Columns

2011.05.25 Leaded crystal brain cells.

on . Posted in By The Way

Busy times call for history to repeat itself. Here's a column from the summer of 1991.

by David Green

Our front porch is getting yellower, but our brains are growing heavier.

I think we started our paint-scraping project on the porch last summer. We never got too far because we kept forgetting where we put the scraper.

Underneath the flaking white exterior is a rather durable layer of yellow. Actually, there are several layers involved, but scraping usually ends at yellow. Occasionally, we burrow to a deeper strata of gray.

Anyone coming onto our porch—and wading through the toys and shoes to reach one of the two doorbells that never worked—is faced with a lot of yellow blotches showing through. If visitors managed to get our attention, they at least found some fairly intelligent people inside the door—up until this summer when we all got dumb.

The problem is the paint dust we made from all that scraping. That old paint contains lead. We breathed the dust. Now we’re just another statistic in the U.S. Public Health Service files.

We were too dumb to know about the problem ahead of time. Now we’re too dumb to really understand it. We’ve all got lead in our brains.

Everybody knows about the ghetto kids eating paint chips and getting dumb. Now Newsweek magazine says anybody can get dumb—without even eating the stuff. Public health officials are now calling lead the No. 1 environmental threat to children. Lead-poisoned kids are not as smart as they were born to be.

Nothing to joke about, you say? Of course not. I’ve suffered on that porch through hours of 95º afternoons only to poison my family with a job that’s but half done. It’s nothing to joke about, but it certainly does explain a few things.

• Maddy runs into the house yelling, “Mom, where are you? Where are you?”

She hears the neighbors dog barking and she runs to the window and says, “Mitzie is barfing!”

• I asked Rosanna what she and her friend were going to do.

“We’re going to climb the wall and fall down,” she said. And they did.

• Ben came in hurt Saturday morning after he had an accident with his sister’s bike. The dummy had the handlebars turned around backwards.

I  know I shouldn’t call him a dummy, but lead has damaged his brain. He’s not the same kid anymore. Before Scraping, he never would have considered bringing home an old car battery from a neighbor’s curb. But he did it Saturday. He brought it home on the back of a Big Wheel. He even turned it over to see what was inside.

• Maddy runs naked outside, but she’s usually dressed inside. According to her sister, she’s begun to remove items from her nose and transfer them to her mouth. Nobody in their right mind...

Both sisters are having trouble breathing and walking at the same time and they have the scraped knees and faces to prove it.

Lead from paint dust affects children the most, says Newsweek, but adults don’t escape entirely. Take Colleen, for example. She’s been burning a lot of pancakes lately, and she’s often observed charging through a room with an addled look on her face, saying, “My brain, my brain!” She’s done a lot of scraping.

And me? I was stupid enough to walk barefoot across an open stamp pad the other night on the dark bathroom floor. Silly me. And last week in “Morenci Decades” I wrote that Dr. Keith Whitehouse retired 10 years ago. Dummy! It was only his 35th anniversary in 1991.

But mostly I just sit around staring vacantly out the window with a stupid look on my face. You know, like when the UFO guys come and talk to you and then every day after that your head snaps to the left every five minutes or so. You what know I mean. I’m so confused. I just wonder where I’m going to get the money for vinyl siding.

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