Bad terror and good terror

Chuck is not doing very well these days. He is one of the homeless people who hang around our block. We try to get to know them by name.

Chuck reads all the time and offers good critical assessments of books. He sometimes wears eyeglass frames without lenses. He’d been coveting my pepper pants, so I gave him an old pair last week. He was ecstatic, though I fear they will hang very loosely on his emaciated frame. Chuck could use some fun these days.

Bunny used to be part of our local homeless group. Like Chuck, she had a big smile and was a good hugger.

Once she ran frantically up to me with a bank card someone had left at a neighborhood ATM. She wanted me to locate the owner and return it (which I did). Why didn’t she go to the police? Well, the relationship between the homeless and the police has not always been the most cordial in New York. The card holder wanted to give me a reward. I told her she should thank Bunny.

We don’t see much of Bunny anymore because she got a job at a hospital in the Bronx and is no longer homeless. She stops by the old neighborhood every so often just to say, “Hi.”

For a while this year we didn’t see Chuck either. It turned out that he, too, was in a hospital, but not because he was working there. Among his other ailments, Chuck, like many other New Yorkers, now has multiple-antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis.

In normal treatment for tuberculosis, a course of antibiotics is prescribed. They kill most of the bacteria, but a few will be resistant. The body’s immune system takes care of those.

If the course is not followed completely, however (something not unlikely to be the case among the homeless), the immune system doesn’t wipe out the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which then become the dominant form. Obviously, multiple-antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis is harder to treat than the normal kind.

I have never taken the antibiotic Cipro, but I’ve carried it to some exotic locales. I’ve been advised to use it if I come down with a severe gastrointestinal ailment — but only a severe one (fever, bleeding, inflammation, etc.).

In Madagascar, the tiny ubiquitous snack-bar/restaurants are known as hotelys, and the local form of Montezuma’s revenge, therefore, is known to vazaha (foreigners) as hotely belly. Cipro quickly wipes out hotely belly, but I was advised not to use it for mere intestinal discomfort. I didn’t. I had no desire to create multiple-antibiotic-resistant hotely belly.

Here in the U.S., it appears that the government has been providing Cipro to those recently exposed to anthrax. So those who have been exposed are not causing the run on Cipro at pharmacies.

We have been told that the strain of anthrax that has been found in U.S. mail to date has not been “weaponized.” It’s sensitive to many drugs. But, aside from other bad side effects, misuse of antibiotics can make bacteria harder to kill. It could well be the case that the people needlessly taking Cipro are unwittingly weaponizing the anthrax bacteria. Please don’t.

A post office in Port Townsend, Washington, a remote community on Puget Sound, was shut down recently due to a yellow substance in two envelopes. It proved not to be anthrax, but, if the substance was intended to be suspect, is that not an act of terrorism? It terrifies. It disrupts normal operations. Conceivably, it could frighten someone to death.

FBI agents arrested someone in a New York suburb for allegedly putting some baby powder into an employee’s pay envelope. An earlier arrest was made involving another harmless powdery substance supposedly being mailed as a joke.

Neither suspect was either Muslim or of middle-eastern heritage. Both were white, male, American citizens. The U.S. government, which says it has proof that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were responsible for the attacks of September 11, has yet to assess blame for the postal anthrax terrorism.

Saha Waheed was not trying to mail any powdery substance, lethal or otherwise, at a post office in Laramie, Wyoming. She was trying to send a box of cookies to a friend.

The post office refused to take it, despite the fact that she produced a Wyoming driver’s license, a University of Wyoming ID card, and two credit cards as identification. Ms. Waheed has been living in Wyoming since she was 18 months old.

Not only was her package refused by the post office, but she was also almost run over by a truck that jumped a lane to try to get to her, and she has received death threats. One threat said that anyone who wore a scarf on her head should die. Ms. Waheed wears a hijaab, a traditional Muslim head scarf. Yes, there are terrorist attacks in America. Many are being perpetrated by U.S. citizens.

There is no excuse for such terrorist attacks. When I was reading yesterday’s “Style” section of the New York Times, however, I came across an item that made me miss a benign form of terror.

The item concerned the October 14 wedding of Alexandra Mann and Stuart Weger. The terror part was where the ceremony took place — on the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island.

I have ridden a fair number of amusement-park rides (most before I broke my back in 1997). At a Six Flags park, I once rode something called “Lightning Loops.” It went forwards and backwards so fast that my ear canals never had a chance to catch up with my eyes. I was pretty wobbly for a while after I rode, but I wasn’t terrified.

At the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto one year, I was able to ride a sort of giant spinning platter that had so much centrifugal pull that I had to hang on for dear life. But I wasn’t terrified.

I rode the original 250-foot tall parachute jump. I’ve been on outdoor, indoor, and outdoor/indoor roller coasters. At a water park once, I tried an attraction I knew nothing about; after zipping through a pitch-black tunnel that changed direction in the dark, I ended up emerging into mid-air about ten feet above a pool of water. Fun! But not terrifying.

The Wonder Wheel at Coney Island in New York City is actually very gentle, unlikely to upset anyone’s stomach. But it can be terrifying to first time riders.

It was built by its 18 owners in 1920 from steel forged on the site. It stands 150 feet tall and weighs 400,000 lbs. Until the recent Sun Wheel on Paradise Pier at Disney’s California Adventure theme park (and a replica in Yokohama in Japan) it was unique. It has never had an accident in 81 years. During the 1977 New York blackout, the owners hand cranked it to get everyone down.

It is sort of a roller coaster built inside a Ferris wheel. Eight of the “cars” are conventional and are attached to the outside rim of the wheel. The other 16 are “swinging” cars. They are suspended from rooftop rollers that ride a sort of star-shaped track inside the wheel.

As the wheel starts to turn, one can hear the creaking 81-year-old machinery and look at the aging steel. At a certain point, the loop of the star-shaped track that the car has been hanging from will be upended, and the car will lurch to the next loop. That’s the first thrill, and it has made many scream. But it’s just a warm up.

After passing the top of the ride, the same thing will happen again. This time, however, there is absolutely nothing visible to the front but air. As the rolling car careers forward, picking up speed, it appears as though it is about to fly off the wheel, affording a lovely view on its way to certain death far below.

That’s MY kind of terror! But there was a horrifying aspect to the Wonder Wheel marriage story. They rode on the last day of the season. I’ll have to wait until spring to ride again.


TTFN, Mark

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