March 16, 2012
The worst part of a cold is the runny nose. Actually I’m not sure why it’s called a runny nose. Maybe it’s because it takes too much time to call it a swollen, drippy, mucus-filled nose. And there is a silver lining to a runny nose: it’s a symptom of the cold, not really the cold itself, because it’s caused by the body finally waking up to the fact that it’s been invaded and is finally fighting back, and all that swelling and mucus is the body shoveling the dead soldiers-dead viruses and white blood cells-out so that the fight can continue. And I’m pretty sure I will prevail. I’m reasonably certain that I haven’t died from a cold yet.
Unfortunately I’ve never really learned to blow my nose properly. For some reason this was something my parents never taught me. It’s been pointed out to me that when blowing my nose I usually apply way too much pressure, with the result being that sooner or later I’m going to blow my brains out. I’m reasonably certain I haven’t already, but then again after blowing my nose I’ve seen things in tissues that make me think I have. What amazes me is that scientists, who are usually so incredibly precise and seem to have a scientific term for everything, pretty much lump all mucus together under the term mucus. I keep thinking there should be more detailed classifications of the different types of things that come out of our noses, and in fact regular people do have a fairly broad taxonomy when it comes to nasal mucus. I’ll start with almost everybody’s favorite: the booger. At least that’s what we Americans call it. In Britain it’s called a bogey, which I think is weird because that’s also a golf term. Every time I hear that some golfer has hit a bogey I imagine British people listening in and thinking, "My goodness, where did they find one big enough to be hit by a golf club?" British children are also sometimes afraid that the bogeyman is hiding under their closet or under their bed, which, to me, makes sense because "bogeyman" sounds like a demonic golfer. In America kids call him the boogie man, which doesn’t sound frightening at all. As a kid I could never get scared of someone who I imagined wearing a gold lame leisure suit and clear plastic heels with goldfish in them, even if he was hiding under my bed and quietly singing "Won’t you take me to funky town…"
And as I said boogers seem to be most peoples’ favorite, even though they have numerous problems. For one thing I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of talking to someone and laughing and having something fly out of our nose. And there’s also the experience of feeling like there’s something the size of the rock of Gibraltar in your nose and running to the bathroom to blow your nose and having nothing come out, and you stand there and wonder where it went. The worst thing, though, is when a booger gets caught on one of your nose hairs, because there’s nothing worse than pulling a nose hair. I think the only reason the CIA doesn’t pull detainees’ nose hairs as a form of torture is because not even they are that cruel. But still boogers are better than what’s unquestionably everybody’s least favorite form of mucus: snot. Personally I think snot itself should be further subdivided since there are basically two types. There’s the clear, thin, watery type that usually signals the beginning of a cold, and that you sometimes get while swimming. At least I do, and hopefully now that I’ve said that I’ll have the pool to myself from now on, but that’s another story. Then there’s the thicker, yellow stuff that comes later in the cold, and that you’re most likely to see when you get up in the morning and blow your nose. And inevitably, since our ears and throats are connected, some of this same stuff will trickle down our throats and become phlegm, which, if you have a cold or if you’re in your nineties and have been a heavy smoker most of your life, you’ll routinely cough up lumps of into your sink or bathtub or coffee each morning. Phlegm is also a great Scrabble word. Interestingly the word "phlegmatic" means "sluggish" or "apathetic", probably because when you’ve gotten to the point in your cold where you’re producing phlegm you’re too exhausted to care anymore.
Still phlegm is my favorite because it means the cold is at its very end. I also like phlegm because it’s a great Scrabble word. And also because it reminds me of a time when I was eating with a friend in a Mexican restaurant and ordered some flan for desert. Flan, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a baked custard that’s usually at the bottom of the menu between the sopapillas and the fried ice cream. My friend misunderstood and started asking me, "Did you just order phlegm? How do they make that? Is the cook gonna hack up something onto a plate?" Maybe it’s because I love flan too much, or maybe I’m just too phlegmatic, or maybe it’s because I have a pretty juvenile sense of humor that I couldn’t stop laughing at what he’d said, and even though there was some resemblance between flan and phlegm I ate it anyway, and still enjoy it. Unfortunately if you used to enjoy flan I’ve probably turned you off of it for life, but then again that just means I’ll have it to myself from now on.