It's finally here in our nation's capital. The dreaded West Nile virus has made it all the way from the left side of that big river in Africa (the "Amazon"), and now we're listening for the tell-tale hum of mosquitoes struggling to stay aloft with their bodies swollen with disease. (And trust me, there's nothing scarier than a mosquito that's so chubby it's got an "outie" belly button.)
Solemn-faced newscasters have been hired for the emergency, temporarily replacing the perky former cheerleaders who usually read the news, since they've never been solemn in their entire lives. ("Solemn? Is that, like, when your manicurist cancels at the last minute?") While we are grateful to the local media for keeping us informed about the threat, our thanks go particularly to Fox News Channel which, against its better judgment, did not start its evening newscasts with "GIANT DEATH MOSQUITOES IN D.C.! We'll tell you how you can survive right after Sports, Weather, and an interview with the third runner-up on American Idol!"
Apparently the virus preys first on the weak and infirm, as opposed to, say, convicted corporate executives, who are rich and incarcerated. Experts have recommended that the best defense against exposure to the virus is to stay indoors and wear one of those beekeeper hats, with the mesh netting. (By the way, did you know you can actually eat stuff through the netting? But it has to be yogurt, and not the kind with the fruit on the bottom since that gets caught in the mesh, no matter how much you lick it. And then it just stays there all day, attracting insects such as mosquitoes. Not that I've tried it.)
If you go outdoors, the Centers for Disease Control suggests you first apply DEET, a powerful chemical repellant that must be used with extreme caution. Which explains why it's marketed with a dancing cartoon bottle with bouncy eyeballs, a cute little guy that children just love. In fact, if I was a kid, I'd want to pick him up, give him a hug, and then take a big, thirst-quenching drink from the decorative green bottle. But you shouldn't, on account of it's poison.
The worst thing about the West Nile virus is that it could be anthrax. Or, for that matter, the common cold. There isn't much difference in the early indications. Medical professionals have warned us to be on the lookout for "flu-like symptoms," but that could be anything. In fact, it's just about everything. Got a headache? ("Hey, it's been nice knowing you.") Muscle aches? ("Dude, tough break. Can I have your stereo?") Watery eyes? ("GET THIS MAN TO A HOSPITAL! [sigh] If only he'd worn that beekeeper hat—with matching safari cloak—that I saw at Banana Republic.")
Why can't really scary diseases have really scary and obvious symptoms? After all, whooping cough gives you the whoops, right? So why can't the West Nile virus give you oozing facial warts, or maybe an extra finger growing out of your neck? There'd be little risk of contagion since people would steer WAY clear of somebody like that. Heck, even at rush hour you'd get your own subway car. (GUY WITH FINGER STICKING OUT OF HIS NECK: "Is this seat taken?" GUY WITHOUT FINGER STICKING OUT OF HIS NECK: "No, please sit down. I was just about to leap onto the tracks anyway.")
And SPEAKING OF diseases with common symptoms, why can't anthrax give you whirling eyeballs and a high squeaky voice? And why can't Legionnaires' disease come with a fez hat and an uncontrollable desire to ride around on little motorcycles? (Or is that Shriners' disease?) These days you just can't tell a medical menace from a chest cold:
AMBULANCE DRIVER TO DOCTOR: This man was just bitten viciously by a snakehead fish that crawled into a Wal-Mart!
DOCTOR: How can you tell?
AMBULANCE DRIVER: Well, they always have that big blue sign, and lots of cash registers.
DOCTOR: No, you moron! I mean how can you tell he's been bitten?
AMBULANCE DRIVER: Oh, that. Well, he's got flu-like symptoms.
I guess I just miss the old days when a plague looked like a plague, and people pushed around wooden wheelbarrows full of rotting corpses, leaving little confusion about whether the sick needed a nasal spray or a back hoe. Nowadays, all the medical schools really have to teach students is how to say, "Yep, you've got flu-like symptoms, whatever that means. By the way, can I have your stereo?"
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.