fake-cough and watch them startle

Like most any other internet lemming these days, I have myself a facebook account. Mostly I use it to share silly images or videos, and keep in touch with (and/or track of) the bucketload of acquaintances I made down at Occupy.

The problem, of course, is that when you’re part of the Lefty Fringe, you wind up meeting with people who, while otherwise quite ordinary (for what passes for ordinary amongst the Lefty Fringers, anyhow) also go on about some really weird stuff.

Joke: How do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll fucking tell you.

Most of this I do not mind. It gets the raised eyebrow of WTF and then I scroll by. It’s entertaining, the same way looking at a thunderstorm and thinking “Oh, so that’s where they came up with that particular myth” is — or the way reading up on conspiracy theories is. It’s like having my very own X-Files, and I never keep getting reruns of that grotesque goddamn man-fluke episode. Everybody’s got their superstitions. Thing is, most of us will damn well keep ’em to ourselves and not write huge [TOXINS] internet screeds about [CHEMTRAILS] the secret messages in [WAKE UP SHEEPLE] the Emergency Broadcast System if you [FRINGE POLITICAL PARTY] use indigenous Incan morse code.

It’s okay, more or less. You got your thing, whatever. Long as you ain’t hurtin’ anybody else I will just be amused and then move on. That’s the key part: as long as you aren’t hurting anybody.

Which is why the anti-vaxers make me desperately wish for a widespread outbreak of measles.

I got into it with one of them today. I know better, I really do, I just could not help it. Trying to talk sense into these anti-vax prophets (I use that word deliberately) is about as effective as scolding a cockroach. The roach does not give a damn and you kind of look like an idiot for wasting your time. And yet — I get into it anyway.

I’m perhaps more aware of this than average folks, as several of my near and dear are either immunocompromised or at-risk in one way or another. Let me put it to you this way: a friend of mine travels the world researching pathogens. She is very very good at what she does, and way smarter than all of us. She told me that they make yearly flu-vax shortlist exceptions for people like me who can easily fight off a flu but could carry it to someone it could really damage. “You’re exactly the people we want to see coming in for vaccines,” is basically how she put it. But that isn’t enough, for me to get my yearly jab, because all these people who are important to me have to go out and be civilized around the morons who think a vaccine contains more mercury than a tin of tuna.

The great tragedy of my life: I can’t protect everybody from everything. Call me Garp.

When I see the garbage about vaccines linked to X or Y or Z, I can’t help it. I just see red. What I want to say is: “You are putting the people I love at risk. Get skullfucked by a syphillitic donkey.” But that, for some reason, is considered an over-the-top reaction to people acting like morons about highly contagious and deadly diseases.

Instead I link them to this post called ‘Why We Immunize,’ about childhood diseases and what they do. To date I haven’t gotten a single bit of backtalk. Perhaps it’s all the copied gravestone inscriptions. Teeny tiny coffins. How’d House put it? They come in so many colors; that’s good business. Frog green, firetruck red.

Go back to that link, now. Go read it all, especially the personal stories sprinkled in through the information and gathered fantastically in the comments. Smallpox. Pertussis. Measles. Polio — and that last one fascinates me most of all, because as part of the early-eighties cohort, I am lucky enough to have absolutely no idea what it’s like to live with that threat.

Again, I wish my grandmother was still around. I wish that at least on a daily basis, if not more, and for so many different reasons. Today the reason is that I want to know what it was like growing up when she did, in the twenties and early thirties, and then having kids who were bang in the danger zone when the biggest polio outbreaks swept the country in the late forties and early fifties. I do remember she had a vaccination scar on her upper arm – I think the right arm? – which she didn’t like to show. It must have been for smallpox. It was a round whitish scar, about the size of a pencil eraser. As a kid I was both fascinated (hey cool, scars!) and frightened (oh god, needles!) by it. She’d just laugh it off, because that little scar beat the alternative.

(I find, more and more, that I am turning into her — and that I do not mind it one bit.)

It boggles my mind to think about how many of the things I did were known vectors for polio: puddlehopping, swimming in pools or the beach, hell, even being out in public. The best way for oral-fecal bacteria to travel is through water. I’m imagining being a kid and weighing the cost of a potentially deadly disease versus an afternoon in a sprinkler. Or being an adult and trying to weigh that cost. I can’t wrap my head around it. I’ve been reading on this stuff all day, and I keep wanting to know more, the same way I always want to know about things nobody bothered to tell me about.

I saw a quote somewhere, recently, that theorizes any historical fiction set a hundred or more years ago is practically indistinguishable from science fiction, since technology and social organizations are so different. That is very true. Especially in this case: this polio stuff — Suzie, put your chin on your chest NOW! — sounds like something out of a Ray Bradbury book, with the invasive alien disease in the otherwise idyllic 1950s landscape. The day it didn’t rain, nobody came outside because the puddles could be toxic.

The only remotely similar experience I had was chicken pox – I’m old enough to remember pox parties, where everyone had to go hang out with the kid who got it, because there wasn’t a vaccine and it was best to get done with the damn disease as soon as possible. I had it for a week, raised maybe three spots, and spent my time bouncing around the apartment like a deranged Boston Terrier. My mother, somehow, also contracted it (then in her late thirties) and spent a week huddling in a dark room, miserable as all hell. But now there’s a vaccine for that, and that’s fucking fantastic.

The thing I hear the most — or, perhaps, the one that infuriates me the most — is this: “It’s extinct in the wild. The disease is dead.” No, it’s not. Do just a little bit of research: some are zoonotic, some are still endemic in other parts of the world, some are naturally occurring, and unless we keep inoculating and inoculating until we finally get every last person immunized, they never will be extinct.

Here’s what I wound up saying to that one idiot, and what I would happily like to say to all the rest of them, providing there are no syphillitic donkeys nearby….

“Check out a graveyard from the 19th century and feast your eyes on all those headstones for babies and children. Have ten kids; watch four live to adulthood, at least one likely disabled after surviving something that killed the other six. Shoot the dog when it gets rabies, die of suffocation and/or starvation because of tetanus, watch children drown in their own snot. Sounds like a blast, huh?”

I’ll stay over here in the 21st century, thanks. Y’all go be stupid somewhere way the hell away from me, and everyone I love, and everyone they love, and so forth. Which turns out to be everyone. Stay away from them all, except the skullfucking donkeys.