Gas Stories

Gaia tried to hide the flammable air, but the humans found it.

For the past two weeks I have been losing sleep and ramping up my anxiety because our furnace is malfunctioning. They call it “short cycling” in the business. Which means it goes through the motions of starting up, makes all the right sounds, even turns the blower on to circulate air throughout the house. But it’s cold air, because the gas failed to ignite. After a couple minutes, a safety sensor shuts down the furnace and starts it up again five minutes later. It will repeat the process a few more times, and if ignition continues to fail, the furnace will shut down completely until it is manually manipulated.

Which is what I do in the middle of the night, when I wake up with a chill. I have the flashlight and screwdriver set by the bed. The first time this happened I took off the hose that drains the condensate and flushed out the wet dust bunnies and cat-human hair that tends to clump and block the flow. This seemed to be the fix, for the rest of the day anyway, until 3:00 a.m. the next morning when I woke up with the chills again. This time I turned the thermostat way down low, switched off the power, unscrewed the cover doors, and stood by the furnace for five minutes praying to the god of houses and heat to wake up and stoke the fire. Then I replaced the doors, switched on the electricity, and upped the dial on the thermostat. Wonderful warm air blowing out the vents. Then back to restless sleep to wait for it to happen again.

It will work fine throughout the day, with or without my anxiety, until bedtime. This is the routine. It’s a long story, but there’s a reason I won’t call the technicians. They gave me the runaround this same month two years ago, trouble-shooting, changing switches, cleaning sensors, charging a couple hundred bucks, and saying all looked fine. Until the middle of the night when it shut down again. And again. I don’t call them anymore, especially with coronavirus on the prowl. Don’t need professionals to tell me I have a fickle furnace. Don’t need COVID and a loss of a couple hundred bucks to not fix a problem.

I don’t think we need gas either, but that’s just because I’m crazy to think so. All this anxiety over a gas furnace. My ancestors survived without one. Some were quite able to maintain a sense of humor while chattering enamel off teeth on February mornings. The successful ones managed to eat and make babies because here I am. In 1851, my 3X Great Grandpa, William the Farmer, had a house with five people, and a woodburning stove and fireplace to heat it. And they all lived! Several hundred years before William, Throops of England and Rizzos of Italy (lines of patronym) had stone fireplaces. Five thousand years ago, a community fire in the clan circle kept the stories coming, even if the heat wasn’t so efficient. Forty thousand years before that, a fire got lit in the forest any night folks had to cook their kill and/or not freeze to death.

Of course we don’t have the wood to heat our enormous indoor spaces, cars, airplanes, space rockets, and favorite Chinese take-out franchises. Even if wood was rapidly renewable, it is so much less efficient than burning coal, gas, and oil. And the efficient methods (wind, solar, geothermal) burn countless tons of fossil fuels in their creation, and re-creation (not to mention disasters in mining and disposal of waste). Our problem is how we live, why we live this way, and who says it must be so. All popular methods and measures for living in the modern age are raising global temperatures. So much chatter about sustainability, so many important people paying lip service to the doom of global warming, yet all are mute on what needs to be said.

And that is this:

We must be forced, not persuaded, to cut off nine parts of our carbon footprint. Within a year, not twenty. Yes the economy must be crippled. Yes, democracy must die. Majority rule will never vote to reduce fossil fuel use to pre-industrial levels, which needs to happen now to retard the effects of the sixth extinction. Who do you know who would voluntarily load up his or her Corolla® with nearly everything and drive it into a pit, just to save a million-billion species (and perhaps its own) from extinction? We can’t even stop shopping at dollar stores run by the Sino-American plastic nonsense cartel. Having a birthday party? Dollar General® has an all year sale on streamer rolls made in a China factory village, loaded onto trucks, then trains, then ships and sent round the world to be unloaded onto trains, then trucks and then shelves at Dollar General®. All for one dollar! The streamers could have been made with old paper, some crayons, love and a wee bit of talent, but Bill Gates needs to thrive for our great grandchildren to afford real estate at the north pole and gobble up any parrot or porcupine who felt the need to move there too.

Gaia is begging us for our own sake (and she never begs), to get with the program (followed by the rest of life), and act immediately. She gave us coronavirus to kick-start the effort. It is estimated that this year global CO2 emissions were reduced by 7%. Wow! We survived! And with our smartphones in tact. And also our cars, bowling alleys, jet airplanes, pork spareribs, satellite launches, Seattle brunches… All we had to do was let a virus turn down our knobs a little bit. Nothing really changed. An extra valve opened for the boredom to flow in, that’s all. No longer could we eat out every night just because we felt like it (and were overpaid enough to afford to). Can you imagine the reduction in CO2 if plane travel was ended? There weren’t any planes in 1902, but there was Mark Twain, and trains (say that three times fast). How about eradicating the factory manufacture of place mats, decorative sconces, coffee mugs, ChapStick®? What if we outlawed everything we don’t need? I’ve read that food-related CO2 emissions would be reduced by 60% if the world became vegetarian by 2050. Also 68% of the world’s arable land would be freed up for agriculture. Divorce that animal husbandry! Vegetarian means you still get to eat cheese, which is awesome. Eggs too! What if the meaning of “to be human” metamorphosed from being “insatiable feeder of earth” to “conservator of life”. What if we didn’t have a choice, and either obliged or had our arms cut off and composted in fields?

Enter the Philosopher/Warrior King and Queen in possession of great climate wisdom. (Listen to Lou Reed to imagine the arms spread over lentil fields).

This week the good news is out that coronavirus cases in the U.S. are below 100,000 a day for the first time since November. Great, we can lick this thing on two fronts—physical distancing wearing masks, and a robust vaccine rollout. So, what does the Governor of Montana do? Well, he ends the mask mandate of course. “Cases are low boys. Hell yeah, it’s about time we stop lookin’ like sissy male nurses in our pick ups.”

The Governor of New York won’t be out-stupided by his backward colleague out west. He decides to increase customer capacity at restaurants on Valentine’s Day, the perfect time to express your love and the Governor’s newly discovered penchant for reaping death, like he did to the old and infirm in nursing homes.

All this bipartisan political short-sightedness over coronavirus ensures that, as it pertains to the environment, the planet is doomed by democracy implementing status quo bureaucracy. I think we understand the problem, and cognitive dissonance forces us to push it out the door. If we can’t (won’t) collectively adjust to save our neighbor’s skin, then forget about preserving the continuity of oak trees and grandchildren. Powerful politicians and world leaders aren’t basing decisions on how they will effect junior’s asthma, let alone the next seven generations. They set the platforms and parameters of systems that the masses follow blindly, impotent to implement drastic change collectively. People are allowed to pick a side, although no side plans to upset dysfunctional homeostasis wrought by infectious greed. The banality of evil is not reserved solely to enormously influential ideaologue/demagogues controlling bureaucracies of the past. Modern democracy shall continue to ignore the dire warnings of science to satiate the wants of the very few while maintaining the normalities for everyone else. Even these dysfunctional, dystopic normalities we suffer day after day.

No one is innocent. No saints of the environment will be anointed. No Green New Deal can be successful wherever dried cereals are shipped over state lines to populations who have never experienced a world without General Mills, Inc®. There might be a Green New Deal for more jobs, but more jobs means more carbon, and leftover inhabitants of Miami floating in Hard Rock Stadium, post game. We need less jobs, not more. Less pets, less cheese, less wine, less status to dine. And we’re not gonna get that good news under the present political and economic systems. We need an Octavian or Octavia philosopher emperor to strip us of all rights while doing his or her best to preserve the dignities.

This year, without our permission, a pesky, deadly virus dropped carbon emissions by 7%. You see, earth is giving back to earth by forcing human beings to slow down, scale back, and live with it. I cannot fix my furnace. There are moments during its malfunctioning that I don’t care if it ever gets fixed. I just want to acquire a little land and build an insulated hut, heat it with wood, and gather some books to read. My wife and I live in too much house for two people. We both work from home this February, and nine-tenths of the heated space remains unused all the time. Big furnace heating most of a house for no one. Complication churns the ridiculous. We know we must cut back tremendously. But look left and right, look ahead and behind. Nobody else seems to sense the inevitable. The tribe isn’t ready to give up the trinkets. There’s got to be a chief among us to take them from us. But how? And when? Next year is not soon enough.

I’m ready to relinquish false liberties to stabilize a climate. I’ll shut my mouth and turn the compost. I’ll sleep in the corner on a hot stone, and boil lake water before drinking. Maybe next round, Gaia will send us an emperor of climate wisdom, rather than a more deadly pathogen. Probably not. After coronavirus no longer posed a shutdown threat, everyone turned up the heat to party like it’s the end of the world.

I know it’s not much, but it is all I intend to do. I will keep a 100 mile radius awareness often but not always, avoiding purchase of any non-food product manufactured more than 100 miles away (I’ll try the same with food too when just mildly inconvenient). While waiting for the emperor, I’ll continue to hang my laundry out to dry when the temperature outside is above 50°F, drop my meat consumption by 75% and work toward a permanent vegetarianism (I don’t even know what that means).

This is more effort made than anyone else in my family has promised, and I’m sure many friends and acquaintances too. And I’ve thought enough about the problem to write about it, which means I probably worry about environmental catastrophe more often than my neighbors. And yet this is all I got to sacrifice, which is practically nothing plus a malfunctioning furnace I don’t need because I never had to live so large in a brief lifetime.

That’s my reality as an individual confronting the carbon crisis. And we should just forget about the collective power of democracy stepping up to solve big problems. There are three Dunkin’ Donuts drive-throughs in my little town, and some of the best people I know would make a secret deal with the devil to poison my groats if he would keep the wheels of Coolatta® machinery turning. If Gaia declares I’m not worthy to walk her back skin, as pitiful as my carbon footprint reduction is, one can imagine the dreadful plan she has for the rest of us put together.

In the meantime, while we wait for her next move, I’ll keep a record to leave to my descendants proving that fools never stop fooling themselves. Good clown stories will help fuel the clan fires of the future.

Damn! The furnace shut off again.

In 2015 at ArtRgae Gallery in Syracuse, N.Y., I had an exhibition about the insanity of hydrofracking. ArtRage created a nice promotional video. Although I wasn’t as upset as the narrator made my words out to be. Even relatively stable, happy people should feel the need to collectively mind-torture the gas frackers. But he makes me sound so beside myself with rage. I was just thrilled to exhibit after a long winter.

The following are two excerpts from the exhibition book I published for the occasion:

Particularly Nice Weather, Tar and Tickle Texas Feather

While at the periodontist yesterday I read a recent interview with Bob Dylan in AARP magazine. Rotting gums, Bob Dylan, and a bland publication representing a powerful lobby of 35 million members. Not much excitement to look forward to after 50, if I decide to tow the line with this lifestyle. Anyway, Dylan remarked that he is no longer passionate, that that’s a young man’s game. The elders should seek wisdom, or at least shut-up and fake it with boring silence. Yet in the same interview he admitted that perhaps there isn’t a generational difference between the minds of old and young after all. Maybe grandpa can relate to all things granddaughter and vice-versa. Then he told the interviewer that he doesn’t worry if his records sell or not. His business people take care of that.

Here is a point in time where both wisdom and passion can collaborate, if one chooses to act, whether she be fifteen or fifty-five. First the facts up front. Bob Dylan is a multimillionaire who has a business team of professionals working for him night and day. The AARP is a multimillion dollar lobby putting all American people over 50 in a blender and aging them together on high puree. A periodonist is expensive but worth the investment if you still long for a kiss at midnight, but hope to avoid your lover’s tongue prying off your lower partial.

Now I will spend a moment in my imagination, and work through the institutional obfuscations that plague all innocent ninety-nine percenters of the earth, and leave them daily worried, bewildered, and confused. The media has never been so practically omnipotent wielding its power to keep minds, and what are supposed to be wiser minds (those over 50 at the periodontist), at rest, in a kind of living death-rest way. I read what Bob Dylan has to say, and suddenly feel, that yeah, maybe he’s right. I shouldn’t be passionate anymore. I should just grow old, find drugs to decrease my joint pain, and shut up. Even if I arrived to the periodonist singing along and imagination dancing to what Jagger and Richards thought passionate back in 1974, I must come to terms with my old age eventually, give up all firecracker energy in my veins, get out of the car, check my belt, adjust my glasses, and enter one of the many waiting rooms of my future. No spark. No passion. Just quiet wisdom. And look! The latest issue of AARP. Advertisements, pop culture, television, an interesting hobby, travel, gum disease, tooth extraction, and then death. Many studies have proven that the dispassionate actually choose what type of deodorant to buy. The dispassionate want quick weeknight meals, packages to tropical island getaways, historical vignettes, and even an interview with an elder, creative millionaire who, at present, is pretending to be a 1940’s lounge crooner.

Sometimes my mind can work through these persistent media distortions. I actually agreed with Bob Dylan, until I got back into my car, turned on the CD, and listened to his 1981 non-smash hit, “The Property of Jesus”. The gears began turning. I thought about my upcoming painting exhibition on hydrofracking, an adulthood of going my own way (always against the AARP grain), and strangely enough, my lifelong friend Pat and an expression he’d often share with me. (I’ll get to that in a moment.)

Some righteous lyrics from the song “Property of Jesus”:

Stop your conversation when he passes on the street
Hope he falls upon himself, oh, won’t that be sweet
Because he can’t be exploited by superstition anymore
Because he can’t be bribed or bought by the things that you adore

When the whip that’s keeping you in line doesn’t make him jump
Say he’s hard-of-hearin’, say that he’s a chump
Say he’s out of step with reality as you try to test his nerve
Because he doesn’t pay tribute to the king that you serve

Say that he’s a loser ’cause he got no common sense
Because he don’t increase his worth at someone else’s expense
Because he’s not afraid of trying, say he’s got no style
’Cause he doesn’t tell you jokes or fairy tales/
say things to make you smile

Boy, I know that feeling Dylan had and evoked with this song, and it’s not just for the Born Again Christians, of which I am not one at present. It is radical, for humans anyway, in the sense that it is deeply rooted in our DNA and impossible to kill. It is the essence of individuality expressed as righteousness unto the clan. Society needs more individuality, not less. But not the kind that promotes itself, rather one that nurtures love of life, and right environment for all to share. Very difficult to love life from a cesspool. I believe that every healthy mind feels this way, that is, morally, upon waking up in the morning. At least one begins each day moral before the virtual onslaught of media mores, which sadly have become the norm in gaging how society behaves in public. That is, wholly dispassionate, quiet, careful, without opinion expressed outside of the everyday fact that “I am human”, just as any streamlined institution says what it is depending on the product to be sold or the idea being disseminated; “I am fruit cocktail”, or “Liberals are communists”, or “I am Bob Dylan the wise old man who could afford a private nose-picker if desired”. “The Property of Jesus” lyrics express what it truly means to be human among humans… Passionate for the betterment of all. And I don’t see any age requirement. As a young born again Christian holding tightly to an easy millionaire’s morality, Bob Dylan wasn’t feeling ostracized because he rode around in private planes, but he sure as hell should feel that way now.

Okay, back to my friend Pat, and what he said to the opposite sex a few times when we were fourteen. He would walk up to a girl he knew, she might be opening her locker or sitting on the bleachers at a football game, and he would whisper by her ear, “Tickle your ass with a feather?”

The girl would exclaim, “What did you say?”

To which Pat immediately followed with, “Particularly nice weather?”

This memory pops into my head from time to time. I can’t help it, the brain is a mysterious recollector. Anyway, I come home from the periodontist, all jacked up with angst and gum pain, and I start painting while day dreaming of what I really want to do to the gas men, which is, tar and feather them. Unfortunately, it’s already late in the day. I have been AARP’d and orally violated to the point of my drool bib getting Pollocked all bloody, so my age begins to show by nightfall, and although I want the corporitos publically humiliated and dragged through the streets, I remember my media training in dispassion, and write instead,

Particularly Nice Weather, Tar and Tickle Texas Feather.

It’s the safer way to keep eyes affixed to the painting. Even though it will hang at a gallery called “ArtRage”, I am reminded by Bob Dylan and the AARP that it is foolhardy to make passionate expression at late middle age. Even if I have nothing to lose! Opinions are always suspected. Negative ones can place you in the order of fanatics. Once Bob Dylan expressed his belief in Jesus, he immediately became a fanatic to the cultured, dispassionate public. If I tell (or yell) my fracking woes too loudly, I will be deemed environmental fanatic. No one ever calls the gas lobbyist fanatical, maybe because he dons a suit and manicure, but what is he if not Mr. Fanatic himself, spending a life’s profession pushing for just one platform? Even I, as painter, will go on to the next subject after ArtRage. We, as dispassionate Americans, allow this trespass on our families, without a fight. It is polite. Shhh. Quiet. It is best to pretend wisdom like Bob Dylan getting old.

After leaving the periodontist and coming home to paint, which is my passion, I realize now, more than yesterday, that AARP Magazine will never show on its cover the face of a sick child affected by water and air pollution produced by hydrofracking. They will continue to feature dispassionate people like Bob Dylan in his cool new hat. He won’t mention hydrofracking either—his business people frown on political opinions generated by old millionaires. It upsets the purchasing climate. AARP would sell less Toyotas® and prescription medications, and Bob Dylan would pass away wondering why nobody cared that he dreamed he was the septuagenarian idol of the bobby soxers.

I need to work on my passion. Not only is it the voice of wisdom, but it’s all I have internally after a life lived loving Bob Dylan songs. When fifty, I’d rather be the property of a defunct Jesus, than belonging to the old age club that credentials anyone, even a pimp or pedophile, simply because they have hit a time marker. I hear tortoises and elephants can get into the AARP too, provided that they reach a ripe old age in captivity.

I am taking art to the level it was meant to be. Presently I am documenting our last battle.

I am one man, one artist insane, crazy enough to place the entire hydro-fracking debate onto my shoulders. I have taken up a position, and now will give the only argument morally acceptable. I shall schlop onto canvas, paper, and hardboard the property rapists of my country in all the colors of their inside organs and respective juices. After viewing my show, all pro-fracking dreams will blow out of the state quicker than the greedy butt-crack stampede from Texas that brought them here.

I shall not take up a scientific argument on the process. Hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale has the potential of poisoning the groundwater for hundreds of thousands of people for many generations. A man need only hear this news once to react. Just using the logic of foraging black bears would measure some intelligent questions to follow. Who is to profit from these drilling ventures? Is it true that there are cases where tap water out west can be ignited from a faucet? What are the chemicals used in the process? Why doesn’t the industry have to disclose them publicly? Pushing millions of gallons of freshwater laced with up to a hundred chemicals (publicly known and unknown) into the rock bed under high pressure to release mass quantities of methane just doesn’t sound that safe, does it? I mean, even to a moron, or an alcoholic, or wife beater. So why does the Governor of New York State allow this kind of Texas oilman trespass upon his constituents? True, the silent-majority of Americans are mostly short-sighted and selfish, always ready with an opinion on either side of the death debate.

Farmer Ted: “A hundred grand a lease? That’s powerful money. I don’t want government telling me who not to poison. Where do I sign?”

Governor Andrew: “Eight million to my super PAC? Screw New York infants!”

I am working on a painting to shame the governor out of his fine Italian suit. I have the bones of his grandmother, Immaculata, in a red dress, being shot from her Long Island grave by a geyser of liquid carcinogens. Some shore birds and other funny creatures are hanging out in the cemetery on a moonlit night. Words across the sky might read: “Hey Governor, We Sure Hope That Immaculata Isn’t Fracked Out of the Very Ground You Saturate With Poison”. We’ll see what kind of reaction I get from our state boss. I will put on a price tag of six thousand dollars. Maybe he will buy it to destroy it. Half of the proceeds will pay my tax to the Onondaga. The other half will go toward a bigger painting of shame until the Governor uses his overpaid trooper gang to escort Texas oil the hell off our land.

Laissez-faire capitalism was a grand party for the chosen few during the 19th century. And it ran like a top beside the presence of cholera and death-by-childbirth. Such frequent miseries kept all survival joys in check. A slave workforce made anyone not a slave much too busy to oversee the rich neighbor’s trespass. And the water was always dirty poop, for science had not yet escaped the confines of the Pentateuch. God took little Johnny because it was predestined to be. What matter that Grandma picked pole beans with fecal fingers? Or that they laid Johnny to rest with his lead toy soldier ten feet from the well-sweep? Suzy was next, and the family watched her every move with working dread.

Today we know better. We know a lot about the environment and the fragile balance that exists wherever man settles his toxic prejudice. Modern families don’t pour known carcinogens into their wells for a paycheck. Yet for some wicked reason the government by the people, and for the people, wants to persuade the people to consider this action as an economic opportunity. Poison our kids and we will reap wonderful financial benefits. Instant winnings for the well leasers. Trickle-down, cheap energy for everyone else. A few, maybe even thirty dead kids, but all iPhones still humming at Cafe des Artistes on the Upper West Side.

Politics have officially warped into a vile adjunct of corporate power. The Governor knows hydrofracking has the potential to make all life around it sick and dying. He knows that the majority of his lunch friends are corrupt, negligent, and possibly homicidal in their dealings with the red-faced Texans and their high greed agenda. Yet he still touts childhood cancer as a regretful, albeit necessary result of hydraulic fracturing.

We who matter should have our legs sawed off for being such cowards. Why is my call for immediate arrest of the Governor ignored? He should be unkindly imprisoned for life for perpetuating this phony debate endangering the better health of our friends and families.

Another angle to consider is this: New York State government has no authority to offer these carpetbagging cheese faces high bid rights to our land. The chemical water shoots over boundaries, and seeps across roads.

It’s a vote of no-confidence folks. Take a walk in the woods to reflect upon who has power over your family and friends. I shall start paying my tax to the true nation-state where throughout this life I rest my travel bones. The Onondaga base their policy decisions on how the seventh generation will be affected. Oh that is wise. And strong. The Governor could use a real father-chief to slap him down in shame before the rest of the tribe.

The dumb among us will take all of their neighbors to the justice of the Onondaga quicker than a frack-gush up the proverbial coke nose of avarice.

We are so poisoned in the brain by this government we prop up by virtue of a coddled economy.

Here’s a take from a long dead Atlantic traveler on how man has become a useful pawn of the present state:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

—de Tocqueville

Those local clans still bearing a conscience need to organize a mob. The land men want your land. The companies they represent want to see your babies get sick for a profit. A super biggie profit. A hot dangy-dong-diddle-dee-doo kind of big fat Texas goo profit. A glass of cool, fresh indian water and not-so-indian carcinogenic compounds to quench a summer thirst. A Saturday night bath and a red rash tattoo for little coughing Tom and coffin Sue. What’s it worth to you, shale squatters of the present moment? A temporary new smell in a shiny red pick-up? A pole barn envy? The NFL Sunday ticket?

They desire a hot ejaculation of benzene and phenol into your village groundwater. The Governor hovers above in a trooper chopper, rubbing his hands together in a show of fiendish glee. He longs to see all of you rurals heaped onto a pile. Your pathetic firehouse vote is laughable to the millions of Manahattas sucking the earth out from under your feet. A hundred grand to sicken my family for life? Really? That much, eh?

Okay, I’m in. Wait till they see my loaded Deere® at the Grange. That hog Harold Hoenow will be green from envy, or that Vanadium cocktail he shared on the porch with Ruth.

No, I have to hope there is still a slurry of indigenous righteousness left swirling in our guts. Please good people temporarily living atop the ancient beds of shale, be kind and hospitable to the landmen at your door. A smile and a kind word is all anybody needs. And on a hot summer’s day, a cold glass of lemon-lime aid sweetened with antifreeze wouldn’t hurt either. It might teach these raunchy carpetbaggers to prey on their own kind back in the dumbed-down, drought-dried southlands of arrogant ignorance.

They’re coming to a door near you. Get ’em.

Does anyone reading have a little land for sale in upstate NY? I think this is the year for the tiny house.

Thanks for reading!