Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

My friend Hilary Burgess, who only recently finished up the provisions she had stored away for the millennium doomsday, informed me that if swine flu hit the valley I would have to sequester myself in my house and hence should stock up on enough food and supplies to last for at least two weeks.

We had a swine flu scare back in the ’70s. The whole country was whipped up into thinking it was the Second Coming of the Spanish influenza that followed World War I, and we lined up in the Red Brick gym for inoculations. These were not shots, but a new device (apparently no longer in use), round in shape, which blasted the immunization juice into your arm through your pores. Bam.

Then word got out that people across the country were dying from the inoculations, so we had a second scare that we’d die of the blasts we had just received. The fears were not realized: The swine flu never materialized; neither those who refused to be immunized nor those who stood in the lemming line came to any harm.

Still, my larder is low at the moment and I recently had to replace my dead refrigerator, resulting in a well-needed purging of frozen foods verging on freezer-burn or worse, so I hiked myself over to City Market to replenish my supplies and put Hilary’s mind at ease.

One thing I know about hoarding, after subsisting in desperate times in Alaska on K-rations left over from World War II, is that you should hoard only things that you would normally buy anyway. I didn’t want Hilary or anyone else picking out my provisions, lest I end up with tins of sardines, bunches of parsnips or other edibles I’d rather die than consume.

At City Market, the man in front of me was trying to get one of those sanitary wipes out of its dispenser, but it was empty. A woman in the next aisle was wearing a thin, plastic produce bag over each hand, so I knew I wasn’t the only swine flu shopper.

As Jeremy Madden had suggested in his Daily News column last week, I made sure to stock up on pork.

When I was a kid the big scare was polio. It hit every summer and no one knew where it came from, so everything associated with summer became verboten. No ice cream cones, no swimming pools (not that there was one in my town), no county fairs but still, friends and neighbors were struck down as if by lightning. Smallpox scares were before my time, but I still bear the scar of the mandatory vaccination.

Most of us remember the legionnaires disease scare and we still watch out for Lyme disease ticks and mouse scat carrying the hantavirus. The avian flu scare put us off chicken (we’re still frightened of chicken), SARS threatened to kill us all. The book “And the Band Played On” described how AIDS spread like wildfire and threatened to decimate the world population, gay or straight.

In what seemed like a matter of seconds, spinach farmers were out of business, and in fear of mad cow disease we were put off beef. What’s an omnivore to do these days?

I tossed cans of ravioli (high carbs), tuna fish (mercury poisoning) and beanie weenies into my shopping cart (god knows what part of the pig the weenies consist of) ” mandarin oranges, roast beef hash, those paper-wrapped canned tamales, chicken thighs (the puppies’ favorite), frozen dinners, beef brisket, sausages, hamburger, pork ribs and tenderloins to be packed into poison plastic bags and put in the freezer, but my tongue was in my cheek the whole time.

Modern medicine has already given me a decade past my death date. I follow orders (most of them), take my pills, get my flu and pneumonia shots because I am high risk, but I don’t worry about what might be lurking around the next corner. There are always more corners and they all hold surprises.