Plague diary, March 14

Today is the Feast of Saint Lidwid, patroness saint of the chronically ill and ice skaters. It occurs to me that if Ronald Colman got stoned he’d be James Mason. Try it yourself. Do Ronald Colman saying Bonita, smoke a joint, then do Ronald Colman saying Bonita again. Voila—James Mason. Sadly, if you actually can do Ronald Colman saying Bonita, you’re a cinch to be a coronavirus statistic. Hence, Saint Lidwid.

Our uniquely American coronavirus experiment

So it seems the United States has undertaken a fascinating experiment to see just how vulnerable septuagenarian presidential contenders in large crowds several times a week are to the coronavirus. Though death is unlikely—that increases dramatically after eighty—were any of them to fall ill to the virus they would certainly have to be hospitalized and quarantined, and I have no idea how long the hospital stay would be and when they’d be healthy enough to return to campaigning (let alone being president.) Even if the disease proves to be mild for most people it would likely still be severe for anyone in their seventies, perhaps even dangerously so. It’s hard to get around the fact that a presidential campaign in a rapidly expanding pandemic leaves candidates Biden, Sanders and Trump extremely vulnerable to getting very, very ill. Our presidential candidates are supposed to be seen personally by literally millions of people, wade into crowds, press the flesh, shake a zillion hands, kiss hundreds of babies, meet thousands of reporters, stay in hundreds of hotels and takes hundreds of trips by air. They must do everything the CDC tells you never to do.

And then there’s the matter of testing everyone each had been in contact with and then quarantining the infected among them, not to mention the possibility of having to hospitalize some of those people as well. There are very few people who meet as many people as a presidential candidate in the heat of a campaign. Each, once infected, would be an extraordinarily effective disease vector, a Typhoid Mary gone meta, viral gone viral. Just the selfies alone hold extraordinary potential for exponential virus transmission. An iPhone is exquisitely designed to transfer the coronavirus from one victim to another with a swipe of the screen.

Interesting scenarios at the very least.

Notes from a previous pandemic

From emails sent while down with the H1N1 flu, 2009…..

Flu hit suddenly Sat noonish. You will crack up…Fyl had made some hummingbird nectar and put it in a dry goods container that was easy to topple.  I envisioned sticky red hummingbird nectar everywhere and freaked out, poured it into the sink and raged a bit about sticky stuff, then retreated to the couch and had an inexplicable panic attack for about a half hour, obsessing over sticky stuff. [I am epileptic and this was apparently some weird epileptic panic attack set off by the virus.] Then I got incredibly sleepy and managed to make it into the bedroom, shut the blinds, strip to skivvies and slip into bed under the covers and slept for a couple hours. Woke up damp with sweat. Up maybe 15 minutes and back to bed. Woke up sweaty again, with a real flu-sy feeling. No respiratory stuff, some GI discomfort.  Just feverish and sleepy. Sometimes intensely sleepy. Chills and mild fevers come and go. I looked up flu symptoms and this matched the mild symptoms of the swine flu that are being reported, especially the “lethargy, sometimes extreme”. Just a hint of respiratory stuff, a sore throat for a hour or two, mildly stuffy nasal thing. Cramps and aches pretty minor, chills come and go, but wish I could shake the tiredness. Seems to lessen by the day.

On Friday we were at a jazz joint and ran into a friend who had just returned from NYC [where H1N1 was pandemic] and was telling me all about the packed nightclubs. He leaned right into my face a couple times to be heard. This thing started about 7 or 8 hours later. The force it hit with is obvious by how it so threw off my epilepsy meds and caused me to freak about sticky stuff. I suppose I would have freaked out about anything. Sticky stuff is just funny…..

Having trouble reading, btw.  Get groggy. A drag.

My only real complaints about this thing are that the drowsiness makes it hard to read and that it’s severely circumscribed my quality partying time. We must have our priorities.

I appear to be on the recovery side of a sudden flu that hit me Sat afternoon the symptoms of which match the current swine flu. Never had a flu quite like it. Mild but the lethargy was debilitating…you just stopped everything and fell asleep. Chills, bone aches, a little GI discomfort, like that…respiratory symtoms almost totally absent…looked like I was gonna develop some Sat nite but dissipated in an hour or two, and had a cough and sore throat the same way. But muscle cramping, aches, mild fever and extreme lethargy…. Damn thing hit so fast om Saturday that within an hour I was in bed, asleep and sweating. Very dramatic onset. You can see how were one to have more severe symptoms it could be life threatening really fast. The first sign that something was amiss was a panic attack for the stupidest reason that left me shaking and freaked out—apparently the immune system reaction was so strong it must have completely thrown off my epilepsy med levels…within thirty minutes of that I was in bed just about unable to move. It was very impressive.

I woke up after a couple hours and tried to use the head—GI was upset—but passed out of the toilet!!! Right back to bed. Woke up soaked later and recognized that flu-sy feeling all over. That’s when I started to look up symptoms and found out I was kinda textbook H1N1. Now….Friday night—less than 24 hours earlier—we ran into an old pal who had just gotten back from NYC where he spent times in the jammed nightclubs…and who to make himself heard over the band in the room was coming in close to my face….I kinda figure that was contact for me.

Anyway, I am so proud to be the first person I know of with swine flu [as it was being called in the media at the time.] Alas, I quarantined myself, and Fyl as well so we have not done a very good job of passing it on. Even kept separate from her as much as possible. Hopefully back at work on Thursday.

Been home on the couch with the swine flu a few days. There was just a knock at the door. Jehovah Witnesses. I shouted from inside Black Plague-like that “we have the flu in here”. Jehovah filled them up with fear, I guess, as they blessed me through the door and fled down the steps.

I’ve been fascinated with the pathology of influenza ever since my dad used to tell me the stories he’s heard from his mother about the 1919 Spanish Influenza.  I read whatever I could find on it, which hasn’t been much till the last dozen years or so..and what I could never fathom was how a flu could be so virulent…not so much how contagious it could be, that I could understand, but the rapidity of the onset. How someone could be feeling fine and within an hour desperately ill. It didn’t seem conceivable until last Saturday.  I went from perfectly fine, feeling great, to passed out in bed in less than thirty minutes. The first effect was a bizarre panic attack of a few minutes about nothing, without warning, absolutely out of nowhere, followed within a couple by trembling, then a sort of lower extremity numbness, followed by chills and then a sudden attack of fatigue so extreme that all I could do was go into the bedroom, close the blinds, undress, get under the covers and fall asleep. We are talking at most fifteen minutes here. I probably laid in bed at the most five minutes utterly exhausted before passing out utterly. Fyl got into the shower after my initial freak out (being married to an epileptic weirdo she paid little heed to that) and by the time she got out of the shower I was dead asleep. She woke me up I think two hours later. I vaguely remember being sweaty and having vivid dreams. I got up. dressed, and I think told her we could still do the things we had planned on that night. I felt like I had the runs or something coming on, some kind of GI discomfort.. I passed out in the john, got up and immediately went back into bed. I guess i slept another hour and woke up sweaty again, got up, and realized that I felt like I had the flu. That flu feeling all over. Thus I had been sick for a good three hours but been so stricken with fatigue I didn’t even know it. That’s when I wondered if I might have that new flu, as this one was unlike any flu I had ever had. I knew the symptoms were mild, and there was so lung infection and just became completely fascinated. I was actually exited to be experiencing this new flu. At last I understood just how influenza could kill healthy people…. You see, the onset is so rapid, and so overwhelming, that if the symptoms did include respiratory problems, they would develop with incredible speed, so fast that even the healthiest body would be challenged to deal with them. The overwhelming immune response can kill the patient. All my responses—the crazy nervous system response—the panic attack—and the trembling and the fatigue were all side effects of my massive immunological response. That is how all those perfectly healthy young people died in 1919. That I knew. But this was how it felt. This was what it was like to have your body impacted by an extremely virulent form of influenza—even though the degree of infection was far smaller. And weird as it sounds I was really thrilled to get this. Now I knew.

By the way, the only thing I can compare it too in speed of onset is food poisoning. It hits with the same velocity and power.

My god I sound like Mr. Spock.

[I was the first person I knew to come down with the H1N1 flu and certainly the only one to admit it. I wasn’t allowed back to work for ten days. I knew dozens of people who felt achey and slept for several days, but none were dumb enough to call it the flu.]

Somewhere drunk people are writing memes

Easter was not how you pronounced Ishtar. Ishtar is pronounced–hang on–ish-tar. Dig that crazy voiceless postalveolar fricative. When you shhhhhhh someone you are shaming them with a voiceless postalveolar fricative. Easter is a word that comes from the ancient German, where it was pronounced something like e-oster, and it contains, instead of a voiceless postalveolar fricative a fricative is any sound, a voiceless alveolar sibilant followed immediately by a voiceless retroflex stop. That’s the st sound. Add a voiceless bilabial stop–the p sound–to that  voiceless alveolar sibilant and voiceless retroflex stop and you get psssssst, though not like getting drunk pssssst. That would be pssssht, a voiceless bilabial stop-voiceless postalveolar fricative-voiceless retroflex stop, and some someone would voiceless postalverolar fricative back even louder and everything would be all fricked up. Every time I see that ridiculous Ishtar-Easter meme, I wonder how the hell anyone could think an SH was pronounced like ST, unless they were drunk. Somewhere drunk people are writing memes, and the world is believing every voiceless postalveolar fricative of them. Australian indigenes had neither voiceless alveolar sibilant (or any sibilants at all) and no voiceless postalveolar fricative, and could not have said Ishtar or Easter, let alone psssst or shhhhhh. They would not have been reading those memes. But they could say ingoorrooloorrloorroona noorroo.

(Written maybe ten years ago….)

Allosaurus

Any dinosaur obsessed school kid knew that in One Million Years B.C. Raquel Welch was chased by an allosaurus and not a tyrannosaurus, though by the time that kid was in high school the genus of the dinosaur mattered less than the topography the dinosaur was chasing. But allosauruses had bigger arms than those silly things dangling from the upper torso of Spielberg’s (and artist/designer Crash McCreery’s) tyrannosaurus, not that you’d notice if you were Jeff Goldblum. But had it truly been a Jurassic Park, it would’ve been an allosaurus ignoring Goldblum’s jokes. The allosaurus was the iconic apex predator of the Jurassic Age, the eater of the brontosaurus, going back easily 150 million years, whereas T Rex was the apex predator of the Cretaceous period, a mere 70 or 80 million years ago. As I watched the movie that occurred to me, but for once I shut up.

Anyway they found a new allosaurus. Groovy.

A Late Jurassic allosaurus (named Gwangi) beautifully rendered by Ray Harryhausen for The Valley of Gwangi (1969) battling an unnamed Cretaceous styracosaurus. Again with the paleontological discongruities. Also, cowboys.

Valentine’s Day

What a great Valentine’s Day that was, our 40th. Dinner at El Cacerio in Silver Lake. Called earlier to double check on our reservation made weeks ago. They didn’t have it. Said they’d called yesterday and I didn’t answer so they gave our place to someone else. I didn’t remember any call except our Uber driver. But that wasn’t our Uber driver, it was the restaurant. The Uber driver had been about to call, saw us and hung up before dialing. How was I to know. Anyway, we got a 9 pm reservation instead, but as we were speaking a cancellation came through Yelp on her iPad for 8:30 and we took that. Yelp texted my iPhone. I had to download the app which I didn’t realize I hadn’t done yet. A few buttons pushed and the app was downloaded, I dragged it into the folder with all the other dining apps and opened it, accepted the reservation verification and closed the app. Yelp texted me again, telling me the reservation was set. Then I opened up the Uber app, then the Lyft app and compared fares, closed Lyft, typed El Caserio into the Uber destination field, the app populated the destination info for me, arranged a car, which arrived and drove us past the lake which glimmered with an analog beauty in the moonlight, dropped us off at the restaurant and took payment for the ride from our bank account via PayPal. The maitre d’ found our reservation on his iPad and we were whizzed off to table for a meal that was delicious and terribly romantic in its lack of high technologies until I paid with an ATM card.

Forty years ago on our first Valentine’s Day we ate at a place called Hal’s off Upper State in Santa Barbara. The only thing that meal had in common with tonight was that we ate our food with a knife and fork. I’d called in a reservation on our rotary phone and my name was written in pencil on a pad of paper next to their rotary phone. Not only did we do none of the other internet driven preliminaries forty years ago, but none of them were actually possible because none of the technologies had been invented or even imagined yet, not even on Star Trek. The hours before dinner were rendered empty. We probably spent all that time screwing.

Meterorite

A thirty plus ton meteorite dug up in Argentina. A larger one had been dug up nearby some time ago. The area is spattered with numerous other craters. Here’s the scary part—apparently both the two ginormous meteorites and the other craters were from the same meteor shower that freaked the locals out of their ever loving minds between 4200 and 4700 years ago, or in the parlance of the press, about the time of the Great Pyramids. (Everything is either older than or the same age as the Pyramids in the news.) Allow yourself a moment to consider the modern possibilities of such a meteor shower. Yes, one could hit Trump. But it could hit the San Fernando Valley too.

Just for comparison, they dug up an 66 ton meteorite in Namibia a century ago that smacked into the Kalahari 80,000 years ago. Again, a mind fuck for the locals, whoever they were then. One wonders, if it were seen, how they conceptualized it. How they discussed it. If they painted it on cave walls in ochre, as they seemed to have been doing not far off not long afterward. If they were even there at all.

But I digress.

The Namibian meteorite (since called the Hoba) is a rough square about nine by nine feet and three feet high. Halve that mass for each of the two Argentine. On the other hand, the megameterorite—an asteroid, perhaps a comet—that whomped into the Gulf of Mexico and zapped all the dinosaurs but birds into the cornfield was from seven to fifty miles in diameter. At that high end you could have wrapped the entire San Fernando Valley around it, with a little squeezing here and stretching there, like some weird Arthur C. Clarke novel, just as a thought experiment. Or you could forget you read that sentence. You could put that Hoba meteorite in my living room and still have room for the Christmas tree.

Considering the perfect math of objects orbiting the sun, some of the millions of asteroids in the solar system, some as big or bigger as the dinosaur whomper, are bound to touch, smack or whomp the earth again, many, many times.

I prefer not to think about it.

Blue Planet II, episode 2

Blue Planet 2. Problem solving and coordinated group action by clownfish. Who knew? Besides other clownfish, I mean. And what’s with the meter long carnivorous worm? Teeth sharp as pinking shears, hence the name: Bobbitt. As in Lorena. David Attenborough left that part out (no pun intended).The damn things can get up to ten feet, I read, like sandworms in Dune. They can lop a foot long fish clean in half. A Devonian Era nightmare, giant meat eating invertebrates. Acid visions of carnivorous trilobites. Thankfully they went instinct first.

Then the scene with hundreds of reef sharks swimming menacingly above thousands of groupers. Suddenly l’amour drives the groupers mad and they rush upward into the sharks, shedding eggs and milt to the seven seas. The sharks go into a feeding frenzy and the surging waters are all blood and roe and sperm, a veritable fish fuck massacre. Stella!

The clownfish were so neat and orderly and mannered in comparison. They’ll go far. Check back in a hundred million years.

(Originally posted on BricksScience.com in 2018).

Plethora

I only use plethora to sound pretentious. Otherwise I’d never touch it. Why I don’t know. It is kind of a strange word. It was Greek and then popped into medical Latin about 500 years ago meaning excess fluid. You sprain your ankle and it swells up like a balloon with plethora, or plethorae or plethoram depending on the case. There are four different endings for the plural in case you manage to sprain both ankles. It must have been a relief that it remained in Latin. Or would have, had not some wag turned it into a English metaphor for excess anythings about three hundred years ago and it has not shifted meaning in all the time since. It has probably always bothered some people because it still sounds more like a medical condition than a group noun. I probably use its antonym dearth more, because apparently I don’t think it’s as pretentious as plethora. They’re not the least bit related. Plethora was plucked by an intellectual from the Latin, while dearth came up the hard way, from the West Germanic, like most of English. Dearth in medieval times–derthe–had connotations of a bare cupboard, of famine. It was a scary, ugly word, and with the vagaries of food supply in that era was probably more commonly used than we could ever comprehend in our own obese times. Go back deep into the Dark Ages, in the Old Saxon from which much of our English sprung, and diurtha meant love, glory, even splendor. It was an exultant word. A thrilling word. But that was many centuries ago. Now it means not enough, and will soon be forgotten altogether, as have nearly all words in all languages, eventually. Linguists educatedly guess that 80% of all languages spoken in history have disappeared, perhaps 31,000 tongues. That’s a lot of words. Some get passed on and transmogrified, like dearth. Some get dug up and repurposed, like plethora. Most disappear forever, or darisam, as a Sumerian would have said.

Owls

I could hear a pair of great horned owls calling to each other just now, first the female’s somewhat higher pitch, sort of like that of a mourning dove. Then the male’s deeper, louder response. They alternated like that for several minutes. Each call was five or six notes in a monotone, breathy and eerie, and by day would be buried under the cacophony of mockingbirds, but in the weird silence of our neighborhood tonight, like a country town and not just a couple miles from Hollywood and downtown, I could hear them plainly even though the windows are shut. I snuck outside to see if I could glimpse a silhouette, but nothing, just the haunting notes back and forth. Soon only the female called, the male having stolen away in silence. Then she too stopped, and there was almost complete silence but for the steady hum of traffic on the freeway in the distance.