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Breathing's Bad For Your Health

Cartoon sketch of a man running away from a cloud of bad weather-related words and numbers: Particles, 158!!, and puffs of smoke. A hand reaches from behind the number 158. Illustration by Earle Levenstein.

I think the scariest decision I've ever made was to join the best weather website I've ever seen: WeatherBug.

I mean, it is so complete in reporting every puff of the air that I breathe that my normal level of anxiety—plenty enough—has skyrocketed.

I can practically see the army of evil-doers on horseback thundering towards my nostrils. Vagabonds with huge mustaches, enormous toothless grins, waving swords, shouting in some strange tongue, laughing wildly as they draw nearer and nearer to my nose.

Problem is, all I have to do to know exactly what they're going to do to me, to my lungs, to my heart, to my bloodstream, is quickly go to my iPhone and click on WeatherBug.

There it is: my sight blurs; I'm panting; I wipe my glasses.

It isn't enough that the local weather broadcasters are sufficiently frightening about just what's about to descend upon me, with information they've gathered themselves; they're knowledgeable, using normal everyday words and phrases. Cold spell, heat advisory, thunder, lightning. You know: the usual.

They'll also—when the information is passed on to them—go further: sub-zero, blizzard, hurricane, tornado.

Scary, sure, but not unfamiliar.

WeatherBug, on the other hand, is professional.

They assume they're talking to adults, like you, surely, and me, which I am. Pretty much.

They deal in facts. I've never seen so many weather facts.

Facts. Facts. Facts.

They want me to know exactly, precisely what I'm breathing.

Particulates. Numbers. Scores of particulates; evil little buggers, clouds of them, looking for my nostrils, and if I don't take steps? Ha! Consequences. Big-time consequences.

Respiratory Infection. Bronchial Reactivity. Cardiovascular Disease.


WeatherBug says: Don't go outdoors. Close all the windows. If you have air conditioning, turn it on; it'll filter those little buggers. And if you have to go outside? Make it quick. You're not going to keel over, but don't be nuts; this isn't a joke.

Being essentially sort of anxiety-prone—forget the "sort of"—I do as advised. I don't go outside for a second; I don't even look outside. I don't want to be seen by one of those particulates who might think I was—I actually visualize particulates as mean-spirited little buggers—one of those wise-guys thumbing my nose at them, which I wouldn't dream of doing at all. No way.

I breathe as little as possible; I try to pretend this is a game, but I do turn on my air purifiers. Why do I have air-purifiers? Well, if I'm being charitable, I like to think it's just another piece of my creative imagination; anxiety-prone people can imagine all sorts of things, okay?

At any rate, back to WeatherBug.

We now have a new player who tells it like it is: absolutely all the facts, explicit and unrestrained analysis of the implications of being dopey and ignoring everything you've just been told and going for a run around the reservoir.

As an adult—some days more than others—I think it's a good time for me to step back a few feet, or yards, or maybe a couple of hundred yards, take stock and stop being a wimp about the weather, and get a grip. These are simple facts; I'm not slipping into my usual psychologically-loaded answer for everything.

And when I think of it—and I spend a lot of time thinking, a lot more time, perhaps, than an objective observer would consider useful—accepting reality, things as they are, the weather as it is; it might be a big break for me, from my usual "maybe this, maybe that; on the other hand…on the other hand…."

Time to join the big guys: science, people who know; and to listen, hear, and pay attention.

To grow up.

Accept and stick to the facts.


OK, then:

Just give me those counts, WeatherBug.


I can take it.

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