The Price of Air
By Dana Mentink
Need air? That’ll cost you seventy five cents. I too, found this information stunning when I drove my rickety old Toyota to the gas station to fill up the tires. I stood there holding the air hose, staring at the neatly printed sign.
There it was in black and white—air: seventy-five cents. And quarters, everyone. None of those piddly dimes or nickels. Don’t think you can have as much air as you want for your fee either. I only made it through three tires before the supply dried up. With no more quarters at my disposal, the Toyota and I wobbled away, slightly deflated.
Air had a price.
Yes, the moment had finally come when the powers that be had figured out a way to charge for everything. I drove home under a dark cloud. Was any basic necessity free in this cruel world? Food? No way. My Safeway card was still smoking from the last grocery bill. Water? Nope. Warmth? Ha! Don’t even get me started on our winter electricity bill. And now air. The planet was officially commercialized. Sheesh.
Still reeling from the air realization, I wandered out to the back yard in search of my mysteriously quiet children. I found the two of them sitting on the grass on an old beach towel, still and quiet in a patch of spring sunshine. Still and quiet? I hastened my pace to find out what was ailing my little people who are never still and rarely quiet while conscious.
They sat with their backs to me, mesmerized by the cloud of finches darting in and amongst the branches of our crepe myrtle. Clutching the Bay Area Birds Book, they whispered as they identified the creatures that bobbed like colorful, feathered ornaments on the branches. Every now and then the girls would pass a pair of plastic toy binoculars back and forth to get a better peek.
This uncanny silence continued. I sank down in a chair and watched them watch the birds. The show was fantastic. Plenty of drama as the yellow guy edged out the red one for a beakful of seed. A bit of humor from the tiny one who seemed to have landed on a spring-loaded branch. And sadness to see the weaker birds get pushed aside by stronger members of the flock. They rose and fell in a whirling cloud of color.
A glorious show in my own yard, an uninvited, unbelievable private pageant. So amazing was this performance that we all sat in relative silence and watched God’s splendid spectacle right in our own humble yard. The parade of birds seemed as unending as my children’s fascination.
I wondered as I watched. Clearly nobody had told these birds that there was now a price for the air in which they danced. The little birdbrains didn’t know there is nothing free anymore. They didn’t realize that in our highly advanced society everything comes with a price that must be paid.
The birds twirled in their private ballet, oblivious.
They weren’t going to hear it from me.