Ralph Gardner Jr: Under The Weather

Feb 18, 2018

You’ve probably heard that this is a particularly nasty flu season. Apologies for my cough. As a matter of fact, you may be listening to this commentary with a thermometer in your mouth and a bottle of Tylenol by your side.

But I’m here to tell you that you can enjoy the flu. Perhaps enjoy is too strong a word. And I don’t mean to diminish its risks.

But you can embrace it, as I did, over the last few days. One of those days in particular when I had no other choice.

To answer your question – yes, I got a flu shot. Early in the season. I’m a big believer in vaccinations.

As you’ve probably also heard, this season’s flu shot isn’t especially effective. But you should get it in any case. It’s better than not getting the shot. I’ve also read that if you do and still get sick the symptoms aren’t as severe.

I attributed my ability to avoid the disease until recently to a few factors, clean living not necessarily among them.

For one thing I work alone, often upstate at a farmhouse at the end of a long road so my exposure to sick people isn’t as common as if I took the subway to work every morning.

Also, I have felt slightly ill on a couple of occasions. But I assumed that was the flu whistling past my head because the shot had provided me limited immunity. For all I knew I had it but with the mildest of symptoms.

But one cannot live by trees and snow and the companionship of one’s spouse alone -- charming, talented and funny though she or he may be. In essence, in a state of quarantine.

Eventually, one must return to the world. To socialize, to work, to stop from going bonkers.

That happened to me on a recent Monday night when I attended a couple of gallery openings in the city. Of course, I needn’t have gotten the flu at the opening. For all I know, I got it from one of the 50,000 or so people one routinely crosses paths with in a thriving metropolis.

You’ve seen the movie Contagion? Actually, I haven’t. Or any of a dozen other diabolical virus films. Who watches those things anyway? Is there some sort of vicarious thrill in knowing it’s only a movie?

In any case, after feeling increasingly lousy for a few days, I woke up last Friday morning feeling even worse. No fever, mind you. Or vomiting. Or uncontrollable chills.

Just the profound knowledge that my body had been taken over by evil spirits.

I know there’s something wrong with me when I wake up and don’t feel like writing. That may sound strange to some people. Especially those who hate to write. But for me it’s not only my livelihood but also therapy and meditation.

But I had no interest in writing, whatsoever. After checking out the headlines on my phone I went back to sleep for the first of several profound naps that day. My body was calling in sick.

Here’s where I was talking about embracing your disease. I can’t remember the last time I had the flu. But it reminded me of staying home from school as a kid because you were actually, legitimately too sick to get dressed and board the bus.

As sick as you were, you also enjoyed peace of mind. You weren’t faking it. You’d earned family members ministering to you with toast and tea and ginger ale and perhaps when you felt up to it later in the day a bowl of chicken soup.

Ah! The taste of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup is returning to me now -- with those slimy noodles, and something white and tasteless resembling chicken floating in the thin iridescent broth.

Part of the pleasure of childhood colds and flu, if you were strong enough, was unlimited TV watching. In my generation the morning line-up included Leave It To Beaver, Andy Griffith and the Dick Van Dyke Show.

I wasn’t able to locate any of them on my TV during my current bout with the flu even though I get somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 channels. I am pleased to report, however, that I found lots of cartoons. So that if there were children in similar circumstances they didn’t lack for entertainment.

By 1 p.m. and with the help of a loving wife, who had flu symptoms herself, and an excellent bowl of matzo ball soup – part of the grace of living in a big city is being able to order in – I was sufficiently restored that I managed to watch an entire episode of Star Trek. The original series starring William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock.

In this episode – “Dagger of the Mind” – Captain Kirk beams down to investigate strange doings on a penal colony planet after one of its inmate’s shows up on the Starship Enterprise ranting and raving.

No need to go into details, though I enjoyed the kitschy Sixties production values. They proved almost as therapeutic as the soup.

Another restorative nap ensued. That brought me to 5 p.m. and the start of “Tess,” Roman Polanski’s atmospheric take on the Thomas Hardy novel starring the beautiful Nastassja Kinski.

Can I hear it for Turner Classic Movies? Three hours long without a single commercial interruption. Days later part of me still feels embedded in the 19th century English countryside.

The movie ended at 8. Just in time for the Olympic opening ceremonies, before turning out the lights around 9 and another ten or eleven hour nap.

I awoke the next morning feeling completely normal and refreshed.

As I said, I don’t recommend the flu. But there’s something to be said for occasionally stepping aside and letting the world spin by without you.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

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