Have you ever thought about where colds come from? Where they start?

I was talking to my neighbor the other day and mid-sentence, started coughing.

“It’ll take a month to get over that cough,” she told me.

That’s when I knew who had given it to me. It was kind of eerie, like a murderer showing up at the funeral of his victim.

“You’d better drink some lemon tea with honey,” she advised.

Living a month with this cough seems unbearable. The thing about coughs is that they can erupt anytime without warning. And, as I learned recently, they can spew too.

Later that day, I walked into our island’s post office, where I was greeted by Minnie Mouse sitting behind the counter. I know, it seems surprising that we’d have a famous Disney character working at our post office, but the unmistakable Minnie is there every time I go in. She is a beautiful Japanese girl in her 20s who has plucked her eyebrows bare, then redrawn two cartoon eyebrows waaaaay above her eyes near the hairline, giving her the eternally wide-eyed surprised look. Even when she is sleeping.

While speaking with Minnie about international postal rates, I suddenly felt a slight eruption coming from my mucus-lined throat. In order not to cough, I held my breath, shortly after which I started turning blue. I think poor Minnie thought I was going to blow up.

“Are you OK?” she asked, as I started some internal heaving, while holding back the coughs. I turned my head to the side just in case. With no recovery in sight, I left, waving my hand to indicate I’d come back later.

This is probably the reason Japanese people, especially ones in clerical positions, wear masks when they have a cold. That way they don’t infect their entire customer base, which would put them out of business because there would be no healthy customers left. But foreigners wearing masks just isn’t a good idea because it prompts the Japanese to start asking questions like, “Why are you wearing a mask?” If you tell them you have a cold, they start acting as if you had some major disease and only a week to live. “Have you seen a doctor?” “Have you informed your parents in the U.S.?” “What should we do with your remains?”

So all you can do is walk around holding your breath and drinking lemon tea with honey (works marginally), or imbibing in the occasional lemon chuhai (works better). I have also attempted to disguise the “clearing the throat” episodes by neighing like a horse (works) and growling like a dog on a chain (works even better). But next, I’m going to try eating some of my cat’s food — the anti-hair ball stuff.

I think if I had a permanent cold like this, I’d have to join a band. Maybe Roy Orbison just always had mucus in his throat.

My throat is so full of mucus while sleeping that sometimes I wonder if it is possible to die in your own mucus like you can with vomit? When you wake up suffocating from the stuff, you’ve just gotta wonder if the slime isn’t out to get you.

What would be beneficial in times like this is a catapult that would hawk the mucus out of the throat automatically. Which is exactly what happened when I stopped to talk to Amano-san on my way back from the post office. She was riding her bicycle and stopped to talk. But suddenly, in mid-sentence, I felt an eruption coming on. This one I could not put off by holding my breath. I started coughing and unwittingly dislodged a ball of mucus that flew out of my mouth so fast that I only saw the result — a glistening green spot on the pavement.

Amano-san pretended she didn’t notice the hastily expelled secretion of mucins, water, electrolytes, epithelial cells and leukocytes, but I apologized anyway.

In truth, I prefer a more sophisticated, predictable type of phlegmagogue. I’d like to have one of those saliva vacuum tubes they put in your mouth at the dentist office. They could make a battery-powered one that would suck up mucus. The slime could then be discarded in a repository that hangs on the side of the mouth like the ones that hang on the side of rice cookers to catch the steam when it turns back to water.

I don’t know why someone hasn’t come up with a more attractive name for mucus, which has Latin origins and means, you guessed it, “snot.” The dictionary dates the usage of the word mucus to around 1655. Makes you wonder what they called it before 1655. Or maybe 1655 is the date when mucus was discovered, perhaps by the distinguished Dr. Mucus.

You’d think there’d be a euphemism that people would be more comfortable using. And don’t even mention “phlegm,” which is equally, well, distasteful. Perhaps we should use the Japanese term for mucus, which is “tan.” Things always sound better in a foreign language, right? And the written form has color overtones which at least move us away from green secretions and more towards beige. Whereas “slimy, green” are a typical adjectival pair, “viscous, tan” would be a downright refreshing adjectival pair in English.

But getting back to the origins of colds, I have discovered that the only sure way to get rid of a cold is: Give it to someone else.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.