Season's Greetings

Illustration by Mike LeeFLU SEASON IS THE ONE TIME OF THE year when American companies consider treating their humans as well as they treat their machines. Some, such as the Weekly, offer preventive care in the form of on-site injections. Others shy away from prevention, opting instead for such post-infection accessories as cough drops, get-well e-mails or, if you're lucky, powdered chemicals that, when released from their vaguely metallic (but ultimately plastic) packets and stirred into hot water, become tasty, lemon-aluminum-insecticide beverages. The venerable Tylenol® Flu NightTime Powder, for example, not only dissolves quickly, but provides substantial temporary relief from the aches and pains associated with influenza and common colds. (If fever persists for more than 24 hours, you're fired.)

While I've enjoyed dozens of influenza-tinged rest periods in the course of my fabulous career, my all-time favorite flu attacked in 1990. I was employed as an assistant piece of shit on the first season of what came to be a popular television sitcom. In addition to $9.10 an hour, the producers provided their pieces of shit and assistant pieces of shit with fresh bad doughnuts and fresh bad coffee each morning. Special tables were brought in and designated "morning doughnut coffee tables"; as such, they remained free of other cuisine. With one exception: When the flu conquered more than half the crew simultaneously, the production company saw fit to embellish the doughnut coffee table with an endless supply of venerable Tylenol® Flu NightTime Powder packets. I'd never before seen, let alone consumed, a just-add-water beverage of acetaminophen, phenylalanine, diphenhydramine hydrochloride and pseudoephedrine hydrochloride in an inactive base of ascorbic acid, aspartame, citric acid, D&C Yellow #10, FD&C Blue #1, FD&C Red #40, FD&C Yellow #6, flavors, silicon dioxide, sodium citrate and sucrose. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, what effect such a combination of chemicals, pigments and temperatures might have on my sinuses: For two weeks, everything smelled like a child's chemistry set left uncapped -- all of it -- in the afternoon sun and then, in the evening, doused with Country Time Lemonade. Ah, sweet influenza . . .

In 400 B.C., Hippocrates wrote of an outbreak of flulike symptoms in northern Greece (out Perinthus way). On October 5, 1999, Reuters, "the world's largest news and television agency, with 1,946 journalists, photographers and camera operators in 183 bureaux serving 157 countries," reported that 430 "stomach pills" had been purchased by a grown-up in Hong Kong for US$15,440. Prior to that, the pills had been in the company of two unlicensed pharmaceutical sales representatives -- an ambitious pair who convinced the 43-year-old that they, the pills, could cure this winter's millennium bug, the disease that she, the 43-year-old citizen of Hong Kong, had been seeing and hearing about so much on television and the radio and billboards and the Internet. These self-made sales reps persuaded their prey that she could make tons of money simply by reselling the magical tablets to those of us home sick with a bad case of millennium bug or potato famine.

Whether or not anyone fesses up, I believe there are untold dozens, even thousands of 43-year-old citizens of Hong Kong living among us. These 43-year-olds of all races, ages and creeds -- people we know personally, even -- do not have time to make the petty distinctions between biological and computational bugs and viruses. "First the kids got it," they'll say, calling in sick, "from one of the 486s at school. Then they came home and gave it to the cell phone, the vacuum cleaner and the microwave . . . so now I've got it."


Before you buy drugs from strangers, peruse the Computer Virus Myths ( database, where you'll find articles on, and discussions of, myths and misconceptions specific and generic, hoaxes, media fiascos and overblown threats from the crossroads of vandalism and computer programming.


From the University of Kansas Medical Center's Department of Clinical Microbiology and Virology comes A Cytotoxic Lymphocyte Killing an Influenza Virus-Infected Epithelial Cell: The Movie ( While the clip's visuals can hold their own against any monochrome videomicroscopy, the pop-and-deflate sound effects are what will make this an important part of your collection.


At last, someone has invented a better fly swatter. Or maybe not better, but . . . different. Slightly. Download their desperate video plea ( for venture capitalists to bring their patented Fly Devil (what appears to be a standard fly swatter fitted with a rectangular . . . sponge?) to market. Recommended: Watch no more than once, then trash.

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