In a post 9-11 world, running around anywhere in public while wearing a gas mask may not sound like too hot an idea. For reasons that are not as obvious as one may think, the gas mask carries a social stigma- one of fear. While this is understandable, being that the perception of a gas mask is the threat of “gas”, it is also a shame because the gas mask is waaaaay more than that– or at least, it can be.
When gas mask running here in my home town of New York, I have had to confront not only the potential prejudice of others and the understandable concern of lawful authorities, but also my own fears of having possibly transgressed an unspoken barrier of social contract. For a long time, I was worried that at any given moment I might, despite quite innocent motivations, suddenly become the focus of acute fear and that people might actually perceive me as a threat. Whatever it might look like, I am indeed sensitive to the mores and taboos of the society in which I live and do not necessarily have a problem with them most of the time. Believe it or not, I hate to think my activities may lead me to be a pariah. Thankfully, after nearly three years of consistent gas mask jogging in the very heart of 9-11 land, this has not happened.
I’m quite lucky. New York City has a long tradition of giving a wide berth to the unexpected and unusual. New Yorkers will put up with a lot of shit, but we won’t necessarily take shit. I’m sure that if I were to loose my bearing while gas mask jogging in their town, New Yorkers would be all over me like stink on a gorilla, and I would be praying for the police to rescue me from their clutches. Yet with very few exceptions, I have been allowed to make my way all over NYC without hindrance. This is in no small part to the efforts I have put in to “demilitarizing” my appearance as much as possible.
Originally my concept for the Gas Mask Jogger/Swineflu Avenger included the military-based look. While this may be hard to avoid, given that I am wearing a military issue gas mask, flak jacket, helmet & carrying a 10 lb baton/simulated rifle, I found that I felt more comfortable, and also felt that others would feel more comfortable if I were to look less militant. Besides, “militant” isn’t exactly my style, although I am a proponent of using the military mindset, skills and knowledge for purposes of self- and civic-empowerment. So, I wear a blaze orange safety vest with reflective strips over the flak jacket, had a custom made matching helmet cover for the Kevlar brain bucket, reflective orange gloves, and have covered my baton in blaze orange gaffers tape. Previously, high visibility material was an accoutrement to the gear, while now it has become a central feature.
Typical Swineflu in full gear.
The blaze orange covering has advantages. Firstly, it makes me not only visible, but glaringly visible. I am a safety nut– maybe not all the time, but certainly when it comes to Swineflu Avenging. Wearing a gas mask places one in a state of sensory deprivation. There is a loss of peripheral vision, a feeling of claustrophobia to the uninitiated and the distraction of having a near two pound slab of silicone strapped to you face. The rest of the gear doesn’t help the situation. Appearing as a shiny, twinkling orange blob to motor vehicles, bikes & pedestrians is in everyone’s best interest. It prevents casualties which must be avoided at all costs, which leads me to the first two rules of Swineflu Avenging…
Rule #2– injuring oneself is almost the worst thing that can possibly happen while gas mask running.
Rule #1– becoming responsible for someone else’s injury is absolutely thee worst thing that can possibly happen while gas mask running.
My primary purpose, as a gas mask runner, in to train. If I am broke, I can’t train. My secondary purpose, although it follows on the heels of the primary one, is to promote the gas mask as the most awesomest exercise device the world has seen in the modern age– and I intend to be it’s ambassador. If anything bad happens to me or someone else while I am wearing a gas mask in public, I have not only fucked things up for me, I have done so for the gas mask. This might also deprive many people the exhilarating, empowering experience of training is a gas mask, and I would certainly not want to do that.
Secondly, the blaze orange gear (I hope) allays any fears that I may be up to no good. Yes, I may be someone in a gas mask, but provided I continue to otherwise behave respectfully, the orange safety gear should contribute to the gas mask being overlooked as a potential threat. I become visible enough to enter ones field of vision even at it’s most peripheral. As such, there is a part of our brains that is always tracking vision and movement. A bright orange blob will be spotted and tracked by our brains long before we would ever become consciously aware of it. Theoretically at least, if you were to be suddenly surprised by the fact that there was someone across the street running by in a gas mask, you would have already been subconsciously aware of the presence of an orange spot having entered your field of vision and moving slowly past long beforehand. Therefore, you might not find the situation so startling.
The blaze orange covering also provides me with an even surface upon which to affix identifying name tapes as well as carefully chosen propaganda material, namely in support of the Drug Policy Alliance (NO MORE DRUG WAR!) and Subvoyant Post-Production, my home away from home. It positively affirms my identity as a Swineflu Avenger and gas mask runner-in-training, who wishes to avoid any mishap or misunderstanding and pass peacefully through the world. It also puts me out in the open in such a way that there can be no dispute that I am not trying to sneak around. I have nothing to hide and what you see is what you get.
If you see Swineflu-- say Swineflu!
Still, people may not always be thinking the way I would like them to and I must leave room for things to go wrong with their perceptions. After all there is a “War On Terror”, and while I personally feel that it’s purpose has less to do with protecting us from “terrorists” and more to do with us terrorizing ourselves, I can’t blame anyone for thinking the worst. As far as I’m concerned, the so-called “War On Terror” has turned most Americans into a bunch of sniveling pussies who’ll shit their panties the moment the world fails to conform to their expectations. Like it or not, running around New York in a gas mask may play a part in that which I do not intend. Basically, 9-11 really fucked things up for gas mask running. Too bad.
Lastly, by being shrouded in blaze orange reflective gear, Swineflu Avenger is offering a courtesy to lawful authority and security concerns by providing a clear and easy target. I have never, ever been so cocky as to think that I wasn’t possibly walking on eggshells with the general public and law enforcement. I have run in full Swineflu mode through such places as Wall Street, Times Square, routinely run over the Brooklyn Bridge and up Center Street in Manhattan, past all manner of government buildings. I may be deliberately pushing boundaries (however gently?), but I do so always assuming that I am in the cross-hairs of a police sniper’s rifle, and am being very carefully tracked as I pass by. Let there be no doubts that I offer myself humbly to all those who might need to take me out, as the easiest damned target they ever had.
If you’re not scoping me out down a rifle barrel, you’ll be happy to know that acquiring a good sight picture on a Swineflu Avenger should be no problem for even the most jittery of pistol wielders. All you gotta do is put the little “snow man” (1) on the “big orange blob” and gently pull the trigger. My flak jacket is the old PASGT model and was designed to protect the wearer from low-velocity, oddly-shaped projectiles. If you throw a rock or beer bottle at me, there’s a good chance it won’t penetrate. And while there is some conjectural evidence on the interwebs that the PASGT vest can stop the smallest of rounds, there is no doubt in my mind that anything 9mm and above is gonna go straight through it– and into me.
To drive it home, the orange reflective gloves allow my hands to be seen at all times. This is not just convenient for using hand signals in traffic, but also lets anyone know where my hand are in relation to my body, avoiding potential accidents. If/whenever I get stopped by police, my hand movements are readily observed.
My baton is a “simulated rifle” for the purposes of Swineflu-type training, but covered in blaze orange tape allows its outline to be clearly seen and leaves less room for surprises. Most people seem to think it is a wiffle bat of some sort. I have to know for us both that it is indeed a ten pound steel rod, 39.5 inches long. While encased in foam rubber, it does have the potential of injury, which as has been stated, is my goal to avoid at all costs. Fyi, I have never dropped the baton while in the process of Swineflu Avenging.
So this leaves us with my one big beef concerning the issue of the gas mask and possible public perception of it as a threat. I’m one of those crazy people who sincerely believes that if you are doing nothing wrong, then you are doing nothing wrong. This includes activities that others may not appreciate, understand or even be outright hostile to. I hate having the feeling that I am doing something wrong when I know I’m not, and will do everything I can to prove otherwise.
There is nothing wrong with wearing a gas mask in public.
Of course there is common sense involved and one must be prepared to answer questions to the curious and concerned. The only caveat so far as I have ever been able to figure out is that one is not allowed to hide ones face with the intent, or while in the process, of committing a felony, as this would be wrong– in case anyone was getting it confused with the statement above.
Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler-- one of the greatest Punk Rockers of all time, and the patron saint of Swineflu Avenging!
While I must admit that twice I have heard from police officers that it is “against the law to cover your face in public” (once in passing, the other time more definitively– but in good spirits), I can only assume this is with felonious activity in mind. After all, if this were true, all forms of face covering at all times would be illegal, and this would be downright nutty. If it is cold and someone is wearing a ski-mask, is it illegal? What if it is not cold but they just feel like it? Granted, wearing a full-face Halloween mask in Springtime would be weird, but if you aren’t actually doing anything wrong, what difference does it make? What of people wearing religious garb? If an area is open to the public, should someone in a burqa be any less threatening than an orange-clad jogger in a gas mask?
Well, maybe. I guess my point is that it is all a matter of context and public perception. There has been little or no precedence until now for a gas mask to represent anything other than “gas” or “someone deliberately concealing their identity for the purpose of committing a felony”. I would of course like to see this changed. I also argue that the gas mask actually offers little in way a threat.
If one decided to use the gas mask simply to conceal their identity as part of a criminal activity, then they have made a poor choice. Unless that person was one of those multitasking types was out to exercise their lungs while holding up a liquor store, they would find their breathing inhibited to a detrimental degree– even if the mask was performing adequately. Depending on the type of mask they were using, they might find themselves passing out. With certain models, if the filters aren’t fitted right or the valves are faulty, the wearer could be re-breathing their own carbon dioxide. Better to just get a paper bag and poke a couple of holes in it.
Unless you know what you are getting into, chances are your gas mask is at best obsolete. Surplus masks are unreliable for anything except as costume. Just because a gas mask has a “filter” on it, that does not mean it is effective for anything related to Nuclear/Biological/Chemical protection. If you do some research and are lucky, you may be able to get something that would be effective for general air pollution, but that would be all. If the mask isn’t fitted properly, not only will you be uncomfortable, but you’ll be compromising its ability to protect you. Most likely, the average mask wouldn’t even work for tear gas. I hope to get into more detail about this later.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you ever saw a “terrorist”? Was that “terrorist” wearing a gas mask? Did the fact that s/he was wearing a gas mask have any bearing on the type of antisocial act they were committing? In other words, was any kind of “gas” used as an active part of that event?
Despite the 9-11 and Oklahoma City “terrorist” attacks, neither had anything to do with threatening gas or the use of gas masks in any way. In Europe, where actual terrorist attacks have been way more commonplace over the past sixty years than in the United States and prepared for at every turn, I can’t find any evidence that either gas or gas masks have played any role. Fifteen years ago in Japan a destructive religious cult set off sarin gas bombs in the Tokyo subway, but so far as I can tell, the attackers themselves did not use gas masks while committing the act.
Besides, I do not see how “terrorism” can represent any real, practical threat against the common American citizen. A mere three-thousands people died in the 9-11 incident. While it was certainly a dramatic horror without compare to the American psyche, our grotesque overreaction to it is hardly warranted, and is nothing when compared to the type of shit the United States has been up to during its spotty history. Instead of responding to a complex situation with introspection, brainpower and patience, we immediately opted to use brutality. We think violence can solve our problems, and this is the hallmark of a sadistic, psychopathic personality. There is a considerable discrepancy between our national persona and our true selves; our ego and our alter-ego. We are not the nice guy angels we make ourselves out to be. This however, is a little off the topic, so I’ll spare you– for now.
To put the 9-11 death toll in perspective, remember that FOUR-HUNDRED and FIFTY THOUSAND Americans die every single year from tobacco related causes alone. Throw on an extra three-hundred and fifty thousand more for bad diet and one-hundred and twenty thousand for alcoholism. Additionally, when one considers the total number of American lives that are wasted because we don’t have an adequate national health care system, coupled with all the other forms of preventable death experienced in the United Sates, the death toll comes to around a cool one million a year. Compared to this number, an isolated three-thousand would almost be a pittance– if we weren’t talking about human lives.
Also keep in mind that our economy collapsed due solely to the decisions and behaviors of other Americans calling themselves “Conservative” and “experts” who led us to believe they were “fiscally responsible” and protecting our best financial interests. As Americans, we routinely engage in the kind of self-destructive behavior that any terrorist could only dream of causing. We are our own worst enemy. To think otherwise is delusional.
I believe that at best, the cause of 9-11 was a failure of our security forces to prevent it, and not simply an act of “terrorists”, from whom I would expect nothing less. Someone doped our watch dogs and put the guards to sleep. Perhaps it was simply incompetence, perhaps it was calculated. If you can’t figure out what I really think by now, I’ll tell you some other time.
If public fear over terrorist threats could be construed as a reason against the gas mask, then I argue that…
…any law preventing Private Citizens from wearing gas masks in public would be to deprive them of the ability to train with the one piece of equipment that could save their lives during a terrorist attack.
Keepin' it real.
Gas mask training by the general public would empower people into being less fearful of attack or intimidated by the authorities trying to protect them. At worst, it would improve their cardiopulmonary health by leaps and bounds. And that would be if you believed “terrorism” posed a significant threat. Iiiii, on the other hand, do not — and wish to promote the gas mask as a health device. Anyone who has ever been exposed to dense, urban traffic knows all too well the perils of being forced to inhale noxious gas. Imagine running in it. There is no reason why anyone should have to tolerate the very real and immediate threat of pollution when they don’t have to. Wearing a gas mask in such environments eliminates all of these dangers because that is exactlywhat it was designed to do. No one should be afraid of this on account of misdirected public fear. And, if you couldn’t train in public, where else could you train?
Keepin' it REAL real!
There will always be the assholes who deliberately seek attention as part of committing an antisocial act– as opposed to the more sneaky types of assholes who appear completely “normal” as part of committing an antisocial act. I have to concede that I may well get confused with the former, and that this may lead to occasional trepidation by the public or warranted inquiries from law enforcement. I am very happy to say that virtually all of my experiences with the public and the law have been positive and that I have never been told to stop what I was doing or that if I were to continue to do it, I would be arrested. If confronted by police, I have always taken off my mask immediately and offered to show them positive identification before they even have a chance to ask me first. If in contact with police who are not otherwise confronting me, I always offer to remove my mask as a courtesy. There have been plenty of times when a police officer was just making a curious inquiry as to my motivations, provoking a friendly discussion, rather than an actual confrontation. When passing any police officers, vehicles or posts, I always give a salute and greeting. More often than not, I have the salute returned.
To be sure, in Fall of 2009 I sent letters of intent, describing the Swineflu Avenger project, along with pictures and copies of positive identification to Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Kerry and at least five NYPD Precinct commanders around New York, including the Central Park Precinct, where I do most of my training these days– and I never heard back from them. Let me be on the record that as Swineflu Avenger, I have done everything I can to be completely transparent about my intentions and candid about my activities. I hold myself solely responsible for my actions and all consequences stemming from them. I have always made myself available to inquiries from anyone who asked and despite my appearance, have done everything I can to mind my own business and make the smallest impression possible. Furthermore, I attest that I have never made the life of lawful authority any harder than it already needs to be.
Unfortunately, there are communities that may not have such a wide berth for the unusual as New York City. Such places may absolutely object to anyone wearing a gas mask for any reason other than an officer or soldier in the line of duty. There are those people and authorities that may believe that because one is doing something different, that this gives them the right to be an asshole. I would love to hear the stories of any brave soul who wished to jog around Washington D.C. in a gas mask for some reason. Still, if you are doing nothing wrong, you are doing nothing wrong. If a free, private, common American citizen or legal resident wishes to do a little gas mask training s/he should by all means oblige. There may be a few hairy eyeballs or the occasional un-empathetic police officer to answer to, but why should that stop you? “Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect”, the motto of the NYPD, also goes a long way for anyone doing something unorthodox in the public sphere.
I feel strongly that ones mental and physical health are the next American Revolution. If you are patriotic in any way, either to this country or some other, to humanity or Life in general, then it is in your interest to live as long and as healthy a life as possible. This makes us available to be of service to our fellow living creatures and helps make the world a better place. Gas mask training is probably the greatest step one can take in this direction after exercise itself. There is nothing that one can do without wearing a gas mask that wearing a gas mask won’t make better. Not even sex. Perhaps especially not even sex. (2)
With this, I sincerely wish that anyone who might care to don a gas mask in the name of strengthening the heart & lungs, protecting their respiratory tract from ambient pollution, improving ones health in general or just plain old doing something fun & freaky– feel free to do so safely and in good spirits, without any negative repercussions.
PS: While in Swineflu mode, on more than one occasion I have been asked if I was a “Libertarian”. For the record, my response is “Hells NO. Libertarians are a bunch of pussies– I AM AN ANARCHIST!”
(1) The “snow man” refers to two dots used on pistols to line up the front and rear sights. When the two dots are one on top of the other, the shooter will know the barrel is pointed straight– and so will I.
(2) Swineflu Avenger can neither confirm nor deny that he has ever been involved in any gas mask related sexcapades– with another person.
**All contents of this blog, including original, specialized terminology regarding gas mask training are trademarked & copyrighted by New Whitey/First Civilian Division, 2011.**