INDIVIDUAL: Special Agent Peter Miles Regenold Bergman
INCIDENCE OF SOCIOMETRY: Red Pollution Adversaries. A season of activism and recruitment.

SEPTEMBER: Statistics culled from memory often carry more weight than those we can concretely reference. Though unverifiable and not worthy for re-publication in a serious journal, they seem to be fair game for guerrilla sociometry. “The average bike commute on a red pollution day is the equivalent of smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.” The previous anonymous phrase prompted design of the following flyer during a slow day at work.

Amused at the prospect of simultaneously raising awareness about the health hazards of carbon monoxide emissions and shocking car commuters, I set out to enlist some participants. Immediate friends responded with the typical “that’s cool” attitude. September marked the beginning of Red Pollution season in Denver, as the cold air trapped car emissions above the city in a “brown cloud.” Unfortunately the cold air also prompted many bike riders to ignore the Red Pollution Adversaries to “limit your driving.” Consequently, many potential recruits seemed receptive but not willing to commit.

In an effort to find a more militant bike commuters, I attended a “Critical Mass” bike ride on the last Friday of September. Critical Mass is a San Franciso based movement which organizes bike riders to gather in mass and take over downtown streets during rush hour. About twenty bike riders showed up. Many were die hard bikers and/or political activists. I immediately handed out a few flyers and received many more in trade. Though attendance was light, it was certainly enough to block traffic and enhance grid-lock in downtown Denver. At the end of the ride everyone was feeling empowered and friendly; so, I announced my project and handed out more flyers. Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea, or at least got a laugh out of the prospect. Air pollution from cars seemed to be generally disdained by the group. No one pointed out, or seemed to realize, that the activity we just participated in had certainly increased air pollution by slowing traffic and increasing on-the-road-time for motorists. All told, I got rid of about fifteen flyers. Four weeks later, no one has called to express any sort of committed interest. My next move is to secure a few respirators and guilt-trip some friends into wearing them. It seems people need to be handed everything on a silver platter. In an interesting side occurrence, the day after the Critical Mass ride I was driving my gas guzzling 1968 Pontiac Catalina downtown. A group of twenty to thirty people were walking up the street protesting something which remained mysterious to me – despite the presence of several large signs. I immediately recognized several people who participated in the Critical Mass ride.

OCTOBER: I went out looking for respirators or gas masks. The swap meet only offered one, a full faceshield military issue gas mask complete with hose and carrying case. It was a pricey thirty bucks. I went to the largest army surplus store, to my knowledge, in metro Denver. There was much of interest, but nothing of use. Defeated I put the project on the back burner

Several days later Jess, my fiance, and I were eating breakfast in a restaurant. It was a beautiful fall morning. She excitedly talked about the Wonder Woman costume she was planning to sew for Halloween – the following weekend. I had been lamenting my lack of a costume when I was gripped by inspiration. Several years back I had acquired a cap at a thrift store with the mysterious phrase “Liberal Police” printed on it. All the military/uniform paraphernalia at the surplus store would go perfectly with my hat. I would be an officer of the Liberal Police; a division of the Institute of Sociometry. Designing some citations would give me something to do at work the following week. We left for the surplus store immediately after breakfast.

While I agonized over the merits of a brass belt buckle versus a silver one, Jess said, “Hey, how about this.” She handed me an “Extreme Cold Weather Mask” with a velcro breathing filter attachment. There was an entire box of them ranging in price from four to eight dollars depending on their level of filth. I bought one as it worked well with my costume.

The next Friday was the last of the month and time for the Critical Mass once again. Jess and I were excited to ride the tandem bike that she had bought me for my birthday on the eighteenth. As we headed out the door, I grabbed my mask. It wasn’t the type of industrial respirator that I had envisioned people wearing; but, it might keep the wheels of the project spinning. We arrived at the meeting place. There were a handful of people from last month and quite a few new people. We made quite an impression on the crowd. Someone said, “Let’s put them in front.” Many people recognized me, despite the disguise, as the guy with the respirator thing. Though it wasn’t a respirator, the full facial covering of the mask had an amazing transformative quality. It made me feel more ominous. One of the punker/political-activist types who I’d talked to the last ride immediately folded his bandanna into a bandit mask and put it on.

After the ride I tried to hand out flyers again. The announcement didn’t have the same punch as last month. There was a biting cold wind. Everyone, including ourselves, was eager to disband. A man in a full ski mask, that I hadn’t noticed earlier, asked me if I wanted some information and handed me more political flyers. I tried to give him a flyer but he declined on the grounds that he still had some from last time. It was the flyer guy from last time – in disguise. Ironically, I had heard people ask about him earlier remarking that he wasn’t around. He had got the message. His interaction with me confirmed the hypothesis that covering the face was as important as the practical functionality of a respirator.

NOVEMBER: I returned to the surplus store and bought five more masks. As I walked through the store, I overheard a man casually tell his friend, “I’m running out of room to store bullets.”

It seemed I would have better luck enlisting participants if I simply distributed the masks. In trade I would require either a brief story about wearing the mask while bike commuting and/or a picture of the rider on their bike with their mask on. In the end I could compile the information in a little book and distribute it to the participants.

Eventually, I worked up to wearing the mask every time I bike commuted. I was extremely self-conscious about putting it on, doing so away from people I knew – especially co-workers. Once the mask was on, however, it had an undeniably empowering effect. Instead of being the anonymous, helpless bike rider in a sea of cars, I was a frightening mystery, – the bike riding avenger. Many car occupants had a stunned look on their face as I peddled along. It was just the effect I had hoped for. As the weeks progressed, the empowered feeling mellowed into simple routine. As I stopped being so conscious of the reaction of others, incidents began to occur. One night, a few blocks from work, I had a typical bike riders encounter with a car. A man in a jeep came barreling out of an alley onto what he thought was a deserted street. Looking only for cars, he didn’t see me right in front of him. At the moment before impact he saw me and rammed on the brakes.Usually in such a circumstance, the driver thinks anything from “I should be more careful,” to “Fucking bikes, they shouldn’t be allowed on the streets,” and drives off without another thought. This time I turned into his glaring headlights with my white, mask shrouded face, and solemnly flipped him off. I bet he wont forget that encounter.

Everyday, going to and from work, I cut through public housing projects just north-east of downtown. As I rode through after work, a young man in the sneakers-and-puffy-jacket-uniform-of-the-projects wheeled around to face me as I rapidly approached. He dropped into a stance and put his hands out as if he was preparing to tackle me. Though surprised by his action, I was in full commute mode and simply swerved around him. I had assumed he was horsing around; but, as I passed he yelled, “Yo, you a skin head!?” Shocked by his reaction to me I yelled in earnest “No!” It was only later that I realized that the white mask must have resonated with him as a reference to the KKK.

I gave a mask to Jess. She has yet to wear it. I think she is embarrassed. Another friend Benj has expressed interest and I plan to give him a mask. Just today Jess got a call from a man named Ron Cook that wanted to participate in the project.He must have gotten one of the flyers I’ve been periodically putting on bikes around town. It was exciting to get a response from a stranger. I also sent a mask to Dylan, a friend of mine that is halfway through a 13,000 mile bike tour of the entire United States. Four and counting. Things are shaping up.

DECEMBER/JANUARY: The onset of cold winter weather has significantly diminished the psychological impact of the mask on car commuters. There is a ready motive for me wearing the mask in the minds of those I encounter - it’s cold. It ’s an extreme cold weather mask. Perhaps because of this sudden subdued reaction to the mask, or simply the habit of wearing it so often, has diminished any amount of remaining self consciousness. In fact, I often forget that I have it on as I ride to and from work. Putting it on in the morning is no different that putting my coat on. It feels natural. In fact, on the one or two occasions that I haven’t ridden wearing the mask I’ve felt as if something is wrong, like I’ve forgotten my lunch, or keys.

The other day, As I was just leaving the housing projects on the way to work, I passed two men in a paneled utility truck. One of them laughed through an open window and said “Jason,” – evidently a reference to the hockey mask wearing psycho-killer from the Friday The Thirteenth film series.

I arrived at work, put my bike in the basement, and climbed the back stairs. I passed the work area of a co-worker who immediately remarked, “Its the masked bike rider.” Since I remove the mask a block away from the building specifically to avoid weird confrontations with co-workers, I was taken aback by his comment. The remark was acknowledged but no explanation offered. He continued to make references to, and subtle inquiries about, the mask all day. I eventually asked him where it was that he saw me wearing the mask. He had been on his daily car commute and stopped at a traffic light near my apartment. Jess was taking my picture at the crosswalk. The heavy traffic along his commute route provided a good backdrop for my photo contribution to the book. He watched me as she took my picture from across the street. A nurse from the adjacent hospital was walking toward me. She had blue nurse pajamas and a plastic hair covering on. My co-worker remembered thinking, “I hope they get her in the picture.”

MID JANUARY: I was a few blocks from home, on my way to work, when a grey van with a roll of carpet sticking out the back began maniacally honking. I looked, as did everyone else. The man driving turned towards me, smiled a waved. I smiled and waved back. Because of my mask, however, he couldn’t see that I was smiling.

On the way home I passed a young couple walking with their four or five year old daughter. The father and daughter were horsing around – running after each other and screaming. The Father ran up, grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her around toward me. He screamed, “Look at that guy! AAAAaahhhhhhh.” She screamed too, though her’s was genuine.

FEBRUARY: I’ve begun to take my mask off only half a block before I reach the door to work. As I was riding up on this occasion I passed my boss who was parking his car. I had just removed my mask and considered the probability that he had seen me wearing it. Nevertheless, I was relieved that I'd removed it before hand. He didn’t say any thing to me inside causing me to relax even more. As I was punching in, however, one of the office personnel commented to another co-worker that she had seen me wrapped up like an eskimo. I tried not to be drawn into the conversation. We traded some comments about how cold it was, despite the fact that the weather was markedly warmer than it had been the previous few days. Later on she tried to draw me into another conversation about the mask which I, again, maneuvered out of. It was interesting that she commented that the knew it had to be me despite not being able to see my face.

I had just printed up a few hundred small yellow spoke cards to recruit Red Pollution Adversaries with the photo Jess took of me at the intersection. I was driving my gas guzzling beast when I noticed a guy on a squeaky bike with a basket, hat and gloves on, dutifully commuting along fourteenth street. I had several opportunities to turn left - my objective, but neglected them in order to get a safe distance out in front of him. I pulled onto a quiet street, parked, and walked up to the corner. He was half a block and closing. I grasped a flyer and extended my hand just enough to be in his path of travel. His gloved hand reached out carefully and made a successful full fist grab at the flyer. I saw him struggling to look at it as he rode off into the twilight.

Today, after work, a gruff looking homeless man – of the hobo, not the bum, variety, looked straight at me and confidently addressed me. “How does it feel to be wearing a mask?” His question was neither threatening nor genuine. Suddenly broken out of commute mode, I grasped for something to say – “Good” was all I came up with.

TOWARDS THE END OF FEBRUARY: I printed out a few hundred flyers and mailed them to most of the bike shops in Denver and Boulder. Reeves McDonald was the first to respond. Jess took down his name and number. When I returned the call his answering machine picked up, “Hello, you’ve reached Reeves McDonald at the American Nacho Council. No one is here to take your message right now, but if you leave a name and a number someone will get right back to you.If you are having a nacho emergency please call 303... ” On my third attempt I reached him. He worked at the Single Track Factory. I had no idea what this meant but it seemed as if I was supposed to, so I played along. Reeves seemed to have an immediate grasp of the nature of the Red Pollution Adversaries. We talked a little about bike power pranks. He wants to start a bicycle gang. Towards the end of our conversation, I asked him what the second number on his machine was for.He told me that it was a Taco Bell.

Will, the next to call, was certainly more serious. He told me that he used to be a bike messenger downtown but was forced to stop because of the pollution. Will was concerned that the masks I was giving away were not effectively filtering out particles of pollution. Though he is correct the masks are cheap and provide a means to see how many people were interested in the project. Personally, I think the effect the masks have is perfect. Most people, however, seem to miss the association with pollution. Since the Red Pollution Adversary Brigade was growing in numbers, buying some real breathing masks seemed more realistic. I told Will about the imminent possibility of an upgrade to respirators in the near future.

Reeves called back a few days after our initial phone conversation. He told me that he wore the mask and it was great; but, it was a little dusty and he caught a respiratory cold from wearing it. He suggested that I wash them in the future.

MID MARCH: Two women were crossing the street in front of me a block from home. One of them turned, caught sight of me hurtling toward her and belted out, “Ain’t no mutha’ fuckin’ halloween.”

Reeves, Will, and Jess suggested that I try to get bike couriers to wear masks. It seemed like a good idea. Bike couriers are, however, an illusive breed. I dropped off some flyers outside of an independent courier outpost but got no response.The two call backs from the bike shop mailing pointed me in that direction. Unfortunately, most of the courier services in the yellow pages were for airport shuttle services and such. I did send some to the only company that mentioned bike couriers in their ad – Denver/Boulder couriers. A few days later I got a voice mail message from Chris Greilish saying the Denver/Boulder bike couriers were interested in wearing the masks. I called him up and ran through the “safe” explanation of my project. He didn’t need the “safe” explanation, however. Chris could readily see how the humour value of the prank was intrinsically connected to its activist potential. In fact, Chris had already done what Will had contemplated as a messenger – worn a respirator on the job. I described the mask to him. He seemed a little disappointed that I wasn’t giving away industrial respirators. They are expensive, however, and he could relate to that. His sentiment seemed to be in accordance with the last few conversations I had with potential Red Pollution Adversaries. It seemed time to buy some respirators.

As I was riding home I noticed a man on a motorcycle in the oncoming lane pointing at me. His lips mouthed out “What the FUCK!?” Since he wasn’t wearing a helmet, and was directly in the stream of traffic it occurred to me that he would benefit from a mask more than myself.

A couple of weeks had passed since Chris’s call. I was in the middle of a project involving some quick dry cement when Jess handed me the phone. I barked hello into it. A soft spoken man named Javier was inquiring about the little yellow flyer he had picked up in a bike shop. Softening my delivery a bit, while still trying to concentrate on the cement, I went into the “safe” explanation of the project. Eventually he told me that his friend Reeves was wearing a mask and that it seemed funny to him. I asked, “Oh, Reeves McDonald of the American Nacho Council?” Javier laughed, which broke the ice. I began to pay less attention to the cement, quit trying to pretend that the Red Pollution Adversary brigade was a normal and “safe” activist activity, and talked freely. Anyone who is a friend of Reeves has to be a freak.

Yesterday, I sent a money order for $157.00 to the Lyons Safety Company of Germantown Wisconsin for 12 organic vapor/ acid gas respirators. I can’t decide if I should give them to the ten red pollution adversaries, or concoct more of a reciprocal exchange. Perhaps I’ll build a diabolical multi-level marketing component into the brigade.

The twelve Organic Vapor/Acid Gas respirators arrived just minutes before I was out the door to work. I immediately ripped into the box with great anticipation. Each one was individually wrapped. I put it on, adjusted the straps and headed out. It was similar to my experience when I first began wearing the white mask. My eyes searched those of motorists and pedestrians to not any reaction. There wasn’t any of significance. It was a beautiful morning none the less. Spring is coming and some mornings its rather warm. It was nice to not be wearing an extreme cold weather mask.

I was able to send a newly freed up white mask to Jen Boyle an acquaintance of mine who had requested one just after I had run out. Reeves McDonald got one of the new respirators as well. Since Javier Ramirez mentioned Reeves during our phone conversation, I figured Reeves had already fulfilled the terms of the upgrade offer as detailed in this memo

APRIL: I’ve been wearing the respirator for a couple of weeks. The general reaction of the population to the respirator is markedly different than their reaction to the mask. Perhaps the mask was inherently confrontational. People either seemed to love it or hate it. Very few, however, seemed to associate it with air pollution. The respirator has an unmistakable function. Every car commuter and pedestrian that sees me go by immediately understands why I am wearing it. Consequently, the reaction I get is never anything but a silent sullen stare.

Sarah Hong called and left a message on the voice mail. She was well spoken and professional. Her friend, Javier Ramirez, had been commuting with a mask on and she was interested in wearing one as well. She outlined her committed biker credentials and commented that she thought it was a good idea. I told her to claim Javier’s mask. I then sent Javier a new organic vapor/acid gas respirator as her mention of him fulfilled the terms of the upgrade offer. I also sent her, in addition to all other mask wearers, the following limited time offer...

Though no Red Pollution Adversaries showed up in full regalia for the Sociometry Fair, the Red Pollution Adversaries display did attract four new recruits. There was an immediate implementation of the pyramid structure of The Red Pollution Adversaries as new recruits attempted to pass their masks on to someone else at the fair in an effort to claim a respirator.

As April drew to an end, the brown cloud dissipated with the onset of warmer weather. Fair weather cyclists began to appear on the city streets and bike paths. Extreme cold weather masks became unbearably hot, and industrial respirators became an accessory out of place with new spring outfits and clear blue sky. The following memo was sent out as acknowledgement of the general trend, and the desire to take some well deserved time off from activism and recruitment.

FINDINGS: This post-card was mailed to 16 Red Pollution Adversaries the next September resulting in two submissions.

Back of Post Card

A story submitted by Dylan Kuhn.

I'd carried it for more than seven months. It had travelled thousands of miles stowed away in my bag. I had ridden through some small cities, but I wanted to wear the respirator here, in greater Los Angeles, where they invented smog, road rage, and twelve lane highways. I stood on the outskirts of Long Beach, on the bridge over the San Gabriel River, when I took my last breath of unfiltered air.

The dirty white mummy-like respirator covered most of my head, except for the eyes. Those I covered with wrap-around sunglasses. With my black helmet, gloves, and the road-weary outdoor clothes I'd been wearing every day for months, I had no skin exposure at all. I sank into the seat of my filthy, scarred recumbent bike while the jolly roger flapped in the breeze on my fiberglass flagpole. I felt ready to face the apocalypse, and whatever else waited for me in LA.

To begin with, I didn't feel out of place at all. Long Beach is a network of wide, decimated, dusty streets, railroads, warehouses, fences, junk-yards, and factories - an industrial motif. The few people milling around took no notice of me, except for one girl who yelled, "Hey guy on a bike!" I cocked my head at her robotically as I passed.

It wasn't long, though, before I was completely out of place. Just one long twisty hill separates the Long Beach factories from the forested, horse-ranchy Palos Verdes Estates. Unfortunately, though, there was no one outside to observe me, or enjoy the beauty for that matter. I know that many of the people huddled in their BMW's and Lexus sedans could see me, but tinted windows prevented me from gauging their reaction. At last a lone equestrian saw me approaching. He turned around and went back the way he came. It made me feel the hill climb was worthwhile.

From Redondo Beach, past the airport, to Marina Del Ray I rode along the bike path on the beach. Here I was exposed to many joggers, skaters, and cyclists. Most of them watched me go by, with an expression that seemed to say, "I wouldn't talk to you for a million dollars." I didn't even have to wait in line at the bathroom. When I entered, everyone inside just happened to be leaving.

At the marina I started inland along another bike-path that followed a cement drainage. There weren't many people there. I had to remove my sunglasses because the sun was going down. At one point, trying to find an exit from the path, I emerged in a school yard. The kids there stopped to look at me with intense, smoldering eyes. The way you might look at a particularly irritating fly before smashing it. This time I turned around, and found another way off the path.

I made my way to Venice Blvd, then downtown. No one there paid any attention to me, I don't think. Most of my concentration was used up trying not to get run over by a bus. But the people in downtown LA at night seemed to be freakier looking than me on the average. I followed a bike commuter up Broadway. He gave me directions at a stoplight without a second look. The rest of the ride to my cousin's in Pasadena seemed like a shady lane in comparison.

The impact of the respirator seems to be highly neighborhood-dependent. I felt it made the best statement in the wealthy commuter neighborhoods. If I have the opportunity I'll plan my future urban routes for such exposure. But the variety of the experience is more important than the conclusions. After all, who knows what the hell was really going through people's
heads as I went by? Probably something beyond my power to guess, or even imagine.

A photo from agent Jen Boyle
depicting some indoor commuting



Despite the increasingly militant language of the Red Pollution Adversary missives, interest in the brigade tapered off into total apathy, leaving the unit disbanded by the next spring. In fact, interest expressed in the project declined at a rate almost exactly inverse to the increased militancy of the promotional information.

Though several conclusions may be drawn from the above observations, it is important to note that the Red PollutionAdversaries project contained a fatal design flaw from the outset. The focus of the project centered entirely on a seasonal atmospheric event. Thus it was only relevant to participate in the project seven to eight months of the year. The ensuing down-time caused too great a lapse in the attention span of recruits and organizers alike. Dylan Kuhn has embarked on an exciting new life as a cyberhobo and Jen Boyle became proud mother. I married, bought a house, and settled into the comfortable routine of a complacent bike path commuter. There may still be the lone wolf out there,
strapped down with their extreme cold weather mask, or industrial strength respirator, eyeballing passing motorists with the steely gaze of fanaticism. To that Adversary I say,

May your lungs one day burn with pure air and your gaze extend to the distant mountains.

Red Pollution Adversary - Salute!