As far as I can tell, two of the biggest problems facing modern Americans are alienation and good health.
Alienation? Colleen McCullough got to the heart of the problem best in her novel The Thorn Birds, in which she described the brutality with which New Zealand wranglers sheered sheep. According to McCullough, those otherwise fine fellows remained wholly insensitive to wounds and even life-threatening injuries inflicted upon the poor creatures under their care, all because in New Zealand, sheep out number people 2-to-1.
Whenever there is too much of a thing, we tend to hold it in contempt.
Which is why we don't really like each other anymore, and why there's the alienation. There are too damn many people.
I remember a time when you could actually find a secluded beach or a pristine mountain pasture in which to be alone with your thoughts.
I recall long rides through the Sonoran Desert never encountering another human soul, driving on empty highways until the Zen of the open road inspired sheer nirvana.
These days, on the other hand, wherever you go, just at that moment you think you've outrun the bastards, you're bound to run smack-dab into a mob of Biff Baker fencers, Mexicans with radios blaring racket that makes the tones of a jackhammer sound positively dulcet, or housewives broadcasting the results of their latest Pap smear over cell phones loud enough for everyone within a 10-mile radius to hear. In short, instead of greeting each other with open arms, now any halfway sensitive person is more than likely, upon encountering a stranger, to wish they'd get the hell off their patch.
If anyone out there can remember the last place you found any solitude, I wish you'd tell me where. I'd go there and ruin your solitude.
It's a big problem, but not insurmountable. Particularly since, according to the Arizona Daily Star last week, "winter vomiting disease" has arrived.
"Winter vomiting disease" is a virus that causes puking and diarrhea. It's filling to the brim (so to speak) the waiting rooms of local hospitals across the nation, and it has now arrived in Tucson. Although it sounds to me like the regular old stomach flu--I had it, I guess, and it was 24 hours of sheer unadulterated unpleasantness--apparently, it's pretty dire. If people fail to wash their hands after going to the potty, in a matter of months, years or even centuries, the resultant depopulation of the Earth will make the post-apocalyptic visions of Mad Max, Blade Runner and most recently Children of Men (a damn good flick, by the way) look like walks in the park.
Obviously, if this depopulation takes centuries, it's not going to help the alienation problem one bit. Or is it?
In my experience, there's nothing people like to talk about more than their illnesses. I used to ride horses with a guy who spent so much time and energy telling me about his esophageal reflux problem that I actually think I caught it! Well, at least after awhile, I felt like upchucking every time I saw him coming. And back problems? Try mentioning them in any crowd, and the litany never stops. "Oh, so and so's was so bad, she had to have her entire spine replaced with Teflon." "My goodness, my cousin woke up one morning mysteriously paralyzed from the neck down." After awhile, you start hearing all about their chiropractors, which is generally when I leave the room. When I was a little kid, my father told me two true things (only two; he was not a wise man): One, professional wrestling is fake, and two, almost all chiropractors are quacks.
Then there is the "Oh yeah? Well, top this!" crowd. These are the people who, no matter what you say--for instance, absentmindedly mentioning an itchy mosquito bite on your forearm--claim the same thing happened to them, only they got Dengue fever, the yaws and malaria, all at the same time, and nearly died!
In short, since people love to talk about their ailments, the more "winter vomiting disease," the more communion among kindred souls, and ergo, less alienation. Hell, whole communities may spring up, creating real, solid and lasting bonds based on the commonality of tummy aches.
And if it gets even worse? Should this nauseating norovirus wipe out most of humanity as we know it? Again, alienation problem solved: Any wretched survivor wandering the vast depopulated landscape will be so glad to encounter another homo sapiens, they'll greet them like an excited dog upon its master returning home.
Honestly, with "winter vomiting disease," there just isn't a downside. It's win-win all the way.