I feel so dirty. And yet so ... clean.
The other day, I spent the afternoon making random calls around the southern half of the country, asking questions that could, I suppose, seem a little, well, creepy:
So, what are you wearing? I ask in a low, gravelly whisper.
"Um, a T-shirt and a pair of ..."
Mmmm, yes. T-shirt. Is it because the sun is shining there? It is shining, isn't it? What does the sun look like?
"Well, it's ... Oh, I don't know. Only an idiot would look directly at ..."
Ooh, baby. I bet you're soooo hot. You are hot, aren't you? What's the temperature there, right now?
"Huh? High sixties, I suppose. But what on earth is ..."
Sixties? Oh, yeah. Daddy like. How about the sky? What does that look like? It's blue, isn't it? With maybe a few puffy white clouds. To be honest, I don't even remember what the color blue looks like anymore.
"Ohh-kaaaay, I'm hanging up now ..."
Wait, no! Please, don't hang up! Just do one more little thing for me: Take a long, deep breath in through your nose and describe the way the air smells, the way it feels in your lungs -- and speak slowly, and don't leave out any ... Hello? Are you still there?
Speaking of crud, I'm guessing that some enterprising young meteorologist could make a little money with a 976-prefix weather number for northern Utahns to call, just to hear about the environment in a place where temperature inversions haven't reduced the atmosphere to the consistency of used motor oil.
We could call it "air porn."
But seriously, this inversion stuff is getting old. And the real irony here is that we Utahns are usually so particular about what goes into our bodies. I mean, we've either outlawed, or repeatedly tried to outlaw:
* Indoor smoking
* Outdoor smoking
* Smoking near entrances and exits to buildings
* Smoking in stadiums
* Smoking in parks
* Smoking in vehicles when children or pets are present
These days in the Beehive State, we make it harder to get a drink than to get hitched. We've even mandated our children must be shielded from the very sight of someone pouring an alcoholic beverage.
And yet, we send those same children out into the dirty winter air each day, with nothing more than their pink little lungs for protection.
What's wrong with this picture?
Do you suppose if we told the Utah Legislature that our air was in direct violation of the Mormons' Word of Wisdom -- and really, when you think about it, it most certainly is -- they'd immediately pass a law banning all temperature inversions?
Right now, we're all complaining about our unhealthy winter air, but we don't seem to be able to find the political will to actually do something about it. Well, I think I've got the answer.
Wanna spur Utahns to action? Do away with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality's silly color-coded Air Quality Index, with its yellow-, orange- and red-alert days. Instead, replace it with a more graphically accurate "packs-a-day" warning system -- one in which the current air quality is compared to a smoking habit.
For example, on days when the air quality is listed as "moderate" (currently represented by the color yellow), that would be the equivalent of, say, a one-pack-a-day smoking habit. On an "unhealthy" day (currently, red), it would be a three-pack-a-day habit.
In each case, a colorful graphic featuring the corresponding packs of cigarettes -- sort of like a star rating system for movie reviews -- would visually illustrate that day's unhealthy air.
I suspect that if the good people of Utah started viewing their air quality in terms of a smoking habit, they'd insist the Legislature do something about these inversions, forthwith.
Of course, knowing our lawmakers, that would most likely come in the form of a House or Senate bill requiring a physical barrier to shield children's eyes from looking out across the valley and seeing what their pink little lungs are breathing.
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.