Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Push Button And Walk

While waiting at the corner to cross the street in Beverly Hills I was asked by a woman to push the button because she didn’t want to dirty her fingers. The hazard of a public button had never occurred to me before. After all, a mosquito with no sense of direction may have landed there with West Nile virus and it may be multiplying or dividing on that dreaded surface. From now on I think I’ll use my elbow.

So much can happen while waiting for red to turn green and the white walk icon to flash. As the count-down went from twelve to one I started reviewing my entire medical history including all the diseases I somehow eluded even with my reckless exposure to buttons, doorknobs and handles. Of course my mother, who was a pre-eminent scholar of miasma theory, discovered early on that all disease was caused by the dreaded draft and failure to wear three sweaters and galoshes from October through March.

I’m glad I came down with chickenpox, measles and mumps and got them over with as a kid. I’m not sure about whooping cough. I have a faint memory of whooping. Every kid should whoop once in a while. Diphtheria has a mellifluous ring to it but I suppose it was gone before my time. I didn’t know anyone with diphtheria however sweet the sound. Pneumonia was devoutly to be avoided and double pneumonia, twice as bad; triple would land you in the Guiness record book.

All of us were probably in the vise of the Grippe once or twice. Whatever hold it had on us seems to have loosened over the years. The last case was probably reported fifty years ago but you have to admire its evocative name. It turns out the Grippe was likely the flu or bad cold but you had more purchase returning to school having snapped the chains of the Grippe.

Scarlet fever was a mixed blessing for me. The bad news was my 103.6 temperature (rectally speaking) which probably had my mother cursing the sweaters and malevolent air. The good news was that it left me with a heart murmur which murmured selectively. It excused me from strenuous physical activity of my choice. I played my heart out in the schoolyards but exempted myself from running the mile or climbing the rope in gym.

By now the six seconds was changing to five. I still hadn’t come down with West Nile virus though who knows what colonies were thriving on my fingertip. I started thinking how I overcame another early deficit. My mother divided the world into good eaters and bad. I was the model of a bad one. I never mastered the art of hiding the liver under the mashed potatoes. And all that time people were starving in China demonstrating what a good-for-nothing kid I was. It was only a few years ago that I learned the people in China, even then, were told that Americans were starving. Somewhere along the way I became a good eater. If only my mother could see me now particularly in Chinese restaurants.

The green came on but there is always a car or two defiant of the tyranny of traffic lights. Pedestrians must walk with caution. I also learned this from my mother. She was convinced that cars, particularly trucks were driven by assassins. Making it across the street took a lot out of her. Getting to the other side was like crossing the river Jordan, a kind of deliverance having dodged road-rage and the forces of evil in noxious air.

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