copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
Caution: The Yuck Factor of this paragraph is 8.8 on a scale of 10! A couple of years back, upon visiting a restroom at a fast-food restaurant, I witnessed an employee exit a toilet stall. He didn’t so much as pause at the sink on his way out. Sure enough, I saw him behind the counter, in the food preparation area, and I promptly notified his manger, who was chewing him out (but should have fired him on the spot) as I left, making a mental note never to frequent this establishment again.
Come on, come on, come on, now, touch me, babe.
Can’t you see that I am not afraid?
-- The Doors
In public restrooms, we put paper sanitary shields on toilet seats before using the commode (although we’re not sure how effective a barrier to germs a thin layer of paper really is) and most of us use a paper towel as a makeshift glove before turning the door handle to let ourselves out of the facility (although we’re not sure how effective a barrier to germs a thin layer of paper really is).
Caution: The Yuck Factor of this paragraph is 9.8 on a scale of 10! The ladies among Chillers and Thrillers' vast audience of readers and writers may not realize this, as most of them are unlikely to have entered many men’s rooms, especially when men have been present within these rooms, but many men do not wash their hands after urinating! They simply walk past the waiting sinks as if neither these fixtures, hand soap, nor paper towels are there. (Fortunately, with a few exceptions, such as the one mentioned in the first paragraph, men do wash their hands after performing the other restroom task.) What’s frightening about men with poor hygiene habits is that not washing one’s hands after urinating is a known transmission route for hepatitis, a particularly nasty disease. (Mothers, do us all a favor, and teach your boys to wash up after using the toilet or the urinal, please!)
In more innocent days, we used to believe that the government (a) cared about us, (b) was looking out for our welfare, and (c) is competent. We’ve since learned the truth that the government (a) cares only about our tax dollars, (b) is looking out for its own welfare, and (c) is incompetent. In the old days, the government sometimes subjected its citizens to bizarre medical or scientific studies, as when, during the Tuskegee Experiment, black American males who’d become infected with syphilis went untreated so that doctors could study the progress of disease--up to the point, at least, that it killed the subjects.
We are all victims of systems beyond our control.
-- The Jefferson Airplane
Now, as far as anyone knows, the government isn’t seeking our death and destruction by any such active neglect (except by its refusal to protect and defend its own borders, which may be creating a resurgence of diseases that the medical establishment once had on the ropes).
The government's incompetence and indifference to its responsibilities causes many significant and dangerous problems, such as the possible infection of 40,000 patients of a handful of medical clinics in Las Vegas, Reno, and Henderson, Nevada, in which medical personnel reused syringes while administering anesthetics to endoscopic and other patients. It turns out that, in many cases, the Clark County Health Department may have been remiss in inspecting these facilities. A lawsuit is in the works, but cash awards and prison time for the doctors and nurses (if, indeed, any are punished in such a fashion) is little comfort to someone who may have been given hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV along with their joy juice.
Science fiction and horror writers have warned readers of the amoral and immoral conduct of government officials and mad scientists for years, but many have supposed such fictional accounts of human greed, sloth, and the other so-called deadly sins inherent in such behavior to have been purely imaginary. Such indifference, arrogance, and greed might provide fodder for suspenseful fiction, many thought, but the U. S. of A. is not, and never will be, Nazi Germany. Americans, in government offices and in scientific laboratories, have morals. They are principled. They have consciences. Doctors even swear to “do no harm.” The terrors unleashed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in H. G. Wells’ The Food of the Gods or The Island of Dr. Moreau, in Robin Cook’s Coma, in Stephen King’s Firestarter and The Stand, in Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, in Douglas Preston’s and Lincoln Child’s Mount Dragon, in James Rollins’ Amazonia, and the many other novels devoted to bureaucratic and scientific insanity and malice couldn’t happen here, not in America.
In most cases, of course, this is true, if for no other reason than that these novels, for the most part, depict terrors and horrors that remain beyond the possibility of science and technology.
For the moment, at least.
“Everyday Horrors: Bureaucrats” is part of a series of “everyday horrors” that will be featured on Chillers and Thrillers: The Fiction of Fear. These “everyday horrors” continue, in many cases, to appear in horror fiction, literary, cinematographic, and otherwise.