It’s been over 10 years since I moved out of sporting writing and began writing a column for the editorial page. Every so often this year, I’m rerunning a piece from the first year of the transition. This column first appeared in The Duncan Banner in June 2003.
When reports of a monkeypox outbreak began to make headlines, my first reaction was typical Kaleyesque sardonic skepticism: Monkeypox? Monkeypox? Oh, c’mon, somebody is making this up!
In my quirky mind, monkeypox sounded like a disease John Cleese and Eric Idle made up for a Monty Python movie, like weasel measles, beaver fever or the dreaded fox trots.
With visions of monkeypox as a punch line for Jay Leno and David Letterman, it was initially difficult to think of the disease with a straight face. After all, who ever heard of monkeypox? Is that something you get from Davy Jones or Micky Dolenz?
As it turned out, 99.999 percent of Americans had never heard of the disease, and for good reason — until the past few weeks, there had never been a case of monkeypox in the entire history of the Western Hemisphere!
When that factoid became public knowledge, my next reaction was to elevate to purple on the Homeland Security Threat Advisory. (John Ashcroft, members of the NSA and myself are the only Americans who know there’s a purple level on the Homeland Security Threat Advisory. It means the danger of a terrorist attack is so high we’ll all be vaporized before you can say purp...)
As more cases of monkeypox were revealed, terrorist-induced paranoia took over my mind. For a day or two, I considered the disease as proof Saddam is definitely not in Iraq anymore; that he and Osama had shaved and were embedded in a pet store in Chicago, selling Critters of Mass Destruction to unsuspecting citizens.
After seeking therapy, I came to realize that might be a reach. So, I began to ponder monkeypox from a different perspective. And friends and neighbors, that’s when I finally figured out from whence this monkeypox outbreak generated.
Blame this on city folks and silly twits, both urban and rural, who think it’s cool to have weird, exotic pets.
I have my background as a country kid to thank for this realization.
See, among the many benefits of growing up rural are: 1.) Early in life you learn the difference between Bull Durham and bull dung; and, 2.) you understand there’s a difference between a pet and a WILD ANIMAL.
City folks do not have these advantages.
City folks stroll past a pet store and see a sign reading “Giant Gambian Rats on Sale: Two for $8.89.” They think: “Hmmm, I could be the first person at the apartments to have a Giant Gambian Rat. I gotta get a couple of those!”
In contrast, a country-bred person sees the same pet store sign about Giant Gambian Rats for sale and immediately pulls out a .410 and blows the nasty rodents away! After all, you gotta save the wheat crop, right?
(Pause for background info: Investigators think it was a Giant Gambian Rat — indigenous to Africa, hence, the “Gambian” in its name — that passed along monkeypox to prairie dogs, who then passed the disease to humans.)
The other propagators of animal-transmitted-diseases-Americans-never-had-before are the people who aren’t satisfied with a dog or cat or parakeet as a pet. They’re the nitwits who’ve got a musk ox on a chain in the back yard, a wombat lumbering around their apartment or a live sloth draped over their shoulders when they go to the shopping mall. I know you’ve seen them.
Some of these folks are just ignorant of the Wild Kingdom. Like the woman from Jersey City — and I’m not making this up — who emailed CNN to suggest that instead of prairie dogs, people should get another breed of dog. Uh, lady, a prairie dog is a RODENT!
Others are people just trying to be chic by having the strangest pet they can find, as though they somehow rise in the social strata by showing off their Eurasian hedgehog.
You can forgive city folks and people who are ignorant about animals for wanting a prairie dog as a pet. But it’s impossible to feel sorry for the nouveaux riche who buy designer pets and contract exotic diseases.
Of course, they can go to afternoon tea at the Waldorf and say, “Why, yes, I’ve had monkeypox. Haven’t you?”
Is it any wonder Mr. Twain observed that God was so disappointed with human beings He created the monkey?
580-255-5354, Ext. 172. Kaley is managing editor of Waurika News-Democrat