AIDS! I remember reading about it in The Wall Street Journal like it happened yesterday. The truth is it was back in 1985 and Rock Hudson had it. An insidious disease was carried by one of Hollywood’s great leading men.
I was in my late 20s and a researcher for an investment letter, which meant I read every day, usually eight hours a day. That gave my mind plenty of time to wander. I wasn’t happy with my life at that time. I had been a feature writer back home, but I was told I was too young and inexperienced to write about markets and the economy. My wife was homesick for her parents; we had a newborn and two toddlers, a big mortgage and a boss with whom I didn’t get along.
So I immediately assumed the worst. I knew if Hudson could get AIDS, anyone could get it — even me. It didn’t matter that I was not a homosexual and I had never injected a drug. The WSJ was writing about AIDS on the front page. It even said that while Hudson may or may not be gay, you didn’t need to be homosexual to be infected with it. It also said that it was first identified in North America in the 1970s and that it could lay dormant for years before some deadly symptoms showed and then you died a terrible, shriveled-up death. It even said an infected person might easily infect his loved ones, not even knowing he was carrying the deadly virus.
I was a blue-blooded young man before my marriage, and I calculated that I was feeling listless and unhappy because my blood was coursing with a terrible virus from the darkest part of Africa.
There was only one thing to do, drive like a bat out of hell and barge in on the family doctor. When I walked in and told him I needed a blood test then and there, he started laughing. To humor me, he asked me personal questions about my total intimate history. Then he started laughing again.
“You know the chances of you getting killed in a car crash coming to see me were 1,000 times greater than you testing positive for AIDS.”
My doctor suggested I start exercising five days a week and that I take my wife on a vacation. After I did that, my worries about AIDS were eradicated. A year later when I bought some life insurance and had blood work, I knew I was simply stewing in worry to ever think it was possible that I had the AIDS virus.
For years, I was embarrassed about that neurosis. But I began to appreciate something my mother used to say: “Our biggest hopes and worst fears are seldom realized.”
She was right, but what should be added is that our biggest hopes and worst fears are often played upon. In the case of hopes the lottery serves as a good example. Your chances of being run over in the parking lot buying a lottery ticket are higher than your chances of winning a million-dollar lottery.
As for fears, even though experts were fearmongers throughout the 1980s about the chances of catching AIDS, the real chances of getting it if you were a heterosexual who didn’t inject drugs were far less than getting struck by lightning. Of course, that didn’t stop sex researchers William H. Masters, Virginia E. Johnson and Robert C. Kolodny from writing their 1988 book, “Crisis: Heterosexual Behavior in the Age of AIDS,” in which they stated that the AIDS virus was “running rampant” among the heterosexual population.
It wasn’t true, of course. But it sold a lot of books, and it sold a lot of newspapers that reviewed it. And it brought about a lot of good old-fashioned fear.
They were hardly alone. In the mid-1980s, LIFE magazine carried the story “Now No One Is Safe from AIDS.”
At that time, the federal government was warning that AIDS could be worse than the plague and even bought print and TV ads targeting heterosexuals. And bless her heart, Oprah Winfrey, who loved ratings almost as much as she loves money, warned that 1 in 5 heterosexuals could be dead by 1990.
If you are my age or older, you probably remember another plague that was going to wipe out the nation: Legionnaires’ disease. That happened back in 1976, and I was too caught up trying to pass my freshman year to get caught up in that worry. But The New York Times certainly did, running 30 consecutive front-page stories in the autumn of that year about the terrible affliction of influenza that struck a group of old Legionnaires in one hotel in Philadelphia.
Rand Paul doesn’t want to create a panic, but…
Senator Rand Paul told Wolf Blitzer on CNN last Friday he does not want to “create panic” over Ebola, but he stood by his belief that the virus is more contagious than the government is letting on.
“I understand people in government not wanting to create panic, and I don’t want to create panic, either. But I think it’s also a mistake on the other side of the coin to underplay the risk of this,” said Paul. Of course, Paul ought to know. He is an ophthalmologist, which is a fancy word for eye doctor.
The truth is I like Paul for the most part; but for him and for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Ebola is more a political football than a serious threat.
Of course, I am no expert either; so don’t trust my word on the subject. Trust instead what you have seen in the past. Every so-called killer epidemic in the Western world from Legionnaires to H5N1 (bird flu), which almost shut down Toronto, turned out to be a false alarm.
To date, some 4,000 people have died from Ebola worldwide. Each year, 4 million people die from pneumonia. If you are like I was all those years ago, an infectious disease lets you forget the real problems that exist. And the nation has those in spades. The stock market has just begun a correction that could become a free fall. Unemployment is still far too high, and underemployment is off the charts. The net worth of most Americans continues to decline, as does the standard of living. We have a terrible president in the White House who is MIA, an abysmal Congress, a crumbling infrastructure and $17 trillion in federal debt. And a growing percentage of the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world want to kill and maim us.
This is the real nightmare. The problem is that we have known about these problems for some time. These are not the kind of fears that go bump in the night. So we will live with Ebola until something new pops up, and then we can fret about that killing us.
Yours in good times and bad,