Cohabiting with anthrax and crazy bioterrorists

When I was younger, nuclear war was my big fear. My perceptions of nuclear reality were largely shaped by old movies and TV programs like “The Twilight Zone,” and so I used to worry about whether I would have enough time to run to the fallout shelter at the fire station once the air raid sirens went off.

Living across the street from a missile design plant didn’t help much — I knew my neighborhood was on the Kremlin’s high-priority vaporization list. I fantasized about moving to Australia because I thought I would be safest there.

As I got older and the Cold War ended, I replaced apprehension about nuclear war with fears about other spectacular forms of death, ranging from snapped elevator cables to black widow bites to home invasion to rat poison in my Halloween candy to the hantavirus. Alien abduction was also a concern. Yeah, I must have been a real fun kid.

By the time I had become a senior in college, however, I had matured, and I could get through the day without worrying it would be my last. I could occasionally relax on an airplane. I no longer needed my parents to be sleeping in the adjacent bedroom. Even taking up crack cocaine seemed more low risk. (Okay, I’m still afraid to do crack, but don’t fret, Mom: I’m working on it.)

The last time I was in Washington, D.C., I was in second grade. My dad tried to take me on the subway, but I had never been on a subway before, and I refused to go, afraid that either 1) I’d get mugged or 2) The tunnel would collapse. This Thanksgiving break, I will be spending a few days in D.C., and I have been looking forward to using the subway in the nation’s capital and officially conquering my 15-year-old fear.

But now, I don’t know if it’s such a good idea, what with terrorists crawling all over the place. The day I take the train to the Smithsonian might be the day Osama bin Laden looses his nuclear bomb on the Mall.

Of course, being in a taxi when that happens probably won’t offer me much more protection. I’m starting to wonder if it might be more reasonable to avoid the terrorist attractions — I mean, tourist attractions — altogether.

Although I’ll admit I’m a bit frightened by the Islamic extremist agenda for America, I’m not so intimidated by the whole anthrax thing. Criminal profilers who have examined the contaminated letters believe the perpetrator is most likely a domestic terrorist unconnected to bin Laden but really jealous of his fame.

My own expert analysis of the letters has led me to conclude that the person is left-handed. Although nothing spells “evil genius” quite like “left-handed,” no evil genius spells “penicillin” with an “a,” as we’ve seen in the recently released letters. Apparently, we’re dealing with a copycat moron who can’t use a normal pair of scissors.

It’s really irritating to me that this idiot has both managed to kill innocent people with his amateurism and has distracted America from the tragedies of Sept. 11.

Don’t be too concerned about receiving powdery death in your P.O. box. Although as a Yalie you probably think you’re the most important human being since Louis XIV, the average illiterate bioterrorist from Trenton, N.J., ain’t never heard of you. You’re not a target. (As far as I can tell, there’s only one undergraduate here that conceivably could be, and I’m willing to bet she doesn’t open her own mail.)

Although the Post Office now thinks that letters physically near the terrorist ones might have been cross-contaminated, you’re about as likely to catch second-hand anthrax from your Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes junk mail as you are to encounter Ed McMahon hefting a 5-foot check up your entryway stairs.

One of my suitemates is such a hypochondriac that he claims he can “feel” the germs emanating from sick people. When President Richard Levin announced that rubber gloves had been made available to “all those who open mail,” my suitemate freaked out.

“I open mail,” he reasoned. “I need gloves, I need gloves. I open mail.”

He started to scratch at the imaginary anthrax crawling all over his body.

And I thought to myself: “That guy worries too much.”



J.P. Nogues is a senior in Davenport College. His columns appear on alternate Thursdays.

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