By Scott Sullivan
“How worried should we be about bird flu?” the teaser read. I’m worried my wife’s birds won’t fly away. Squawking, gobbling seeds, crapping … It’s like being in a Hitchcock movie.
Safe to live again without masks and shots, except those from firearms? The STAT website warns avian influenza may be even more dire, epidemiologist Keiji Fukuda says. Never mind spreading fear keeps his type in business. OK, mine in too.
Last we checked on the H5NI virus in 1997, feathered fiends had spread it to 18 people in Hong Kong, killing six. Now a Spanish mink farm has seen an outbreak. Birds to minks to … ?
“Trying to predict what H5N1 will do to humans requires scientific humility,” says Michael Osterholm, University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy director. “I don’t know what it’s going to do.”
That’s why we have medical directors who know what they don’t whereas we’re just schlubs. Take me. In media, don’t need to be qualified to spread fear.
Spain and Hong Kong seem far away compared to Michigan State University, where mass shootings, pedophile doctors and football tunnel muggings are rare. But in fact academia infects us all.
“Anyone who tries to predict anything about influenza is foolish and hasn’t been in the field very long,” says Fukuda. That’s why he’s an expert. Predicting people? We have analysts …
Having attended the U. of M, which to its credit hasn’t turned out a Unabomber in years, I know what to do with whatever fear’s near: Blow it up in print. Medical speculation can fill space between ears and ads. Now find a graphic. Dumb down something uncertain or spurious to start with, build a fanbase so appalled they can’t resist, then on to crime and politics. Fear is like death in Texas; cross the border, you’re there forever.
Moving from the front to fluff, I read of an antidote. No, not for bird flu or psychosis; by reading another teaser; “Why mood music playlists are the soundtrack to anxious times.”
Years ago, Muzak made me anxious. I climbed Escher-like stairs to stay out of elevators. Now, with virus threats going viral, I need a Spotify playlist The best drugs are always sonic.
This story was in this newspaper’s Life Section, called Women’s Section when sexism felt like a comfy bathrobe. Now we’re enlightened, guys can like home and garden tips, human interest and advice columns. Or go Lady Gaga for crime, sports and tire ads. Who can calculate how many sexes there are? The more self-help we read, the less functional we become.
The page-wide photo with this story showed a teenage girl with pink tussled hair and chartreuse headphones laying upside down with closed eyes looking blissful.
With “individualism” next up on the banned ‘isms list I conceded she was me. There I was, upside down with pink hair and troubles tuned out till too late to do anything when in flew my wife’s parrot.
“Don’t infect me!” I cried. “At least put this mask on.”
“What’s with your hair?” he asked.
“Hear this.” The bird donned my chartreuse headphones, was Spotified and went comatose. I was on to something.
STAT asked other H5NI experts whether they were more worried now than earlier about its spread. All said concerns remain but none had a dread thermometer. Up next: the parakeet.
“Watcha got on Spotify?” he asked.
“Who taught you this vocabulary?” I asked back.
“Look what lines the bottom of my cage,” he said.
“A literate parakeet? Beats most people.”
“Betsy DeVos made sure I went to a private school,” the bird said. “We read classics: Sarah Palin’s ‘Going Rogue.’ Dick DeVos’s ‘Believe’ …”
“Wasn’t she Trump’s education secretary?” I asked. “Didn’t Goebbels do that for Hitler? The rage on Spotify to calm people down are classically-tinged songs with a thoughtful, receding quality and bare-bones piano movements. When I was in my teens Pink Floyd did that. Put on these headphones and see yourself.”
The bird never flew again.
Now I’m even more worried. Teen angst about changing bodies, finding meaning and love die as we draw near death older, wiser. Body changes? All recedes into what we called white noise till we learned every term is racist. Why must words have colors?
“Species-ism,” my wife accused when I told her about my cure for her birds’ anxieties.
“They look down on us too,” I said. “Look up there.” Spring’s first robin flew till Joe Biden shot it down.
“You can’t take chances,” said the Missile Minister. “See Batman? Shoot him down too.”
By Scott Sullivan