Easy as Breathing

Winter’s coming to the Salt Lake Valley, if not surprisingly here by the time you’re reading this. And if you’re anything like me, that means you’re about to be coughing for six months straight. You know, the kind of cough you get when you’ve been smoking two packs a day. The kind of cough that means confinement to a bed from which you’ll never get up. The kind of cough for which actors win Oscars when portraying a tubercular West Virginia coal miner who Ain’t Too Good to Give up the Life His Pappy Died For.

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Honestly, I can’t think of what keeps bringing it on.

But don’t worry. You don’t have tuberculosis. You don’t have stage IV lung cancer. You don’t have pneumonia. I mean, you might. I’m no doctor. See a doctor. Seriously, that cough doesn’t sound good. But there’s also just a chance that you’re just experiencing winter in Salt Lake. Now I know you’re about to say Marty, you’re such a drama queen. That’s just winter. Things are tough all over. You’re just a wimp with no constitutional fortitude.

My god, you’re rude, and you’ve got some nerve.

But here’s the fact of the matter. According to a recent University of Utah study, Utah’s air is murder on the most vulnerable parts of its population. The kind of murderer that sneaks up and chokes you in your sleep. It doesn’t say that literally, but you know science. Sometimes you have to extrapolate the data. Change your furnace filters they say. Stay inside, they say. Use recirculated air in your car, they say. They even say eat right and exercise, but inside where the air is safe. Those are all pretty attainable goals for those with the time, money and will, but what about the rest of us poor schlubs?

Well, that’s where my sweet new face mask comes in. What?! You didn’t know this was going to be a commercial? Well, it’s not, because no one paid me. This is a love letter, and the least you can do is sit and listen to it after that nervy thing you said about my constitutional fortitude.

My story begins about three weeks ago with a tickle in my throat. Uh-oh, I thought. I had visions in my head of mountains of snotty Kleenex, a humidifier produced fog thicker than in the jungles of Isla Nublar that still somehow doesn’t take the edge off, and sick time. So much sick time. This isn’t fair, I thought. I’m pretty sure it’s only been about five minutes since I got over last years’ cough. When I had to miss two hours off my sweet new job (of which I am still very much in the probationary period), I knew that drastic action was required. Based on past experience, I knew that religious offerings would do me no good, so I thought why not give science a try?

The only place in town I knew of that stocked them fancy rigs that kept your face holes safe was Iconoclad, a consignment shop on the east side of downtown that had masks manufactured special just for we, the dying. Fun fact- they were originally designed for the dusty horizons of Burning Man, so the next time you can breathe easy, be sure to thank a hippie. I trekked east and managed to get myself a beneficial face hugger. That’s not what they call them. I just think it sounds cool.

Speaking of cool, when you wear one of these things, you get to look like Bane, which is pretty cool. There are other colors and styles, which I guess technically you could purchase, but then you wouldn’t look like Bane so I’m not really sure I see the point. Other than being able to breathe.

And breathe I could. I left the store and my first thought was this must be psychosomatic. I have never breathed that well in winter (in life?) before, so it must be all in my head. I try not to question that, because in my mind a placebo effect is better than no effect at all. With a great deal of skepticism, I wore it for 1 day, 2 days, 3 days. I’m on my fourth day now, 4 days of being outdoors without the benefit of recirculated air or a clean furnace filter and my cough still hasn’t cleared up. That much is true.

But I also haven’t missed any more work. My cough is almost cleared up. According to the science, which I guess I could have looked at earlier, the mask filters out 95 percent of particulate matter down to 2.5 microns in size. This is the gritty crap that floats in the air and gets in our lungs and cannot be processed by the human body, contributing to pulmonary disease and death. It’s not exactly, as far as I understand, that our pollution causes these things. But it does pull the cord and lets the life bus know that you’d like to get off at the next stop. I think this is a neat analogy. I thought of it on the bus. Maybe It’s just unimaginative.

At any rate, there’s a secondary effect that I hadn’t considered that I’ve come to enjoy very much. I didn’t realize how much I like wearing a mask. Take that, super invasive big brother facial recognition spy satellite technology, I think. I’m not actually getting up to anything shady, but there is something tremendously empowering in feeling like I could.

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No one knew who I was before I put on the mask.

But don’t worry. I won’t be buying the matching tinfoil hat.

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