A Gink's Last Gasp: Stop, You're Killing Me

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. August 27, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 35

A Gink's Last Gasp: Stop, You're Killing Me By Paul A. Du Brul

I am a member of a minority group. I have lung disease. Every morning and night, I sit before a small gray and blue machine with a white plastic pipe in my mouth, intensely breathing a decongestant in the hopes that I can elude pneumonia for yet another day in the sulfuric acid atmosphere of New York City.

Mayor Lindsay has just signed an agreement with the Consolidated Edison Company guaranteeing their right to continue using the air I must breathe as their own personal cesspool. There is an unwritten codicil to that agreement. It says: "We hereby acknowledge the right of Consolidated Edison to cause 2000 to 5000 excess deaths each year among the very old, the very young, those with heart disease or without the good sense to be born with perfect lungs."

You will notice that in the best traditions of liberalism there is no regard to race, creed, or color. If someone had asked the Mayor to become involved in the excess deaths of 5,000, say, jewish asthmatics, or blacks with tuberculosis, or maybe even wheezy Mafiosi, the Mayor's civil libertarian heart would swell. Can't you hear him now? "We're not going to shoot, oops, sorry, gas black children in New York City." Right on, John, that's genocide, isn't it?

The fact that we lack protective coloration (pun intended) is only part of the victimization, however. The big problem is that we, the ginks of America, always let other people talk for us. When wa the last time some sunken-eyed, barrel-chested poor bastard was chosen to head the Tuberculosis Association? When were "victims" of cancer, cystic fibrosis, or emphysema ever appointed to task forces on air pollution, mass transit, or highway policy? Well, of course, you say they're too sick, so we'll just make them as comfortable as possible and let the professional disease peddlers and medical statesmen compromise away their lives -- and all for only 50 per cent off the top of the overflowing pity kitty.

Of course, one is asked, if you don't like to breathe here, why don't you go someplace else? That provokes two interesting questions: why and where? I'll answer the second first. There is no place else. Extreme temperatures are very hard on ginks, so that lets out the only two relatively unpolluted places in the world: the Arctic Circle and the Sahara. (And the Russians seem intent on mucking up the Circle by granting jumbo jet routes over the pole to everybody and his brother.)

Denver, Mexico City? Nope, Denver is now equal to East Los Angeles according to the Wall Street Journal, and I have a friend in Mexico City who says the buses run on buffalo chips, or a close approximation, and lighter fluid. Very high on nitrogen oxides.

Last year I had pneumonia four times and my doctor kept coming up with suburban type places for my future residence, like Maine or Oregon. My doctor is a very nice New York Jewish doctor who has never been downwind of a paper mill. Paper mill soot burns the paint off cars. Next to paper mills, the Jersey Meadows smell like a field of daisies. Maine and Oregon are full of paper mills.

And for God's sake, why? Like I told the doctor, "This is my home, I'm that rarest of the rare, a native New Yorker." I like it here, all my enemies are here.

So I'm staying and I'm going to fight. I know it doesn't have to be polluted. After all, if we could get rid of the traction magnates (you don't remember the awful traction magnates?) then we can beat Con Edison, especially since while you may think they are a private company, out to screw you to the wall, the reality is that they are a public utility, subject to the democratic (unfortunately for the last 12 years it's been a Republican) will.

Not that I blame Con Ed entirely for those mornings when I spend two or three hours coughing and retching. In a very strange way, they are victims of circumstance. They just happen to find themselves in the heart of New York. Now this presents them with a very big public relations headache, since it means they have to do what they do right where everybody can see it, and smell it, and taste it and feel it on their bodies. Of course, they could do it someplace else where no one was around, say upstate or over in Canada. They could even dam up rivers, like they used to be in the old days, remember, and turn their turbines with the falling water and not have to burn anything, not even good old scarcer-than-hens'-teeth natural gas. There are lots of rivers in Canada that no one has dammed up. There are also lots of power companies, however, with exclusive territories, sort of like Con Ed has in Ne York, and they would have to buy the electricity from these other companies (some of them aren't even investor-owned, they belong to the state) and bring the electricity to New York, sort of like a middle man. And you know how everyone is always trying to cut out the middle man.

Anyhow, it's very expensive to do it that way and Con Ed would lose a lot of money since the rates they charge are based on how much they have to pay all their contractors to build new power plants, and the cost of low sulfur fuel which mostly comes from countries who are only out to suck us into becoming dependent on them and then when all of our own oil wells have rusted away, would cut us off without a barrel.

Why go on, you see the drift. I won't even begin on the whole "but not next to me" problems with nuclear plants, or the generation of electricity by fusion, which is the hydrogen bomb backwards, but it doesn't seem to want to go that way, despite the best efforts of the Gulf Corporation. Technology is a big bore and it's no fun for Con Ed, either.

You see, I'm not callous. I have problems, but I know they have problems too. Mostly my problem is breathing, however, and Con Ed, Mayor Lindsay, Jerry Kretchmer (what ever happened to Jerry Kretchmer?) aren't helping my problem at all. So I am writing this appeal to all other ginks to get our thing together, cast off the shackles of the professional fund raisers, oil up your wheel chairs, and get ready for a little street action. We will have a terrific tactical advantage this time since most cops are too flabby to be able to catch an electric wheel chair and they won't dare use tear gas at our first demonstration.

We may be the only minority in history that does have to take it lying down, but not in silence. And in the darkest hours (usually between 8 and 10 in the morning and 4 and 6 in the afternoons) console yourselves with this thought: Of all the minorities throughout history, we are becoming a majority faster than any other. It won't console too many of the majority, but it's their own fault, and a strangled chuckle at their expense seems the least they owe us.

Remember the battle cry: "Stop, you're killing me."

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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