One more cold update. I’ve taken to punching antihistamine tablets out of the foil wrap so that the empty and full dots spell out a message in Baudot code. Also, punching them out of the foil irregularly would be incredibly, impossibly offensive to the orderly mind of the eight-year-old me, and that kid needs to relax and just let things be irregular some. Also, I’ve swallowed some of the foil backing along with the antihistamines. This is probably the eight-year-old me getting revenge for this irregular-tablet-punching business.
I know people reading this may think I’m always writing about me getting a cold. I have reasons for this. I don’t know anything about your getting a cold. I’m sorry; I should ask about your health more. How are you? Do you have one health, reasonably sized? If you don’t have a health of your own, it’s fine to get something store-bought. We all want one that’s bespoke, but really, off-the-shelf is fine. Anyway please fill in any small gaps in our conversation with how your cold is going.
Anyway I talk about my getting colds because health-wise, there’s not much else I have going on. Other than the occasional cold my health is pretty good. The only thing I have going on that doesn’t really work for me is my knees. I’m already at the point in life I have to plan out how often I’m going to kneel down, and what for, in the coming week.
It’s hard to say just why my knees are so bad. A leading candidate is that I used to be really quite obese. Until I was 39 I moved mostly by plate tectonics. My two brothers once went three years without seeing each other just because I happened to be standing in the way. And I know what you old-time-radio fans are thinking: that I just stole one of Jack Benny’s jokes about Don Wilson there. I did not. That joke came loose and fell into my gravitational well all on its own.
Anyway, I lost all that weight. Well, I “lost” all that weight; I know just where I put it. (It’s in the walls of my parents’ old house; don’t tell the new buyers!) But the damage to my knees was done. Oh, also, I have very tight hamstring muscles. Like, they’re tight enough that I can not straighten my legs unless I also bend my knees. My yoga instructor watched me trying to do anything and said, “But … how?”.
The cold has been a mild one. The biggest hazard is not mentioning it in front of specific friends. One of these is the zinc friend. You know, the one who isn’t just fond of zinc but so very sure it’s the fix for every problem that, really, I’m the difficult one if I don’t carry around a cinder block of zinc to lick every time I wipe my nose.
The other hazard is the soup friend. I like soups more than I did as a child. Especially when I have a cold. I can’t have enough to satisfy my soup friend. There’s not enough soup in the world to take all my soup friend’s advice. There’s barely enough me. Nevertheless I do appreciate letting a long boiling-hot ribbon of water flow down my throat.
Because the main thing I have is a cough. It’s not one of those coughs that accomplish anything. You know, the working coughs that you can respect even if you don’t like them. My cough is nothing like that. There’s this sore section in my throat, exactly where it can’t be reached by that viscous cherry spray ever. What I really want is something that can scratch that spot and give me maybe ten seconds of sweet relief. The threat of choking is holding me back, though, which is why I’m only thinking of how nice it would be to dangle, say, a miniature porcupine on a thread and let it press into my throat.
No good, though. The only cough lozenges anyone makes are all smooth things, as if I needed more smoothness in my throat. I’m taking them, certainly. They’re great for making every part of my throat except the one that I want to cough up feel smooth. It’s getting a bit much. Normally I’m pretty selective about what I put in my mouth. At least ever since the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident in Singapore a few years back. With cough drops, though? That caution is out the window. I’ll put any translucent gob in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I’ve swallowed some eight-sided dice. I’m on about 46 lozenges just this hour. When the medical examiners find me, they will wonder how it is that I made it to this age with such tight hamstrings and a throat that’s a menthol fossil.
Anyway, otherwise everything’s pretty good.
So you can tell where I am in this cold: I am busy glaring very hard, every time I visit the bathroom, at our bottles of shampoo and conditioner. The natural order of things, where we use more shampoo than conditioner, has been out of line for a couple months now. The conditioner level’s been below the shampoo level for just ages. Like, we’re … all right, maybe only one-sixth through the current bottle of conditioner, but we only just opened the new bottle of shampoo, and I can’t figure what’s going on that we’re conditioning so much more suddenly. Or is it possible we’ve gotten so ahead on shampoo use that we’ve almost lapped the conditioner? Anyway, this is suddenly very important for me to go disapprove of every time I visit the bathroom. And also to explain to my boss why I haven’t got anything done this week.
I haven’t got a cold. This stands out. It feels to me like I always have a cold. Mostly that’s because I do have a nagging cough that’s persisted from about 1994. The doctor’s ruled out asthma, and maybe sometime I should go back to find out what might be ruled in for it. Mostly it doesn’t impair my life any. I mean I haven’t yet coughed intensely enough in the shower to actually black out.
Anyway, this has been reflected in a bunch of essays posted here so I thought I’d share a couple years’ thoughts on the colds that come back to me.
From 2013: Some Ineffective Ways of Treating Colds. (Which is not a bad premise and maybe I should re-write the thing.)
From 2015: Cold Comforts (where I see I go on about zinc again.)
From 2017: Hack Work for May 2017 (no zinc mention this time; huh.)
From 2018: Explaining The Common Cold (and I don’t remember whether I had a cold back in April, but I wrote about it, so I probably did?)
Stay healthy, everyone. Somewhere in here I’ll find my 2014 and 2016 bits about colds.
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.
Hi, people interested in the lighthearted, pleasant stories of an unbeatable man from a mysterious land travelling through time and solving the various problems of people who’re in over their head at historically significant moments, but who forego sonic screwdrivers in favor of a good solid axe. My most recent essay on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop should be at or near the top of this page. Here, now, is my most recent essay as of early April, 2018.
And over on this page is my discussion of comic strips with mathematical content. Or themes. Or name-dropping sudoku. They’re not all deep discussions.
7 January – 1 April 2018.
Where were we at the start of the year when I last checked in on Moo and its associated areas? The well-meaning but dumb rich guy M T Mentis III was on his way back to Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab and hoped to become a new supporting character. May not sound like much, but a part in a longrunning comic strip is nothing to sneeze at. Mentis tried, though, getting a faceful of snot all over Alley Oop as he disappeared back to the present day.
I guessed that was the start of a story, and so it was. Alley Oop gets a cold in record time, something neither Oop nor anyone in Moo has ever got before. Wizer understands what it is right away, though, and tells Oop to sit still a while so he can whip up a cure. Which includes echinacea, by the way, something Wonmug recommended as he zipped back to the 21st century. Wizer explains to Ooola that if Oop spreads his cold to the never-exposed population of Moo it could be disastrous and wipe the population out. Oop overhears exactly enough to figure Wizer’s said he’s dying. And figures Ooola is telling a comforting lie when saying Wizer’s getting the ingredients for a cure.
So Oop goes around Moo saying his goodbyes to everyone. The first: to Ooola, saying how he regrets they never got married and had kids and all. To Foozy, the relentless poet, he gives his trusty axe. To Dinny, the dinosaur, Oop gives his thanks and the command to go off and be free now. To Guz, Oop gives his honest opinion of the way the King of Moo runs things. In exchange, Guz gives several solid punches and a banishment for life. This all takes about as long as Wizer needs to gather a bunch of leaves and branches and bits of tree bark.
Wizer mixes up his potion which works great. Oop’s recovered even faster than he got sick, and explains what he did while he thought he was going to die. After rolling his eyes all the way into Dick Tracy and back, Wizer mixes up enough potion for all the people Oop contacted. I’m not sure whether I’m more impressed that Wizer knows how to cure colds or with his advanced understanding of infection vectors.
Anyway he sends Oop out with the potion to apologize to people and, where needed, get his stuff back. It’s easy to apologize to Ooola, who teases for a moment holding Alley Oop to his declaration that they should have gotten married. But Moo exists in a land before there were reach-of-promises suits.
At his cave Oop finds Foozy’s kids playing, and figures “I must’ve told Foozy he could have the place”. He didn’t say this on-panel, by the way. Also Foozy has kids I guess? Beau, Moe, and Joe. They take after their father by speaking in rhymes across one another’s dialogue. Foozy’s sick, but he and Wizer have the healing potion, so there we go. He’s glad to return Oop’s cave (“You never gave away your house!”) and also his axe except the kids kind of broke it (“cracking coconuts”).
All that’s easy, since who wanted it to be hard? King Guz is a tougher case because besides calling him an incompetent, Oop also gave him the cold. The cure brightens Guz’s feelings, but he still insists on an apology from Oop before lifting the banishment and all that. And Oop doesn’t see why he should apologize for calling Guz out on his incompetence. Wizer encourages Oop to think of the long history he has with Guz, and to apologize anyway. And Oop apologizes for telling Guz he’s a bad king. That’s close enough to peaceful for Wizer to get on his real point.
Which is: what are they going to do about infections passed back and forth between eras of history? The cold was nothing big, but what’s next? Guz figures the cure is to ban time travel into Moo. Oop says that Guz has finally found an idea even stupider than his border wall. Wizer suggests that maybe Wonmug has an idea and proposes visiting the Time Lab. Oop’s only supposed to use his time-travel device in an emergency. But surely this counts in a way the invasion of mind-controlling plant-aliens didn’t, right? So he hits the button and starts a new story. Let me log that as the 17th of March, admitting that there’s some leeway in when you pick.
Meanwhile in the 21st century Wonmug’s headed out to do some contracts stuff with a lawyer guy and all. When Oop’s time beacon calls for a pickup, Mentis is alone in the lab. Wonmug’s forgotten his cell phone, which yes I do all the time too. Well, Mentis does his best to respond to the message ‘URGENT! ALLEY OOP REQUESTING TRANSPORT’ while studiously ignoring the declaration `DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781 40.0285 ° N 75.1750 ° W’. Mentis hits Enter and so far has shown no signs of wondering what that whole ‘JULY 31, 1781’ business might be about. He stands there waiting for Oop to appear. I mean, I know, he’s barely even seen the Time Lab. But when Phineas Bogg is more on the ball you have to step up your “noticing things” and “drawing reasonable conclusions” games.
Meanwhile in the 18th century Alley Oop and Wizer have popped in just in time to have boats shooting cannonballs at them. By the way, the given latitude and longitude are inside Philadelphia. So I guess there was more action on the Schyulkill River in July 1781 than I had remembered? Also meanwhile Alexander Hamilton is turning in his commission to George Washington. He says only a field command will keep him. Of course we all know how that turns out. Washington writes out Hamilton’s assignment to command the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments and two Connecticut provisionals. Meanwhile at the same time, Oop and Wizer hide from the Redcoats.
That’s where we stand, right now, about two weeks into the Revolutionary war, and at a curious point. I mean, you say Revolutionary War and 1781 and where are you going but the Siege at Yorktown? I mean, obviously the action the Caribbean and in India was important but this is for an American audience. One might speculate that Alexander Hamilton’s recent return to the popular consciousness has something to do with this story. I cannot promise that this story will end with Alley Oop attempting hip-hop but I don’t know that we can be sure this will not happen, either. So, you know, prepare yourselves.
So how was that weird religious cult and the crazy(?) aliens-are-watching-us guy hanging out on Kit Walker’s pillar of New Mexico rock? We’ll look back in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, and see just what The Locust was up to with his returning and all.
I have my tradition of setting free the scraps of writing I couldn’t use the previous month for the big Thursday/Friday-ish piece of the month. And I want to do that too. For example, here’s a bit I couldn’t do anything with all May: “you remember trituminous coal from how it got used to blow up the Amargosa observatory in Star Trek: Generations”. I don’t know what you would do with it either but let me know if you do.
Thing is I’d just got back to something kind of normal-ish with my computer woes when I got a cold. It’s not much of a cold. I’ve been lucky the last couple years in not getting really big colds. Not the kind where you have to stay in bed all day, no longer wiping your nose because the tissues hurt too much and even the lotion-filled ones have abraded your face to a smooth, featureless mass of weeping flesh. Nor the kind where you get a fever that can’t be measured because your thermometer melts into a puddle and your loved one repeats the mention of liquid crystal display until you finally holler that yes, you got it the first time, you just don’t have the power to giggle at a line like that even if you did feel like giggling at it, and then your loved one apologizes for trying to make light and you have to spend the rest of the day everyone in a sullen silence over how they each failed a little bit to be empathetic enough and nobody knows how to apologize exactly.
No, my cold has been the typical sort of light one I get. I spent a while feeling warm, which is nice, because I haven’t really felt warm since 2006 when I last lived in Singapore. Singapore is on the equator, and it has the climate you’d get if you jumped into the middle of an open-faced kiss between a fire-breathing dragon and a smaller ice-breathing dragon, all humidity and heat and sudden surprising blasts of air conditioning and sometimes the food kiosk has an offering that looks like some kind of organ meat. Not everyone’s taste. But at least I didn’t need to wear a little something extra over my shirt.
Also I’ve spent my time coughing. I won’t pretend that I’m a world-class cougher. I never got past the state level (14th place, 2010, New Jersey; 7th place, 1999, New York, although that was later vacated as I’d had a throat infection, a purely administrative change of ruling which does not reflect on my ethics). But serious coughing is tough competition. We do some impressive stuff. Back in the cold of October ’15, without even seriously training, I coughed hard enough in the shower that I threw out my back, causing my spine to rebound off the shower wall, clobber my right shoulder blade, and then sucker-punch me in the kidneys. I think there were deeper issues at work here and the coughing just a pretext. But what a pretext! It was so painful I even admitted that it kind of hurt.
Still, the coughing’s been going on nonstop since Tuesday. It’s triggered by some events, like taking too deep a breath, or too shallow a breath, or trying to say a whole word. I’d be fine with this really, since given the choice I’d like to just sit still and not say anything out loud. But then I have to reassure my love that I’m fine, really, the coughing is just annoying and not something we need to get to emergency care for, and it can take as many as twenty-two minutes to get through a sentence that complicated. Also work wanted me present for a conference call with people who were in the main office’s Echo Testing Chamber. I don’t believe we got any work done, but absolutely everybody has a headache.
I’d like to credit all this coughing to being exercise. I can feel the burn in my abdominal muscles, and I’m all set to smash my head into the steering wheel as I drive to the emergency care clinic. Oh, also I’ve been trying to build some kind of piece around sorting the nightshade family of plants into those that are edible versus those that are deadly, but I can’t figure a way to do it that isn’t just a factually useful chart. It feels a little xkcd-ish to me anyway, and that’s fine, but it isn’t me.
I’ve got a cold. It’s a small one, as these things go. I hesitate to even mention it. Not because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. If I thought people would listen to me I would. But I’ve learned people don’t want to hear where I have actual serious feelings about things, so I’ll keep them to myself. I don’t want to have them either.
The main reason I wouldn’t mention the cold is I have several friends very concerned I haven’t heard the Good News about Zinc. I know they mean well and I appreciate that they mean well. I try to brush them aside by explaining there’s a bad family history with zinc. Great-uncle Chuck got in trouble with the War Production Board in 1944 over allegations he was hoarding toothpaste. This joke always fails. It’s way too specific and incredibly over-researched for how short it is. Only the part about having a great-uncle named Chuck feels even remotely natural. They put zinc in toothpaste tubes back then because oh I don’t know. I have a cold. I’m pretty sure it was zinc. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you when they switched to toothpaste.
It’s just that zinc doesn’t do anything for me, and neither does anything else. All that really helps is to sit up very still hoping that this next time I blink it won’t hurt so much. I exaggerate. If my nose is stopped up, then some nasal spray will clear it out in seconds, which is worse. I don’t know why I do it except for the joy of doing something that definitely has an effect. I will try other cold medicines. But that’s just because I respect the rituals of doing things for a cold rather than because of any effect. The cold medicine industry goes to a great deal of effort putting out foul-tasting white pellets in white bottles inside white boxes. It would be ungrateful of me to ignore all that work.
The only cold medicine that did something besides transfer the ache from my eyelids to my fingernails was something I had while back in Singapore. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m kind of sure the name started with a soft consonant. It got me nice and drowsy right in the middle of Turner Classic Movies Asia showing Tod Browning’s Freaks. I went to bed and woke up eight hours later and turned the TV on and it was nearly back to the same scene I’d left off on. So I credit the M—- or maybe N—– something with making Freaks somehow even more primally unsettling.
Which serves to point out that colds aren’t all bad things. I appreciate some of good of this. For example, my voice is doing that thing where I sound, in my head, much more like Leonard Nimoy in the third season of Star Trek than usual. Combined with the acoustics in the shower and I can really perfectly hit some Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs songs, though I should not. The change in my voice’s timbre also warns me away from ever trying to sing anything that Sting might, including nursery rhymes. But I kind of knew to avoid that anyway. So I can’t credit the cold for that.
Another thing the cold offers: I have a socially acceptable reason to eat anything that I see. I used to have that reason, in that I used to be extremely fat. Society might like telling people they should eat less, but it also accepts that if a fat person feels like eating something they’ve got leave to. How else are they going to stay fat except by one of the 18,640 critical insights about nutrition that humanity doesn’t understand? Anyway, I got thin a couple years ago, and if I actually went and ate everything I felt like stuffing into my face I’d be the subject of scorn. But having a cold, well, everyone remembers you either starve a cold or you feed it. They won’t pick a fight over an aphorism that doesn’t mean anything useful that they aren’t sure they have right.
Still, the cold doesn’t have everything. In particular my throat isn’t doing that thing where breathing in and out makes a little rolling noise like a motor is lurching into action. So I can’t say I really approve of all this.
I’d made a very slight run to Meijer’s, and got, and I want to list this for you because it kind of matters:
- Cough drops (I’ve had a cough lingering from a cold I originally got in 1994, which makes this cold a very efficient purchase, averaged out over the years)
- Toilet paper
- Packs of sliced cheese (5 of them)
- Quorn imitation-chicken nuggets
- Boca vegetarian burger patties (2 packages)
- Bread (2 loaves)
- Soda, or as it is known in the local vernacular, “pop” [said as “Pope” but with a short vowel] (3 boxes of 12-packs)
Along with the receipt and a couple coupons the machine spat out at me one (1) gift receipt, and I’m trying to think which of these items triggered the “this might be a gift, better offer a gift receipt” part of the register’s programming. Spitting out a gift receipt for a package of long underwear or a magazine, I understand, but, a bag of cough drops? One but not all five packs of sliced cheese? Something in potentially poor taste? This is all very mysterious.
- Listen to everyone around you tell you have to take a lot more zinc, while wearing zinc-lined clothes, eating raw ingots of zinc, in a zinc-plated room, while thinking of zinc-related thoughts such as “fluidized-bed roaster smelting technology”.
- Singing George of the Jungle‘s theme while your voice is briefly in the correct register.
- Wrapping your pillows in a blanket, your blanket in a comforter, and your comforter under that bed canopy stuff, and sneaking out to a movie.
- Start arguments in online forums with your innocent question about why searching for a file in Windows never, ever finds anything.
- Bring your cold out with you to the lake to buy an ice cream, and while it’s busy ordering, drive away.
- Enjoying that thing where you can just stare at a point in the wall and it feels like the universe is tumbling around and you’re twisting up into a spiral and if this carries on you’ll never get your shirt un-knotted from your stomach.
- Going out in your superhero guise with the face-covering mask, on the theory that it would be so horrible to sneeze or even have a runny nose while covered up that way that your body would sensibly refrain from doing so. Sorry.
- Get into a screaming match with the spell-check about how to correctly spell “gesundheit”. There is no way to correctly spell “gesundheit”.