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Day 24: C’mon Over, the Water’s Great

The little woman across the street plays piano while the man gazes at a screen, light flickering across his gleaming face. She plays classical stuff I hear faintly if I watch very closely. Her bald guy can’t hear it because he’s wearing earphones. Is rudeness a new avian flu symptom?

I shall now respond politely to some questions.

OY VEY, WHAT'S A NICE CATHOLIC BOY DOING HERE?First, we all speak a little Yiddish in New York, the world’s biggest Jewish city. It’s lively and expressive. You need to know what people are calling you. Even a hick like me learns some. TV viewers everywhere do, too: Tell me you don’t know a schlemiel from a schmoozer, spiel from schmaltz. (Jewish humor was born amid a three-year massacre in Ukraine in the 17th century, according to a Berkeley professor.)

As a child, my closest exposure to Jewishness was playing Joseph in the Christmas Pageant. (It sounded like a big role.) So yeah, I was raised Catholic and I’m entitled to make cracks about the Pope. I earned the privilege on my knees, serving mass.

Third, I love dogs. Nor is my “absorption” with my cat unhealthy. Enough!

Fourth, I’m not “rooting” for bird flu to kill anyone. I don’t need calamities to sustain my ego. I’m spreading information that can help people survive, whether or not they buy anything from me.

Fifth, the emails that do not threaten me display an unexpected and unwholesome interest in my personal life and views.

Still, I’m grateful for the positive reviews of my report about bringing my old friend some protective gear. I haven’t been able to reach him since. I‘m not sure he ever got home. I think it must be easier to buy narcotics than legal drugs. (Wrong powder, dude!)

I did write short stories in college. My teachers admired them. Friends and family were enraged. (Of course I changed their names!) I thought it best to learn a proper profession. Now look at me, antagonizing my customers.

To the nice ones, I apologize, as always. For the man who asked for my personal information, I reiterate that my lover is a woman. For the woman who asked for my personal information, flattery will get you nowhere. See above.

For the woman who said she’d rather see her lungs dissolve in bloody paste than put a penny in my pocket, I’ve sold 256 masks since you hit send. I hope you survive.

More practical readers inquire about safe drinking water. In the best of times, that’s a scary topic. You should know that 49 million Americans were exposed to significant levels of dangerous substances in their drinking water from 2004 to 2009. Few water system operators were exposed, let alone punished. A 2010 study found hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen, in the drinking water of 31 out of 35 American cities sampled.

If your tap features arsenic (even ‘acceptable levels,’ as many do) you should consider that mice have been shown to be more likely to catch influenza after drinking water with arsenic exposure equivalent to what’s found in many private wells in New Hampshire.

A Swimming Pool in Every Tap

Some municipalities have been declaring turbidity alerts. When your system tells you to boil water, it’s breaking down. Take it seriously—especially if it’s one of those that now recycle sewage, as they do in Orange County, California.

I barely notice these issues. New York City’s water isn’t perfect. Our showerheads tend to contain “a particularly high dose” of a tuberculosis-related microbe that can cause hot tub lung, lifeguard’s lung, and Lady Windermere syndrome, according to the New York Times.

Like water all over the country, my tap water arrives brimming with medicines and toxins. Still, it’s plentiful and it runs downhill from the Catskill Mountains. Raw water will reach my apartment even during a long blackout. My toilet will affirm civilization with every flush.

I also use a reverse osmosis home filter system, which clears most contaminates found in municipal systems—even the omnipresent weed killer, atrazine—but people in areas short of water shouldn’t get one because RO wastes an enormous amount of water.

Power is the biggest vulnerability. Most U.S. towns and cities need electricity to get water delivered. Power stations stock only a three-week fuel supply. Thirst, catastrophic fires, and dangerously bad hygiene are a few possibilities.

Surface water is full of bird droppings, dead fowl, human sewage, and Tamiflu. H5N1 can survive in it. Chlorine kills H5N1, but many water plants stock only a week’s worth of it. Factories that generate chlorine can fail. Transport can break down.

Will we always know what’s in our water? Let’s drink to our iodine pills and hope we’ll never need to eat them.

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