Monday, January 20, 2014

Flaming Lips

Nobody is drinking the water. A week and a half in and we're all avoiding the water, staring at it, talking about it; discussing whether it's safe enough to wash our cars with, our homes, our children...

The water was cleared at my place Friday morning and I bled the lines in my house and took the first real shower I'd had in five days an hour after. The shower before had been at the Catholic church on the other side of the county. I'd met a family of hipster/hippies who'd named their children Christian and Damian and a man missing half an ear, who thought everyone took to long.

I've showered every day since, washed my hair, washed my hands, but I won't cook with the water. I won't drink it. I won't even venture a sip to rinse my mouth out and then spit it in a sink.

Nobody believes in the water. The water company doesn't even believe in it. If they did, they'd be trying to convince us all that it's safe.

They're not.

They're waiting for us to convince ourselves and slowly, I think, we're doing that.

At lunch the other day, a group of us ate at a Mexican place. We ordered our drinks, like always.

"We have no tea," the waiter said after I asked and then he rattled off a list of sodas. We chose based on our tastes.

Someone asked, "Do you think they're using tap water for the fountain drinks?"

We all paused then someone else said, "No. I used to work in a restaurant and we used these great big tanks for carbonation." He held up a cup. "A cup like this --16 or 20 ounces --it cost us five cents."

We considered what he said, nodded and then let the subject drop.

Of course, the fountain drinks use tap water. The big tanks only add the bubbles --not that the Mexican restaurant was serving fountain drinks. The sodas were poured out from two-liter bottles, probably purchased down the road at the nearby grocery.

If the restaurant had been comfortable with the water, they might have brewed tea, but they didn't. They didn't trust it either, not to drink.

Still, just as likely, the ice was made from the tainted water, the glasses had been washed in the tainted water.

I don't know what made him answer the way he did.

Before dark, I took wet clothes to the laundromat to dry them. The place was packed with haggard middle-aged women and weary-looking men, some with blue, jailhouse tattoos. Together, as a community of the less privileged (the better off have on-site laundry), we did the wash and watched over enough small children to fill a preschool classroom.

The children, black and white and belonging to half a dozen scattered parents, chased one another around and between the rows of brushed steel washing machines. My headphones snugly jammed into my ears, I listened to the Flaming Lips and smiled at them as they dodged past me.

They waved and grinned and laughed; their grubby, little faces turning pink from the endless chase. I tried to match the brothers and sisters up by their faces, but instead noticed how many of them were wearing skulls on their shirts or skulls on their dirty pajama bottoms.

It seemed like some kind of omen. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Star Wars

It wasn't long after the cold dissipated that we first got word about the weird licorice smell in the air. One of the guys in the newsroom was complaining about it and just wondering what the smell was. By the time I picked up dinner and my girlfriend, the smell was a situation was a disaster and the word was "Don't drink the water unless you want to die."

Reports later reduced that to "Don't drink, cook, clean or wash yourself or anything else with that stuff," but the river has been poisoned by a local chemical company involved in business related to the coal industry. Already, my more liberal friends are shouting "I told you so" about the EPA. My conservative friends are eerily quiet, probably figuring this will all blow over once the crap in the water dilutes enough that it doesn't cause projectile vomiting.

There is some of that going on and quite a few people I know are reporting headaches and nausea, as well as itching and burning. Nobody knows what the long term affects of this shit are.

Out getting bread and paper plates last night, a couple of coal miners were laughing at the crowd who seemed to be throwing stuff into carts left and right --they were 20-ish and looked like they'd scarcely ever been in a grocery store. I figured their moms and then their girlfriends did most of that sort of work. Just a couple of good ol' boys.

They saw me by the picked over bread aisle. One of them laughed and said, "The problem is with the water. It ain't with the bread."

Remembering, when I too was a moron, looked over and said, "Without the water, you can't wash any dishes or pans. You can't really cook much. So, we're all eating sandwiches."

The guy blinked and his face fell. That hadn't occurred to him (probably, because he doesn't wash many dishes).

"People are still making way too big a deal out of it," he said. "I've seen that stuff in the mines. I got a little on me once and yeah, it raised a blister, but that was like a pretty high concentration."

I shrugged. I could explain that nobody knows much about this stuff, that the thing that concerned me wasn't whether the water is going to make me sick now, but whether it will make me sick in 5, 10 or 20 years. We got plenty of cancer here. The chemical spill probably just added another helping.

"It'll be over in a while," I said, which seemed to satisfy him.

I went on home, ate my simple dinner with my kids, watched Star Wars and thought about how when I was a kid, the future seemed so bright. It was all space ships, light sabers and ultimate good triumphing over ultimate evil.

Watching again, the movie seemed to be about the world I lived in now: a dirty, broken down universe on the verge of collapse.