Monday, April 27, 2009

Thank You, Masked Man...For Nothing

Who was that masked man? I wanted to smack him upside the head.

I had just about forgotten this swine flu business this morning when a guy walked by me on Broadway wearing a mask.

This clown was done up like Jesse James, so either he was planning to knock over a bank or he's actually a bigger hypochondriac than I am.

This was right outside my office and if it had been a few seconds either way, I wouldn’t have seen guy and would have probably been a little less stressed. But I did and now I’m not.

I was tempted to yank the mask clean off his face and yell at him for overreacting, but I didn’t want to catch any of his germs. So off he went, leaving behind paranoia like the Long Ranger dropping off silver bullets.

I’ve had a lot of trouble with my health over the years so talk of germs, bugs, infections, outbursts, pandemics, plagues and imminent death tend to make me a little nervous.

When I started reading the news about the swine flu, I, of course, hit the panic button with both hands.

Clearly, I’m not the only one. As I write this, Reuters is reporting that “panicked sellers fled investments in air, land and sea on Monday as fears of a flu pandemic rekindled memories of the Asian SARS crisis that caused widespread industry turmoil six years ago.”

Reuters said that investors wiped $5 billion off the value of leading U.S. airlines in just 10 minutes of trading, with all of the carriers most heavily exposed to Mexico racking up double-digit losses.

Meanwhile, top EU health official urged Europeans on Monday to postpone nonessential travel to parts of the United States and Mexico because of the swine flu virus. And the Daily News is reporting that New York business people are worried that swine flu could keep tourists away from the city.

The News quoted a CDC doctor who urged Americans to wash their hands frequently, avoid crowds if possible and stop "giving that little kiss of greeting right now." He also said masks are not needed…yet.

I was working at Goldman Sachs during the SARS outbreak and one our tech guys, in a lame attempt to be funny, said “I have SARS” when I asked him about a project he had forgotten.

People in Hong Kong wore masks all the time during the SARS outbreak and some of them actually were decorated with elaborate designs, proving that there’s no need to give up on style just because you’re terrified.

Maybe I could wear those Mexican wrestler type masks and adopt a germ-fighting alter ego as I put a hammerlock on disease.

Nothing to Sneeze At

Of course worrying about a problem does absolutely nothing to solve it, and in this case, it’ll probably make matters worse by weakening my immune system. And that makes me worry even more.

I ride the subway to work, which is kind of like a biohazard on wheels. People cough, sneeze, spit, scratch their privates, relieve themselves, and probably do a whole hell of a lot more stuff that I don’t even want to think about.

I almost laughed when a news story offering tips about the flu advised staying six feet away from other people. Stand six feet away from other people on the subway—during rush hour? You’re lucky to if you can stand six inches away.

I’d have to be the motorman to get that kind of privacy. (What’s that job pay, anyway? I'll do it if they give me a mask.)

All morning long I’ve had that Police song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” playing through my head as I moved away from anyone who so much as sniffles in my general vicinity.

I’ve often been tempted to wear surgical gloves on the subway since so many diseases are spread by touch.

It wouldn’t be as obvious as a mask, particularly the desperado special that clown outside my building was wearing, but I could still get some protection.

However, I know that if I start wearing gloves, in no time at all I’ll be wearing a face mask, then a hazmat suit, and then a deep sea diver’s outfit, and pretty soon I’ll be done up like Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, which is kind of overdoing it for the R train.

I’ve always been good at washing my hands regularly, but now every time I touch a doorknob or a banister, I picture billions of icky little germs waiting to pounce on to me skin. And they’re all wearing masks.

I pressed the button on the elevator--ack! I used the ATM across the street from my office--ack! Where's my space suit?

When I’m ill, I warn my friends and family to keep their distance and do my best to stay away from the rest of the population. It seems like everybody else walks around coughing and choking without the slightest regard for anyone around them.

I know people are frightened about losing their jobs, but a couple days away from the office will help you to recover faster and make me breathe a lot easier. So if you’re not concerned about your own health, the least you could do is worry about mine.

This morning I cough a few times and made a superhuman effort not to freak out. You’re just clearing your throat, I told myself, as my blood pressure rose. No need to be alarmed.

Okay. So we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Worldwide problems call for worldwide action, so we have to present a united front.

Now let’s all pull together and beat this thing. And if you cough on me I’ll beat your brains out.

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