Environmental Hazards


The Doctor says my environment is making me sick. Only I didn’t really need him to tell me that. Hell, I’ve known for quite sometime that it’s killing me. Living in the underbelly of the city tends to get a little unhealthy at times – even on the best of days. Although what he’s talking about isn’t the results of low-income urban living. It’s all the crap that’s in the air of my neighborhood. All the construction dust, the exhaust fumes from the freeway, the fact that there’s no filtered ventilation in the building that I live in.

The concrete pillars that hold up the on and off ramps to the Bay Bridge are less then twenty feet away from my apartment building’s front door. Where a daily average of 280,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles travel five stories above on their elevated roadways. Spewing exhaust, microscopic bits of rubber, finely ground asbestos, rust, dust and a whole slew of other caustic shit that I’m so ignorantly unaware of into the air that my community breathes.

For the last two years the State of California has been demolishing the old bridge while simultaneously building a new one. In the hopes of not impeding the constant flow of traffic they tend to work all night: jackhammers pounding, debris trucks lining up waiting to be loaded, traffic backing up anyway as it’s being forced to merge from three lanes into two and then finally one. Where everyone’ll sit idling for hours with tempers flaring as the drivers scream at one another soon to be followed by the blaring of horns – the road rage mating dance in full force. While down below the locals like me are stuck living with all the noise and air pollution that seem to be the acceptable byproducts of this ongoing renewal process. Acceptable for those that don’t live here. Acceptable for the construction concerns that only see the costs of doing business and not the people whose lives are being impaired.

Walking through the alleyways going about my daily affairs I’m constantly emitting what sounds like a smoker’s cough. Some nights I go out and jog along the bridge’s edge to the Embarcadero’s waterfront. When the weather’s warm I tend to sleep with my window ajar. Weekday mornings at 8:30am you can usually find me hanging out at the bus stop trying to catch my breath as I wait for the bus to take me to work. Everywhere I look there’s a fine black grit settling in: building up on the window sills, coating the parked cars – a discolored grayish film on every flat surface.

A few months ago I got another infection in my lungs, second or third time this year. Sorta lose track between the colds and flues and bouts of depression. Had to go back to the hospital Friday. I was tired and listless, hacking up phlegm, waiting to breathe. Now I gotta few more pills to take, had an inhaler, but that’s gone. But I still keep coughing like I did when I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day though I’ve quit now for almost three years. Trying to stay healthy seems futile at best when it’s something as simple as the air that you breathe is what’s killing you.

Yet if you were to ask me I’d have to say that it isn’t just the air in my environment that’s killing me. As my environment isn’t just where I live. It’s also where I work, think, create and exist. And all of it, and I do mean all of it, is taking its toll. Physically, psychologically, take your pick, after awhile if I’m not incredibly vigilant in keeping myself in top shape then sooner or later the mortar of my foundation starts to crumble and the entire structure that’s called my life comes tumbling down around me.

Working in the recovery field takes a lot out of you. Add going to school full time on top of that, mix in a little dysfunctional living situation, a low salary and the high cost of living in a city like San Francisco and you’ve got a recipe that calls for a lot of stress as its main ingredient. There’s a reason that I haven’t had a meaningful relationship with a significant other for the past three years. It’s probably the same reason as why I don’t do much else in my free time except eat, sleep and write.

Yet these days I gotta wonder am I killing myself on the lay away plan? Meanwhile the moon is in Libra with all 39% of it shining away in the clear evening sky. Maybe that is why I can’t make up my mind? For a Libra such as I am I really don’t need more Libra vibes from the cosmos confounding my already challenged abilities to make a decision.

While on the other side of the world countries continue to confuse diplomacy with aggression. On the television and in the news the psychotic Religious Right is screaming about the Rapture – saying that the time is now. Over the weekend a dozen young men were needlessly gunned down throughout the Bay Area. The war in Iraq barely a paragraph on the front page of the newspaper.

Such world events make worrying about my neighborhood, my health, my job seem paltry in comparison. Yet tell that to all those crackheads living in the street; smoking their shit outside in the alleyways, under the bridge, at the edge of the construction site where they make their camps on folded pieces of cardboard. Tell them that their lives don’t matter, that they don’t matter, that nothing they’ve ever done or gonna do matters and I’m only too sure that they’d agree. And maybe that’s why I do what I do.

But I got to move.

No doubt about that.

And then maybe find a new job…

6 Responses

  1. Adriana Bliss

    Your post reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister – I sounded like the worst cynic, existentialist even when she told me about vitamin supplements being a possible addition to our diet. I found myself saying, “It doesn’t matter how much we change our eating habits, or even our lifestyle, we can’t do anything about the environment that will affect us in any meaningful way – for the air, the water, the sunlight to change, will take a cataclysmic event.”

    I then ate a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. With fries. Waving about the nutritional brochure like a weapon. 😉

    I do hope you move soon, Patrick. In lots of different ways.

  2. Cori

    Mueve las nalgas Papacito!!!

  3. alpacadan

    patrick first off you got to read this book by F.BatmanghelidJ.M.D.its called YOUR NOT SICK YOUR THIRSTY WATER FOR HEALTH,FOR HEALING,FOR LIFE i cant explain now just read it.another thing that may help is “UPSTATE NEW YORK” cause too much california blurs reality !!

  4. narrator

    it can be a mighty dirty world out there, and, short of getting rich enough to own west facing beachfront property… what might any of us find in our air?

    Might indeed be time to move in many directions. Think of it as seeking out new tales to tell.

  5. Jenny Allan

    I just wanted to say Patrick that your post really made me appreciate my environment. I live in leafy part of UK, with lots of quiet air to breathe, I say this just so you know that I gained insight from what you said, and hope you can move on soon.

  6. boxen

    When you do get in a car and keep driving, or at least that’s the visual I’ve held for a while about you – I hope you have a digital camera. Your writing continues to change into something diabolically new and different to what it was.