Explaining The Common Cold


What is a cold, and if it is, then what is it not? Furthermore, how many? This last question doesn’t seem to fit at all and maybe it belongs in a different piece, one that’s three words short.

The common cold, as it’s known to everyday experience (outside Wednesdays), is one of daily life’s more reliable chores. It serves a valuable biological purpose. Without it how would we remember that we don’t really like going to work, and aren’t necessarily that fond of a lot of our coworkers, and we come down to it we’re not so fond of leaving home either? Home has so many nice things, like how it’s not work, or how you know which channel it is has the show that’s just about paint. Blocks of clay-ish matter being chopped up into powders. Powders being stirred into transparent or white-ish fluids and stirred. Colored paints being poured into shiny metal buckets. Shiny metal buckets getting lids stamped down on them. Shiny metal closed buckets getting wrapped up in paper labels. Worry that the right labels aren’t getting put on the right cans. Buckets being loaded into trucks, never to be seen again. They must be going somewhere. Maybe a paint store. Maybe an awesome paint-bucket fortress in the woods. But it’s not your concern, and it’s so good when you’re working your way through a cold.

The first sign of a cold is the one on the highway telling you which exit is for the airport. Colds spend a lot of time at airports, since they like to pass time watching the airplanes taking off and landing and pretend that they’re part of crew alert systems instrumentation. Colds were very strange as children, not often being played with by other relatively minor diseases. When they did, they were forced to be the navigators. And they liked it, because they knew all kinds of things about magnetic declination. “Did you know magnetic variation changes over the day, from its most easterly around 8 am to its most westerly around 1 pm?” they’d ask to fellow kids who clearly did not. “The variation is greater in summer than in winter!” That teaches you a lot about what you’re dealing with, when you have a cold.

When a cold encounters someone at the airport they know it’s one of two cases. It could be a person who’s travelling for business. In which case, latching on to that person lets the cold share thoughts of how they’d rather not be travelling for business. Or it could be a person who’s travelling for pleasure. In that case, hey, wouldn’t you hang around someone who’s apparently doing something fun? So that’s why colds pounce on people at airports, wrestling them to the ground and telling them about how besides the diurnal and seasonal variations there’s also a secular variation in the compass. Sometimes you might think about the irony of saying you “catch a cold” when it’s the other way around really, but it won’t help.

Are there good ways to prevent a cold? Oh, now why would you go and spoil a cold’s fun, when it’s going to all that trouble to find you? Well, you go and be you. I’d like to say you know what you’re doing, but I know better. It’s 2018. Anyone who had any idea what they were doing has fled to some better time, like 1998 or the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, there’s many people who swear that large amounts of vitamin C will prevent a cold. Just how it’s supposed to do that is controversial. The leading theory is that you should take a great heaping pile of vitamin C and build a fortress around you for it. The colds will be curious, of course, and poke their way through the door. That’s when you reveal that you were never inside the fortress at all and instead slam the door shut.

The plan might seem odd. But it’s only because it makes you realize you don’t really know what vitamin C looks like. You know what those candy drops with vitamin C look like. But the bulk of those are candy; the vitamin C is just, on average, four molecules per tablet. What would a wall of the stuff look like? What color would it have? You know vitamin C is “ascorbic acid”. Is it acidic like soda, sticky but harmless to touch? Is it acidic like H2SO4 that kills Johnny in that rhyme your chemistry teacher told you? There’s no way to know. Maybe there’ll be something about it on TV after the paint documentary finishes.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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