Saturday, September 17, 2005

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Sometimes I wonder if anyone reading this thinks I’ve been exaggerating my utter geekiness. “But,” I can hear someone in a sparsely populated county saying plaintively, “You live in Los Angeles. Los Angeles! Why, I bet you can walk out your front door, go to the nearest Starbucks to see Brad and Angelina making out next to Keanu while Britney nurses her son over by the cream counter. C’mon, you do go to clubs, right?”

If any of you have the image of me finishing a QC Report, and then slipping into something plunging and taking my pearl-grey Porsche convertible to the hottest club in Hollywood and air-kissing Nicole Ritchie as I sashay past the doorman with a not-so-sotto “Hey, Bruno, keep that riff-raff out”, I want to present you with a more accurate visual. Last night, I hunkered down in front of the TV to savor a long-awaited documentary on the Spanish Influenza of 1918.

What makes it sadder still is that I already know about the Spanish Influenza of 1918. In fact, Consort declared a moratorium on book reports at the dinner table due to the most recent book I read on the Spanish Influenza of 1918. Yeah, I said most recent book; I have read multiple books on the subject. I also hold dear an out of print book on execution methods throughout recorded history. In fact, this was the first present Consort ever gave me -- after a few weeks of social interaction, he suspected I might like it (Hands off, girls. He’s mine). As a child, I read The Book of Lists until it fell apart in my hands. I could speak endlessly on the ten most brutal murders of the Victorian age. This, I imagine, has all but wiped out the image of my being cool to any reader, and replaced it with the image of the weird neighbor you never let baby-sit your kids.

So, I sat through this documentary to see if it had any new information; and to feel smug. There are armchair quarterbacks. There are armchair golfers. I imagine there are armchair bowlers (the armchair bowler being in slightly better physical condition than the professional bowler). Me? I am an armchair pathologist. But I don’t rely on CSI; CSI: New York, CSI: Miami, CSI: Cleveland for my fantasy exhumations. No, for me it must be a real medical situation and, ideally, feature a bow-tied British PhD with a boiled-egg complexion, a frothy comb-over and, I can only hope, a mildly heretical new theory about the subject at hand.

So last night, as the narrator intoned “…The rapid transmission of the flu can be attributed to…“ I hollered “…Movements of huge amounts of troops who had grown up in small towns, leaving them relatively unexposed to disease!”

Narrator: “…The first suspected case of the flu was recorded in…“

Me (hollering at screen): “…A soldier in Kansas!...”

Narrator (simultaneously): “…an enlisted soldier in Kansas”.

It was a pathetic little party.

But then the narrator said, in what I took to be a smirking tone, “…But Dr. Oxford thinks the point of origin might lie elsewhere…”

“What!”

Cut to Dr. Oxford, his comb-over undulating in the breeze, suggesting that the first cases were at a military camp in France, about a year before the actual epidemic started. Such temerity! My blood boiled.

“But where is the VECTOR?”

For those of you with lives, let me explain. Influenza begins in wild birds, mutates into domesticated birds such as chickens, and makes the leap into mammals, usually pigs. Only then can it be contracted by human beings. As if he heard me [which wouldn’t be surprising, as our neighbors have heard me yelling at such times], Dr. Oxford then presented pictures of young men living at the camp smilingly holding up live chickens, and then pictures of other young men posing among pigs. I guess even when you are saving the world from the Huns, you can find time to get snapshot for the folks at home of you pointing at a pig.

“Yeah,” I sneered at the uncaring television. “But everyday livestock does not a flu make. Where were the cases?”

We armchair pathologists don’t just roll over for a photograph or two.

Obviously hearing me, he next presented evidence of a young man who had died at the camps in 1916 displaying the same distinctive symptoms, including a face which turned the color of heliotrope (so hard to find lip-gloss to go with that). Grudgingly, I -- the person who attended two years of college – had to concede that the man with a lifetimes’ work in communicable diseases might have a valid point.

Please don’t think I’m a complete obsessive here. I don’t just make time for documentaries on Spanish Influenza, I also love a good “Separating Conjoined Twins” documentary; the “Large Man About to Have Surgery to Become a Very Large Woman” documentary; and who doesn’t enjoy the occasional “Black Plague Takes Out One Third of Europe!” recap? And let’s not forget the History Channel has a category I like to call “Those Darn Invaders!”. Romans, Vikings, Huns, doesn’t matter to me -- as long as I am seeing some modern men with cheap wigs and bare knees being forced to run around in sodden grass whomping on each other.

Let’s just call it by name; I’m a documentary hag. I love documentaries about cane toads in Australia. I love documentaries about Scrabble championships. I love documentaries about mid-century propaganda musicals from Soviet Russia. Given an unexpected six hours to myself in the house, I brought out boxes of family snapshots that needed organizing and Ken Burns’ epic “Baseball”.

And I hate baseball.

I watch so many documentaries I’ve started to see the same experts over and over again. There’s nothing like seeing a talking head on “The Mysteries of the Mayans” who I instantly recognize from last year’s “The Persian Paradox”. And where is Consort during all of this, you may ask?

Hiding.

He hides because one time (after Daughter was asleep) he crossed the living room and glanced absently at the television screen. “What the hell is THAT?” he yelped.

“Oh,” I said brightly. “It’s about the wife-swapping sub-culture in suburban America among the middle-aged and the elderly. Can you believe the woman in the leather swing has six grandkids?”

Another time, he came in while I was watching Trauma; Life in the ER and happened to see what a patella looks like after it has taken the full force of a pick-up truck backing into it. So, when Consort sees me holding a new Netflix envelope, he tends to scurry.

Oh, who needs him?

As long as I have a talking head in a bowtie, am omniscient narrator, and someone dressed up as Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian Countess who sought of hold off the ravages of age by bathing the blood of virgin girls, I’m happy.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Cathy said...

I have to laugh--that sound so much like me! I'm addicted to those true crime shows on Court TV, Discovery, TLC, and the History Channel. My hubby even calls them the "dead people" shows! "We've seen this one!" "No, that was the version on the New Detectives, this is Forensic Files, and it devotes a full half hour to it. Next week, they're having it on the Investigators, and it gets a whole hour!" Lol! The ones that throw me are on CSI, where I recognize the beginnings of a case from elsewhere, and then they twist it into fiction, so I'm sitting there telling the tv that that's not how it happened!

7:03 AM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

Quinn, what a great title for this great post!

BTW, maybe Nicole Ritchie is also a closet documentary-watching kind of gal, but just doesn't want Entertainment Tonight or People magazine to get wind of it. OR NOT!

7:34 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

Geek sisters of the world unite! I LOVE the book of lists. My poor sad copy fell apart and experienced countless book nerd surgeries consisting of hospital tape and stapled pages as I was growing up. Too funny.

On an unrelated note, being a self-described feminist (insert secret handshake here) like myself, I was curious if this had crossed your radar. Anti-Rape Female Condom. In a nutshell, it's worn like a tampon and has barbed hooks that latch on to the penis and can only be removed surgically, and can supposedly be worn comfortably for up to 24 hours.

I think on the one hand, it would act as more of a deterrant than the threat of a prison sentance or other legality, but how sad is it that women have to resort to such measures to protect their own physical safety?

More detailed news clippings can be found here and here.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

The only thing missing from those fantastic documentaries are your creative titles. Perhaps you could join the documentary-making subculture as the titleist.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Julie,having a small daughter makes me especially speechless when it comes to the idea of being female in a world where that is a credible alternative.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Eryngium said...

Sounds like you need to take a trip to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Quinn...one of the most amazing places on earth for ghouls like us. They've got a plaster cast of Chang and Eng Bunker! http://www.collphyphil.org/muttpg1.shtml

9:30 AM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

It's possible that we could use a secret code to identify other like ourselves in a crowd. If, without preamble, I say "Chang and...?" and the other person shouts happily "Eng Bunker, the most famous conjoined twins!", we can settle down to a REAL conversation.

11:30 AM  
Blogger The Scarlet Pervygirl said...

Ooh, what's the name of the documentary about Bathory?

Also, what's the Consort's problem?

Doesn't he know that the best way to start some serious shagging is to cuddle up with one's honey during a doc and start the necking about 1/4 of the way through, eventually leaving the documentary on pause long enough to get it on, and then come back to it with heightened senses during the post-coital midnight snack?

Thanks for the Cane Toad reference--now it's on my to-see list. Do you know what the one about naked mole-rats is called? I've been looking for it for a while.

8:01 AM  

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