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.

What I Think Of Whatever It Was I Just Got


I don’t know why they want this sickness reviewed. What the heck. There’s a chance for a $250 Amazon gift certificate, right?

OK, so, this past week’s worth of sickness has been a real treat. The high point, by volume, has to be the bug I caught on Monday that we dubbed “stomach flu”. That’s a cute, friendly name, evoking as it does the 20th Century’s greatest killer, against stiff competition. But you know the kind of bug it is. You start out the day feeling fine. Then in midafternoon you realize how appealing it would be to sit still and disgorge a two-inch-thick layer of sweat. That done, the next task is to not move for eighteen hours. The alternative, moving, runs the risk of your body exploding like a paintball capsule only worse in every possible way. And of course the rotation of the Earth about its axis becomes too fast-paced and irregular to deal with.

The bug must be awarded style points for choosing to wait until I was visiting my love’s parents to take real effect. Not only could I be sick, and worry that I was making a horrible mess in someone else’s bathroom, but it carried just the hint that somehow I had got food poisoning from their pack of store-bought Dutch windmill cookies. (They weren’t actually Dutch windmill cookies, but I forget what we actually had. I think it might have been sugar cookies. But those are much less funny to get food poisoning from, if that’s even possible.) So the cure for this was to go throw up in my car, and sleep for 36 hours, without getting any less tired.

That all would have been hardly worth mentioning if it hadn’t piggybacked on the week’s other bodily complaint, though. That was some lower back pain. I run a little stoic, and even after a pretty lousy week I don’t want to make too much of it. But the ache started out last Friday morning, got so bad by Saturday that I even said something about it, and then started to fade again. Then this morning I was showering, and coughed, and it came back in full force. I don’t want to give up coughing in the future. I’ve had a nagging cough going on since 1998 and it’d be a shame to lose that. But if showering and coughing is going to give me this kind of backache I’m just going to have to give one of them up. I guess it’ll be coughing, since I don’t need to be less pleasant to be around than I already am.

To give some idea what it feels like, my lower back feels as if it’s been hit by a truck. I don’t mean that it feels like a truck ran into me in traffic. I mean it feels like a big 18-wheeler, the kind with a trailer and some sticker on the back promising that this trucking company gives no aid or comfort to the enemy, no way, noticed my distracted eye in a bar. And then the truck, a touch belligerent-drunk, stormed over to demand I explain myself. I’m never good in these sorts of situations. I answer something like “huh?” The truck overwhelmed the friends trying so hard to hold it back. Then it pushed me up against the change machine that doesn’t give change for $5 bills printed since 2008. It punched my spine just above the tailbone, twice. And then kicked it for good measure. The truck’s friends promised it’s normally not like this and offered to buy me a drink. But I only had a diet Coke that the bar refills for free anyway. The truck got in one more punch before it could be coaxed over to the other side of the bar and berate the karaoke machine. That is the kind of “hit by a truck” it feels like.

I’m not looking for sympathy, though you’ll notice I’m publishing this where anybody can see anyway. But the ache has been a chance for me to discover all sorts of things I can do while standing like someone who’s impersonating Groucho Marx without having ever seen Groucho Marx or any impersonator of Groucho Marx. It turns out this is nothing. Or if I do have to bend the slightest non-Groucho-Marx bit, how much I can get done by groaning about the pain oh the pain oh dear lord why are there steps in this house.

To sum up: truly effective sequence of ailments. Would not buy again. Would not recommend except to some people I’m feuding with. I’m not going to win the gift certificate either, I bet.

Why I’m Not In A Good Mood (Kinda Icky Edition)


I am not at my best right now. I might argue it’s been years since I was at my best, but I’m not even at a local high right now. I am working on the end of a stomach flu, or whatever cute name you give that disease where you’re just fine, and then you suddenly feel yourself exploding in alarmingly-colored fluids, and then you lie down for 28 hours and aren’t any less tired. Also my back has been aching, which is totally out of character for it. So I apologize for all that going on, although I feel worse about it than you do.

Anyway. In the Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G update last week — and yes, I’ve heard the rumors too; I plan to comment Friday night if I can get more information — I forgot to mention my mathematics blog, so I hope you’ll forgive my mentioning it here. There’ve been mathematically-themed comic strips covering days up to the 14th and then covering up to the 17th of October. Please give them a try, since while they do talk mathematics they’re meant to be quite accessible stuff.