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 a great deal 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. Before I hit adolescence 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…”
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 -pressure rose.
“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 army 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 didn't finish college – had to concede that the man with a lifetimes’ work in communicable diseases might have a valid point. And then I searched Netflix to see if there was another documentary covering exactly the same information, possibly from a new angle; maybe someone got the pig's perspective.
Please don’t think I’m flu-fixated. 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 on 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 Puzzle of the Persians. 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.