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The Latest Pandemic:
It's global, it's grammatical!

by Karen Galatz


A former print and television journalist, my national news credits include the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and the Nightly Business Report. I also produced and anchored a ground-breaking business news broadcast for PBS stations in Nevada, an effort that garnered an Edward R. Murrow award and an Emmy nomination. I am the author of Muddling through Middle Agea weekly humor blog, and a contributing writer to Humor Outcasts. My work has been featured on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop website and the online newspaper Berkeleyside.

I'm typically not a joiner. I cannot name a club I've participated in since high school. I did try out for Glee Club (before it was TV-cool), but was rejected. It was devastating.

Like I said, I'm not a joiner, but the other day I spotted a meeting notice that was so compelling in its simple, direct call to action that I felt I had to attend.

The meeting notice, printed on a plain sheet of white paper, read:


Help us stop the EUEM pandemic.
            Join us for this emergency meeting
             Tuesday, December 5, 7:00 p.m.
                Hometown Community Center, Room A
               Co-sponsored by SEEEM and TTTP


My heart lurched. A new disease? A pandemic? What is EUEM? Who or what is SEEEM? TTTP? Is this worse than Ebola? SARS? The Plague?

I had to find out. I stuffed my safety mask and protective gloves in my bag. I reached for my keys and headed for the door. Per my routine, I paused to check that the refrigerator door was firmly closed, the front door light was on, and the stove's gas burners switched off.

As usual, my careful departure review reaped benefits. I had almost forgotten my bag of M&M's. Horrors! How could I face a new epidemic without the calming high of that chocolate, candy-coated delight?

The bus was late. Was it a sign of the coming apocalypse? Finally, it (the bus, not the apocalypse) arrived.

"Lots of traffic," the bus driver said apologetically as he opened the door.

"It's OK," I replied with relief. "I was worried it was a disease-related delay."

The driver looked at me and said, "Well, thanks Ma'am. No worries. I'm fine. Just my usual seasonal allergies."

I nodded and took my seat. Poor man, he hadn't heard about EUEM. Driving around all day with no knowledge and no protection.

On the bus, I texted my husband and children. Trying to convey a calm, but firm "move it" message, I urged them to come home ASAP. Lying, I texted I had baked cookies to hasten their arrival since in our house, he who gets there first gets the treats. He who is late gets the crumbs.

Downtown the meeting hall wasn't hard to find. It was the only building with lights on. Inside only a few had gathered. I guess most people were afraid of contagion, staying home behind locked doors and duct-taped windows.

I missed the speaker's name. The mike didn't seem to be working and I couldn't hear. I surmised that the technician had already fled home to spend his last moments on earth with his loved ones.

I inched my way closer to the podium. I could have sat even closer, but I didn't know if EUEM could be spread by salvia and the speaker did seem to have a bit of a spraying lisp.

"Dear citizens," he solemnly began. "I call upon you to join me in the fight to end an insidious epidemic that is sweeping the globe. While few seem immune to this epidemic's terrifying symptoms, particularly hard hit is the under-30 age group. Teens and pre-teens were the first victims. Then parents of newborns and toddlers were struck. Initial reports indicated that the middle-aged and elderly were immune. Then, sadly, they too fell victim. For a time, we believed that most men were safe, but sadly now we know that is not the case. EUEM is everywhere."

The speaker continued for 90 minutes. He was long on warnings and dire consequences like "the end of mankind as we know it," but decidedly short on solutions.

At the end of his presentation, he asked if there were any questions. I was scared, but still confused.

"I'm sorry," I began. "What exactly is EUEM?"

All eyes turned to me. The speaker stared for a moment and then spoke softly. His tone was a mixture of pity and contempt.

"You honestly don't know?" he queried. "Why are you here?"

"I'm sorry. Your meeting notice was so compelling. I got scared. I just don't know exactly what to be scared of. Is this worse than Ebola? I'm pretty scared about that, but the way you're talking, this EUEM thing seems even worse. Please tell me. I need to know. I need to protect my family. Also, can you explain who or what SEEEM and TTTP are?"

Seemingly touched by my sincerity, the speaker replied in a kinder voice, "EUEM stands for the Excessive Use of Exclamation Marks. SEEEM is the Society for the Elimination of Excessive Exclamation Marks.

"We're here, because EUEM is killing our most beloved punctuation mark, the period, as well as all forms of nuanced, thoughtful communication," he explained. " TTTP, tonight's meeting co-sponsor and our ally in this fight, stands for Trustees for Truly Terrific Punctuation."

"Oh, I see," I murmured. "Uh, EUEM is, uh, pretty serious. Uh, thank you."

The speaker turned from me and addressed his concluding remarks to the wider audience—all 14 of them.

"Be sure to join us for next week's meeting. The topic - "Emoticons: Why?" We'll discuss the implications upon IQ and vocabulary. The meeting's co-sponsor is WHEMOS."

"That's the We Hate Emoticons Society," he added, turning to me. "Their motto is "We're not smiling; We're not frowning; We're just saying."

I left feeling relieved, but also annoyed, even letdown. EUEM wasn't near as sexy and scary as Ebola or SARS.

As I walked to the bus, I switched on my phone. I had three messages–from my husband, my son and best friend. Three brief messages littered with exclamation marks. The combined word count of the messages was 28. The number of exclamation marks, the same.

"OMG," I declared, racing back to the meeting room. "Sign me up. EUEM is everywhere. I'm not a joiner, but count me in. This madness must end."


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