los Angeles during the eighties, or Beijing right now. All of those other human beings are making it through OK. I’ll manage just fine. And that calmed me down for a second, but then another image flashed through my mind. I remembered I went for a similar long run like a year ago, the same route, the across the bridge, but it was a little longer, I ran along the East River and down the to the Brooklyn Bridge before turning around and heading back to Queens.
And when I got home and collapsed and took off my sneakers I could see it, a clear line in my socks, white below the ankle line, but above? Where the sock didn’t have any sneaker to cover it? It was stained, browned, just being exposed to this city for a couple of hours had somehow done actual damage, like there’s enough dust and grime at the foot level to somehow make its way into the fabric.
And I run a lot, over and over again, back and forth across that bridge, I’m breathing in and out. All I can think of is tiny micro-particulate, the smokestacks to my right in Long Island City, the smokestacks to my left by the FDR Drive, all of that exhaust, the kind of dust that’s so small it takes decades to float down to the earth’s surface, and I’m breathing it in, giving it that powerful inhale, letting it get all the way inside my system, deep in my lungs, into the tiniest crevasses of my alveoli, accumulating run after run after run.
And someday ten, twenty, thirty years from now, I’ll develop this weird post-post-post industrial cough, and the oncologist will be like, “Yeah, we’re seeing that from a lot of guys your age. Nobody really knows any good answers, but here, we’ll give you a bunch of chemotherapy and hope for the best.”
This is crazy. This is a crazy way to spend a Wednesday morning. It’s too much for me. I need a drink. I need some more coffee. And another drink. We’re all doomed.