Welcome to the words of a digital zombie.
I barely exist under any name, having relinquished my own years ago. I can’t say where I am. It’s dangerous.
I was long supposed to be dead. Now I’m a flugitive, still pursued by the U.S. government for crimes I allegedly committed amid a collapse of order, justice, and sanity.
Yet I’m here—in your hands—breathing anew. Thank you.
A year ago I was miserable, hiding in a distant and unmentionable spot under an assumed identity. I was sprawled one afternoon in a dingy Internet café, yawning over a cheap stimulating beverage and scanning news of places I once knew. Playing Nostalgia for Dummies.
When I discovered that my former self had risen in spirit, it was hard not to jump up and scream, buy everyone a round. The flu blog I had cursed more than once—shut down by the Feds during the Great H5N1 Avian Pandemic—was suddenly a big-selling book. Its vanished author was being mourned as a tragic victim, a heroic and romantic American who had died on the run from the Feds.
I could hardly breathe. Would the others hear my heart exploding, see my eyes blazing? They ignored me as I clicked on, trying to picture a shop with my blog posts waving at passersby in the window. (Does Manhattan still have bookstores?)
I read that my humble rants had been preserved, as if in amber, by a program at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, where countless blogs from many nations were recorded during the contagion. By the time H5N1 bird flu followed swine flu, New Zealand was so well prepared that students and professors could play the role that Irish monks had fulfilled for civilization in the Dark Ages, safeguarding a world of restless outbursts.
A couple of years after killer H5N1 evolved into a moderate seasonal flu, an enterprising editor in New York had sifted Auckland’s hoard and published excerpts from some American blogs whose authors had died in the pandemic. Lost Voices was a critical and commercial success.
My older brother turned up to demand royalty payments from the publisher.
Impressed by kind reviews for my entry and inspired by the prospect of cash, my brother set about publishing my entire blog. Typically, he corrupted it.
The rascal spun nonsense about how he had lovingly tracked my escape from New York to a lonely stretch in the Missouri woods where he and I once played together. (He never explained how I had crawled into that unmarked grave.) He doctored my blog posts, adding positive references about himself and removing factual mentions I’d made of him. As you’ll see, I had taken pains to avoid revealing that the biggest wretch in my blog—worse than any torturing Fed flunkie—was my kin. Wary that a few survivors might recognize his sleazy self, my brother scrubbed my blog.
Worse, he added a really sappy poem he claimed I had left behind. Talk about defiling the dead!
It was this contaminated version—which he sold for a sizable advance as A Blog of the Pandemic Year—that drew sufficient acclaim to catch my eye. Subsequent communications with lawyers and editors from my hole in the known world can’t be detailed here, but I’m grateful to all of them—and to some very courageous intermediaries—for their patience, fortitude, and discretion.
Now we have fully reissued my blog with introductory and closing comments as American Fever: A Tale of Romance & Pestilence. Amid what the world hopes is a permanent break in the political fever that gripped the United States during the pandemic, a bold publisher has invested in freedom—yours and mine. Editors have even restored my website at AmericanFeverBook.com. It contains every blog entry, complete with artwork, photographs, and live links to a universe of vivid information. I welcome you to contact me there.
I Blogged My Life to Pieces
My writing began humbly as an adjunct to a website I had created to peddle masks, gloves, and goggles to Internet consumers. I never intended to make history. I’d long planned to be far from New York City when H5N1 showed up.
Well, as so many individuals and governments proved with devastating incompetence, it’s really hard to prepare for a flu pandemic, even if you’re certain one is coming. I was still in town the day the first New Yorker succumbed, when I posted the initial entry, Day 1: Sign Up to Fight Killer Pandemic Flu!
I continued in that vein for more than half a year—through the second, shattering wave—until the government crashed my site.
I mainly intended to help people by offering advice and insights (and sure, blow off a little steam) as I sat, safe at home. Personal material quickly crept into my account.
Soon I was shocked to find myself entertaining strangers around the world. Like a kid who gets a kick when adults laugh at his manic antics, I went too far now and then. Some entries are embarrassing, even for a guy who barely exists. A few are funnier than I meant them to be. Frequently the joke was on me.
Some things I wrote have since proven to be scientifically incorrect. That’s inevitable. Even today—five years after a pandemic that unfolded in front of our finest scientific minds—man’s comprehension of influenza remains a primitive work in progress.
Looking back, I marvel at our hubris in attempting to contain a planetary process that’s more like continental drift than the common cold. Try soothing El Niño with a shot and some pills.
You will see that many of my early certainties dissolved into questions, particularly after I made the acquaintance of a prior pandemic zombie. This was a deceased English doctor whose fresh thinking on influenza had been ignored, even scorned, during his century-long life.
As I write this (wondering, as ever, if footsteps I hear are coming for me) I try to keep in mind my original readers. These folks asked my advice, offered their own, mocked me, praised me, threatened me, consoled me. I have overcome the impulse—the compulsion—to update things, correct errors, smooth kinks, erase my idiocies. They’re not mine any more, but yours. They changed hands once I posted them.
With one worthy exception, I’m also resisting the impulse to explain details in advance. Whenever you find a reference to “my very old friend” (whom I eventually coded as Mark), please program yourself to substitute “my *&@%$^ older brother,” as in Mark (of Cain).
You will find that this character relentlessly exploited and betrayed me. I wanted to like him, as I had when we were little kids and I didn’t know better. You know how it is: Some relatives are like pesky bugs that came with the place.
As I wrote my blog, I sought to smooth over my brother’s shortcomings out of respect for our family. Hoping my forbearance wouldn’t seem stupid and contemptible to my readers, I dressed my big brother up, coded him as one of those pals we choose to forgive. His greed and duplicity—and our parents’ deaths in the third pandemic wave—have liberated me from such consideration.
I invite you to read between my lines. I’m still discovering subliminal secrets, messages I couldn’t have fathomed when I wrote them. I know I never would have started the blog if I’d thought my personal life would figure so prominently in it. That happened to a lot of bloggers when the Web was young and innocent. And free.
In addition to being accurate and complete, this restored edition contains a bonus: I’ve written an afterword that completes my account as much as my present legal circumstances permit. I hope to be able to explain much more in a future edition—one with a dizzyingly happy ending that I earned by falling so deeply in love amid such horror.
I dedicate this volume to my mystery mailer. I still—and I will!—love you.
Finally, I thank everyone I mentioned in the blog. I choose not to name a number of people who have helped me, lest they be tarnished and persecuted as my accomplices. Most of you know who you are. Wink.