This business with mysterious infections, folks getting sick and dying, is old-hat up here in our neck of the woods. Seems like just yesterday that SARS — or “Deadly SARS,” as you prefer — was being passed around town in Toronto, and you’d see pedestrians ambling along furtively down busy Dundas Street in their facemasks. Sold a lot of hand-sanitizer, too. Co-incidentally, my buddy Bob owns a company that had just introduced some new topical anti-infective agent, and there was a big meeting of dermatologists from the northeastern US and Canada set for the weekend when the SARS outbreak first occurred. This should have guaranteed that his product would fly off the shelves, but most of the doctors were no-shows, and the sanitizer went nowhere. He’s probably still got a warehouse filled with the stuff.
All this took place six years ago. I should remember it clearly because I paid a preposterous sum to take two out-of-town friends to the Air Canada Centre see Elton John and Billy Joel, and the performers were too cowardly to show up and breathe the same air as the rest of us. Wayne and Bev couldn’t cancel their flights, so we had a leisurely dinner in the Annex, and caught a local band playing on Markham Street, and went for a walk, and it was a nice night out, for all that. Eventually, I got a refund on the ducats, but I’ve never again felt any warmth toward Elt and Bill — and I was basically indifferent toward most of their music to begin with.
That weekend in 2003, the hotels were offering SARS Specials, so the missus and me stayed in a fancy room in the Hilton and hung around downtown. It was really quite pleasant, unless you happened to be pacing, hopeless and panic-stricken, in a waiting room nearby a hospital isolation unit while your parents or children were dying. A guy I’ve known for years, and never really gotten along with, lost his in-laws to that SARS outbreak. I sent a short note of sympathy, not expecting an acknowledgement under the circumstances, and not getting one. I’ve run into the guy since then, and we’ve chatted, but never discussed the SARS matter. What would you say about it?
Now we’ve got that swine-chicken ailment, coming up from Mexico. Our community news media are taking it more or less in stride, although some locals have already been infected. The fellow in the next office was vacationing in Mexico a few weeks back, and I hear him coughing away, but he’s an ex-smoker who works with the COPD patients’ group, so I’m thinking there isn’t necessarily anything with which to be unduly concerned.
I note, however, that the US news outlets are growing ever-more hysterical over this latest crisis. Vice-president Biden evidently just advised citizens not to take public transit anywhere. If he really said that, it sounds like another incident of Mr. Biden’s Ralph Kramden-like tendencies to speak lunacy and then issue an ‘‘I’ve got a big mouth’’ recantation. Another explanation is that the Democrats want to own the panic surrounding disease, the way the Republicans earlier laid claim to terrorism, and use this fear to manipulate the poor, foolish public.
This morning I witnessed two of American broadcasting’s leading proponents of idiocy, MSNBC’s team of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, weighing in on this issue. Commenting on the decision by the German airline Lufthansa to place physicians on each of its flights to and from Mexico, Ms. Brzezinski wondered what good that could possibly do to stop the germs from entering the United States. Ms. Brzezinski bears a slight physical resemblance to Madge, the manicurist in a series of early-1980s TV ads for Palmolive detergent, who would tell her unsuspecting salon customers, ‘‘You’re soaking in it now.’’