"Oxygen street: an autobiographical note"

The oxygen truck is a familiar sight on my street.

I know the oxygen truck is on the block when I hear the hissing sound of the oxygen being transferred from the truck to the customer"s tank. On inner-city streets like mine, home to many old smokers, the hissing sound of the oxygen truck has replaced the scratchy carnival music herald of the ice cream truck. My father was on oxygen for a number of years before he died, and each week on oxygen day he was filled with anxiety as he waited for the oxygen truck.

Sometimes the oxygen truck did not appear on time. Sometimes when the oxygen man came he blundered and didn"t give my father enough oxygen, so my father spent the next week with his head filled with the calculations of his own demise - if I have x oxygen in my tank, and oxygen is being delivered to my lungs at a rate of y an hour, then how many hours will I have oxygen? How many hours will I live? This is, as one can imagine, a bit more harrowing than the calculations of usage associated with a deliveryman from a more innocent era, the milkman.

In each house on my block the oxygen-users with their various lung ailments sit in their recliners and make their own calculations. They calculate how long ago it was that they were able to breathe without a hose attached to their nose; how long ago it was that they didn"t live in mortal fear of the household dog puncturing the oxygen hose with a playful bite; how long ago it was they were able to go shopping without pulling a miniature oxygen tank on wheels behind them.

On the door of the house across the street is a placard: Danger. Oxygen In Use. My neighbor sits in her recliner, watching television and breathing in the cool oxygen. Her relatives and friends occasionally slip out onto the porch for a cigarette, their minds filled with their own calculations.

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