Swine Flu and the City

Thank god Arlen Specter went Democrat. Not only is it great for the Democratic Party (and yet another indication that the GOP continues to sink beneath the waves) but it finally pushed swine flu hysteria down the page. I've been in an absolute panic about the disease since Saturday, and only Specter's big day has calmed me down.

It doesn't help that I'm a complete hypochondriac. I wake up every morning fantasizing about the worst possible thing that could be wrong with me. Headache? It's a tumor! Leg cramp? A blood clot! Hayfever? (I've been sneezing for days.) Why, it must be swine flu!

That's certainly what Fox would like me to think, and CNN, and even my beloved HuffPo. "Death Toll Rising" they all proclaim in enormous block letters above pictures of scared Singaporeans wearing surgical masks. In the midst of a heat wave, I found myself wandering through the Brooklyn streets Sunday in a rage thinking "Why are all these people smiling? Don't they know there's a plague on??"

It's been a bad week for anxious New Yorkers, starting with those poor Queens kids. No Acapulco for them next year. No sooner had I bought my new Purell with aloe Monday morning, ready to face the threat of respiratory disease on the F train, than Air Force Something flew right over Lower Manhattan and scared the living daylights out of some already very frazzled people on Wall Street. I work right by Port Authority, on a block that feels like the set of an episode of Law & Order: SVU. The heat wave has brought out the hot dog vendors, and swine (swine!) is being roasted in the boiling sun all day long above pools of fetid drain water from last week's downpour. It's all I can do to not call the CDC myself to report an influx of porcine influenza on 39th Street.

Things could always be worse, I suppose. I could be in Mexico City, where swine flu is currently a serious threat, even though, as Jon Stewart points out, it still ranks last on the list of things that can kill you. I could be in Iraq, where last week the death toll topped 160 in 2 days. I could be in L'Aquila, Italy, picking up the pieces of my life after the massive earthquake that hit three weeks ago. I could even be a Republican, watching Specter walk away.