A seemingly innocuous visit to a typical college house party last Saturday landed an Art and Design sophomore in the emergency room and left an LSA senior and aspiring medical student clinging to life on an intravenous drip.

Sarah Royce
Two “broz” prepare to contract bird flu over a friendly game of Beirut. (Courtesy of Jess Evans)

The culprit – not GHB, not Spanish Fly, not even alcohol poisoning – but something altogether more insidious: an unidentified ailment that is behind an epidemic threatening to create an evolutionary bottleneck among journalists on campus, excluding those who aspire to careers in broadcasting.

The toll of stricken Michigan Daily staffers has climbed to a sobering 21 – an ironic commentary on the wages of sin.

Departing Managing Editor Alison Go created a Facebook group titled “1355 Wilmot Court Got Me Sick” to commiserate with each other over their shared suffering.

Not even the Politburo of the Daily was insulated from the ravages of one of nature’s cruelest and most ingenious population control mechanisms: Editor in Chief-elect Donn M. Fresard, departing Editorial Page Editor Suhael Momin, Associate Online Editor Angela Cesere and departing Managing Photo Editor Ryan Weiner all fell in the wake of the advancing viral hordes.

“I was bloated for like six hours,” Weiner said, adding, “I went to the bathroom and had the most violent vomiting fit of my life.”

Weiner counted himself lucky that he overcame the symptoms within 24 tortuous hours and did not experience diarrhea as other victims of the epidemic did.

Cesere experienced vertigo as a result of her condition, not a disorienting dizziness but a strange identification with the voluptuous Kim Novak’s character in the 1958 Hitchcock classic.

Even the University has recognized the gravity of the situation, e-mailing affected students and requesting that they complete a six-page survey, the “Michigan Gastrointestinal Illness Complaint Interview Form.”

The afflicted Daily employees (used in a loose sense that includes persons paid vastly under minimum wage) all have one thing in common – they all attended Go’s party at her Wilmot Court house.

Departing Managing News Editor Farayha Arrine could not attend the party because she had a prior commitment – the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre premiere of “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” in which Arrine stars as the coy and beautiful love interest of neurotic funnyman Albert Brooks, who sadly passed away one week ago, according to Wikipedia.

Partygoers described the house that night as squalid and hot.

Incoming ME Ashley Dinges recalled, and Go confirmed, that the floor of Go’s bathroom was soiled with (presumably) human feces, fueling speculation that E. coli was the villain.

Go undermined these hypotheses when she noted that she herself had used the same facilities that night and had not exhibited the afflicted individuals’ symptoms, which seem to be associated with the stomach flu – stomach pains, high fever and vomiting.

This last manifestation was given poignant public expression Monday night when Fresard emptied the contents of his bowels into the trash bin beside his desk. It was suggested that the editorial staff exchange this bin with one from the side of the newsroom where the business staff works, but this idea was nixed when a curious wave of human compassion swept over the staffers.

Gripped as if by the pangs of some insatiable parasitic beast, Fresard was driven home to his Hoover Street apartment, all the while gripping an oversized plastic garbage bag in case he decided to treat his driver to a repeat performance. The bag was selected by departing EIC Jason Z. Pesick, who overruled initial selections of first paper grocery bags, then plastic ones.

“I think this is sturdier,” he said.

“Plastic has the additional advantage of lacking pores,” commented an exotic and handsome bystander, whose enigmatic aura was augmented by his decision to remain anonymous, in reference to the merits of plastic over paper.

Editorial reservist Pesick was called to active duty after the sudden onset of Fresard’s illness. Pesick recalled that on arriving at the Student Publications Building, his successor as the most widely reviled journalist on campus had undergone a Kafkaesque metamorphosis – not because Fresard genuinely resembled the giant insect-like protagonist in Kafka’s celebrated allegorical work but because the author of this article wanted to convey to the reader that he is aware the writer existed – and turned a shade of “green.”

Pesick’s service to his colleagues did not end there. He briefly left the Daily Monday night to drive longtime friend Momin to the University Hospital, where the 180-pound Indian man was treated and released.

“It was pretty much one of the worst things ever,” he said. But “it was not the plague,” added Momin, who also recovered within 24 hours.

“Dr.” Momin was not the only member of the editorial page staff to contract the mysterious illness. The lovely incoming Co-EPE Emily Beam also fell ill after attending Go’s bash.

“It felt like little animals were nibbling away at my stomach” Beam said.

As of press time, the Daily had not yet determined whether Beam had transmitted the disease to her boyfriend and co-EPE Christopher Zbrozek.

Departing Statement Editor Doug Wernert, every bit as reflective as his picture in the weekly magazine would seem to indicate, speculated that the inclusion of Detroit backup center Dale Davis on the Pistons’ injury list during their 106-102 overtime victory against the Bucks Wednesday was related to the Daily epidemic. Lending credence to this view, the Pistons website cited “flu like symptoms” as the reason for Davis’s placement on the list.

Go speculated that contaminated beer could have been the vehicle for the spread of the mysterious epidemic.

While expressing genuine remorse for the erratic bowel movements and general feeling of crappiness experienced by those who recklessly attended her debauch festivities, Go has almost imperceptibly begun to shift the onus of blame for the public health crisis to the local party store where the questionable – and cheap – alcohol was purchased. As she counseled her stricken co-workers to drink flat Sprite and ginger ale Monday evening, she wondered out loud if salmonella-tainted ale might be the source of so much human anguish.

A news editor who wished to remain anonymous because he is the author of this article suggested that the kegs used to hold the beer may have formerly served as storage containers for chicken meat and other poultry products.

Botulism was swiftly dismissed as the possible cause of the outbreak, as was an ailment that causes chronic, often fatal, diarrhea – cholera.

“This isn’t Oregon Trail,” Pesick asserted, referring to the popular computer game of the early 1990’s in which God frequently died after contracting a long-since eradicated scourge such as yellow fever or typhus.

Pesick suggested his own hypothesis – that the symptoms were malarial, the lack of a tropical climate and the virtual absence of the disease in wealthy industrialized nations be damned. Further tests need to be conducted to determine whether Daily staffers who are carriers of the sickle-cell gene felt the symptoms less acutely.

Indeed, much of the efforts of Go, Pesick and other concerned parties centered on diagnosis, with many insisting stool samples be gathered from one or more of the ill individuals.

Whatever the cause, roommates and co-workers Michael Kan, news editor, and Karl “Hot Karl” Stampfl, incoming MNE, expressed relief at their decision not to attend Go’s party.

“I can’t quit you,” said Kan of Stampfl, who decided to room with the sagacious editor of the science page after spending a summer sheepherding with Kan in Wyoming.

The epidemic has cast a formidable shadow over tonight’s celebrations, a final hurrah for departing seniors and an opportunity for the veteran college journalists to use all their skills and powers to create an enduring and painfully brilliant document of their precociousness and utter professionalism in reporting.

The outbreak comes when the collective wounds from recent trauma in the community – Fresard’s mugging, news editor Anne Joling’s stabbing, the loss of former news editor Andrew Kaplan’s house in a fire, the harassment of Go by a peeping tom and the breakup of news editor Jameel Naqvi’s relationship with his high school sweetheart – were just beginning to be obscured by the superficial growth of scar tissue.

Go released a statement to the Daily that appears to be calculated to avoid legal entanglements: “Beginning on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 21, 2006, a series of unfortunate events unfolded. To the dozens who were infected at my house, I sincerely apologize for any suffering I may have caused. Please don’t sue me.”

– Cairo Bureau Chief Jonathan Stichowski contributed to this report.

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