At last, some fun. My old friend Mark is in much better spirits (evidently not that kind). He invited me to a hot nightspot on condition I not wear a mask or any other “embarrassing” gear. (He must have missed that fashion piece I blogged about.) I consented because I’m bored now that life approximates ‘normalcy.’
That would be a state of anxious boredom. Some dare call it depression.
Mark readily hops social groupings in the best of times, so the guys he was with were new to me. I tend not to have much in common with his friends.
The use of one of their names enabled us to sweep through a mob of elegant people to enter the place. We were shown to a big, central table where about a dozen men and women sat, drinking champagne and vodka.
The guys were twentysomethings of undefined substance. I assumed they had real estate interests. Most of them wore dark office clothes under neat hairstyles, no face fur. They could have been seminary students on a quiet bender, somber about everything they did. Even when they humped women while dancing, they looked distracted.
I was shocked to discover they were into bird flu. They knew about the masks I sell, wore them during Round One. (Was that where my emergency gift delivery went?) I didn’t ask, but they took care of me as if I’d gone to Brooklyn just for them. They bought me good beer all night. (I didn’t want the multicolored vodka things they were mixing.)
The alpha male was of medium height, black brushed-back hair, and intense brown eyes. When he spoke, the others shut up. When he left, I was surprised to see another guy pay for everything.
The young boss knew about pandemic waves, wanted to hear my view of what will make H5N1 come back. I explained this flu’s lethal ferocity, the variety of animals that catch it, the different ways it destroys them—all factors that distinguish this pandemic from say, the one that laid an egg in 1968, or swine flu.
He wanted to know what I thought of news reports heralding a vaccine. I explained that each claim of progress contradicts the others (an epochal discovery every week!) and that there’s no way to produce enough vaccine quickly to stop the disease.
Every “breakthrough” comes with caveats no one wants to consider. Fine print makes terrible sound bites. Will candidate vaccines be carefully tested to see if they’re safe? A public desperate to regain complacency doesn’t wish to hear that today’s rumored miracle never underwent proper trials; they’ll scream for quick approval and sue everyone in sight if it turns out to be toxic.
Quack Alert: Don’t Inject Peroxide
In 1918 people claimed typhoid vaccine worked against influenza. Others said mega-doses of aspirin did the trick. Or quinine. Citing statistics they gathered from their own caseloads, American doctors gave patients heroin, atropine, oxygen, strychnine, epinephrine.
Europeans indulged in vivid concoctions, too. In The Great Influenza, Barry tells of an Italian doctor who claimed success after injecting people with mercuric chloride. Some French physicians rhapsodized about arsenic. A Greek who injected patients with a blend of morphine, strychnine, caffeine, and their own fluids boasted that his subjects improved rapidly and that only 6% of them died.
I came close to clearing the table with that tirade. I captivated them anew by predicting that tens of millions of Americans will refuse to be vaccinated and will want other ways to fight flu.
It wasn’t long before we were discussing a big protective equipment sale that wouldn’t involve shipping. No commitment, but I may have sold more gear in four hours than I did in the whole first round. I’ll do my instant best to replace them.
By the time I noticed a little vial making the rounds, we were discussing Relenza and how much of it must have been wasted by now. (Nina’s dementia proved illustrative.) They wanted to buy Relenza, too, but I couldn’t help them.
Dancing on the Edge—of What?
Gradually I realized these guys were operators, black market types, scammers. Mark must savor exposing me to them. He has always hitchhiked on dark roads and would be a master criminal if he weren’t so lazy. He’s one of those tall, good-looking guys who seem shifty and proud of it. Some people extract charm from corruption.
By then I was watching the gang socialize. At least 50 girls must have dropped by. Most took at least one drink.
A pair of women marched up wordlessly to partake of champagne. They poured and poured into their cups, pausing to let the bubbles subside before resuming. The cute one bore the harried look of a stray canine poaching on a bigger dog’s turf, while her less-gorgeous friend mooched with confidence. She was big-boned, big-eyed, and fearless.
While the men circled the prettier woman, the bold one struck up a conversation with me. She didn’t know or care who was hosting the table and she turned out to be a heck of a dancer. Unlike men who blandly stare into space as they dance ‘erotically,’ I enjoyed her pale eyes, full of light and wit.
The music was modern oldies mixed with synthetic hip hop and no one really cared about any of it until some immortal chords stuttered forth and froze everyone while they tried to figure out what had changed. It was Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and it was vital and riveting and momentarily cleared the air of empty irony.
Mark wanted to split those women with me. In the past, I’ve always gone out after breaking up—taken stock of the world as a single man, brought home at least a headache.
Blame his smarmy attitude or the sappy dance music that followed Nirvana. I wound up feeling toxic, sad, as if something horrible were happening somewhere. I left that hearty babe free to find someone who’s all there. This blogger’s no fun.