OK, yesterday on final into Guadalajara, at the height of the flu epidemic, indeed pandemic, predicted to be even more cleansing than the killer flu of 1918, perhaps the beginning of the long-expected plague that would eliminate mankind from the earth, no doubt to the earth’s relief, I was ready for the worst. I had read the papers, after all. I was sure there would be piles of festering corpses in the streets, such as one would expect after a Burundian election. I had read Defoe’s account of the bubonic plague in London, and knew that men with wheelbarrows would be collecting the dead. Especially with today’s littering laws.
Except that, when I had called Violeta every night during the two weeks I was in the US, she always said “What flu?” Ain’t got no flu heah. The schools were shut down, bars closed, everybody hiding from the flu, but they couldn’t find any flu to hide from. My friend Ken, in another town near Guad, reported an equal epidemic of perfect health. It was media flu, he suspected.
I knew better. I had read of the lightning spread, the hundreds of dead, the frightening appearance of cases in New Zealand, comparisons to the Black Death of 1348. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. The only logical explanation was that the Mexican government was quietly disposing of thousands—nay, tens of thousands—of dead so as not to alarm the tourist trade.
We deplaned. An official of some sort was handing out those funny little masks to anyone who wanted one, which practically no one did. Coming out of customs, everybody had to stand briefly in front of an infrared camera that made you appear green on a big screen if you didn’t have a fever, which nobody seemed to. No corpses. I guess they removed them really fast. No coughs. Come on, I thought. You’ve advertised the flu. Now produce it.
Violeta and Natalia picked me up, apparently not dead, and we headed south to Jocotepec. The streets were semi-deserted, traffic light. Maybe, I thought, a plague was a good thing. I mean, you could find parking. Mexico seemed to be taking the disease seriously, doing all the responsible things that one does with a plague. All it needed was a plague. Can you order plagues online, I wondered, being a practical sort.
That evening we went with friends to the Tortuga Sedienta in Ajijic for hamburgers and wine. (I’m not sure you are supposed to drink wine with hamburgers. The question consumes me.) One of said friends was a Mexican doctor, shock-trauma variety I believe, who had worked all over the world. In two hours of conversation, she never mentioned the careening extinction, the eminent PCS to the sky, the Permanent Change of Station that loomed over us like a bad divorce settlement. I guess it just didn’t make an impression on her. Or anyone else.
This morning I leaped like a startled jackrabbit to La Puta Dora and checked the Yahoo headlines, which didn’t mention the plague at all. This was ominous. I figured all the journalists must be dead. A news story I had read put the mortality from the Monster Flu at ten percent, so the reporters must have gotten it several times each to all be dead. So surviving it didn’t confer immunity. Bad, very bad.
What’s the deal? Sure, tomorrow the virus may erupt with renewed virulence and carry off whole populations. I suppose it’s more likely than an asteroid strike. Maybe. The Yahoo headlines did Illinois or somewhere is suspected of killing his third wife. All right, perhaps this is of greater import than a disease that is going to depopulate the earth. You have to respect the editor’s news judgement. (Mmurdering your wife is a family matter and nobody else’s business. How about a little respect for privacy?) But if this flu business isn’t just a media frenzy staged by bored news weasels, why aren’t we hearing more about it? How come I can’t find it, and I’m supposed to be in the middle of it? Habeas corpus, I say.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. Visit his blog.