By Alan Prendergast
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What you are about to read may so shock and appall you that your eyes will flutter into the back of your skull and you will collapse in a heap on the floor, like that time you accidentally saw your grandmother struggling out of the shower like a giant prune trying to exit a car wash. It's the literary equivalent of the deleted scenes of The Hills Have Eyes II, now available on DVD only so that suburban kids with wireless Internet access can watch them over and over again and then order X-Acto knives. But if what you need to smarten the fuck up is a little tough love, then so be it.
Try this scenario on for size: Winter, dead of night, the wind howling through the empty streets and bare branches scraping at your windowpanes like claws. You turn on the TV to distract yourself from the darkness looming over the city, and the weather lady's yapping about some blizzard rolling into town. But you don't pay her any mind: That bitch is always yapping about something — yap, yap, yap, with that giant head of hers that's way too big for her stupid little body. Does she really still wear shoulder pads? And that big-shouldered, pumpkin-headed broad is wrong three times out of four, anyway. Screw her. You go to bed. You wake up. The world is white. Power lines have snapped; you don't have any heat, you don't have any electricity. You and your roommate are running around terrified because that big-headed clam was right and you don't know what to do, and you wish you didn't secretly have a crush on that clam but you do, oh, how you do, and how's that going to help you in a situation like this? So you crawl to the liquor store, purchase enough booze to kill a stonemason, then go home and drink it. By nightfall, the city has repaired the power lines, and you keep drinking and watch Allen Iverson join the Nuggets.
Sound too terrifying to be true? Well, it happened this past winter! Except for the heat and electricity going out part. But what if that had happened, too?
I don't normally sit around wondering What If, but the people at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment do. They collect paychecks while they think about blizzards and tornadoes and mass influenza and sometimes naked Jessica Biel. And recently, after receiving $760,000 from the Centers for Disease Control for pandemic-influenza preparedness, they had a conversation that probably went something like this.
Solomon, CDPHE Employee #1: Hey, Karl, did you hear we got a butt-load of federal cash to prepare peeps for emergencies?
Karl, CDPHE Employee #2: Fucking duh, Sol. Why don't you place a phone call to two days ago, when that information may have been new to me?
Solomon: How do you think we should spend the money, K-dog?
Karl: Well, the people of this state have gotten pretty stupid. Gone is any sort of frontier sense of survival. Maybe we should launch an elaborate campaign to remind jackasses to go into a basement when a tornado hits.
Solomon: Great idea, man! Hey, by the way, I'm totally banging your wife.
Karl: I know, man. I'm just so numb from this job I don't even really care anymore.
The CDPHE kicked off the campaign that resulted from such brainstorming last week so that the whole operation will be up and running by next influenza season, which you'll know has hit because there's usually a new Jason Alexander project limping around the airwaves. And what, exactly, does the whole operation entail? Well, there will be discounts at King Soopers, to help all y'all get your emergency kits on, and then in November, the health department will hold a mass flu vaccination to test its ability to inoculate a huge number of people at once. Kick me in the jugular for being paranoid, but when the government of this fine nation instructs me to line up with everyone else to be injected, I'm gonna go ahead and book a bungalow in Zihuatanejo. Shit, I refused a lice check in third grade — you think I'm going to line up for a shot?
In addition to sticking us with needles, the powers-that-be have decided to inject some awareness through television. So beginning in September, the health department will run a series of one-minute ads, shot in the style of a reality show, to make sure that Coloradans know that if our neighbor gets whooping cough, the correct response is not to tongue-kiss him. And if you're pathetic enough, you can even play a part in these ads, which will be brought to us by GroundFloor Media. Just log on to www.whatifcolorado.com and upload some footage of you being a dipshit and list the five things you can't live without (not kidding — for more, click here and here), and then if the producers find you dipshitty enough, you get to live in a house with no power for three days with two other dipshits! From that celluloid gold, the department will create one-minute preparedness commercials that all of Colorado can watch, and somehow we will all become safer in the process.