Hot Air: Cleaner (and Safer?)

Doing a little research yesterday into the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed, some observers have estimated, 100 million people across the globe, I found that many — if not most — deaths might have been attributable to poor hygiene.

See, people weren’t as…, shall we say, anal about body cleanliness a hundred years ago as we are today. The truth is, it wasn’t until the latter part of the 19th century that people even started thinking about taking weekly baths — and that didn’t really become a habit for millions until well into the 20th. Now, of course, we scrub and perfume and primp and preen from morning until night, the better for outfits like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive to keep us addicted to Crest™, Dove™, and Mennen Speed Stick™.

May As Well; It’s October.

There’s good and bad in this evolution of body care. The bad: we strip our hair and skin of essential oils and interfere with the body’s natural protections against microbes by showering and shampooing every single day with harsh chemical-laden products. The good: most deaths (not including those attributable to old age) in the old days were caused by infections and other maladies that could have been prevented if only people had known to wash their hands, their areas, and other appendages on a regular basis.

The Spanish Flu, I learned, not only made sufferers feel sick as dogs, it also profoundly weakened the body’s immune system, making people who carried the virus susceptible to a legion of infections and illnesses. And since people weren’t exactly religious about washing the day’s grime off themselves, the little bugeroos that love to frolic about in skin-oil laden filth had a field day. And should there have been even the slightest tear in the skin — a common occurrence for people who often engaged in manual labor — those bugs got to enter Valhalla, the juicy, warm, nutrient-filled playpen that is the inside of the body. Once inside they were able to overwhelm whatever cellular defenses the body attempted to muster and, next thing you knew, you were being laid out in a wooden casket, waiting to be picked up by the horse-drawn carts that would pass by every day or so, collecting the dead. Yep, that’s how quickly people were keeling over.

And don’t forget the war that was raging in the trenches throughout Europe. Any good history of World War I will convey to the reader the misery, the stink, the hork-inducing nastiness of the excrement-, urine-, and food waste-tainted environs around those foxholes. Tens of thousands of American soldiers (and hundreds of thousands of European civilians) died of disease, including Spanish Flu, during that calamitous conflict.

The Typical WWI Trench Wasn’t Exactly Your Great-Great-Grandma’s Kitchen.

The good news is that kind of thing won’t be too much of a factor as we continue to see the death toll rise from COVID-19. The successive waves of death that followed the original toll from this 21st century virus, it is to be dearly hoped, won’t be as dramatic this time around.

Looking To The Future

The young adults who graduate this month from Indiana University and countless other factories of higher educ. around this holy land are facing a real world unfamiliar to alums of years past. Even as recently as last year, college graduates could entertain reasonable hopes their parents’ six figure investments in their future would pay off to some extent or another.


I mean, if a 22 y.o. with a Bachelor’s in, say, Viticulture & Enology (yep, Cornell U. offers that degree program) wasn’t enough to qualify you to immediately step into a position as sommelier at Le Bernadin in Midtown Manhattan, you could reasonably expect to score a gig at your local package goods store.

Now that COVID-19 is making even operators of carry-out liquor stores wonder if they can stay in business past the end of the month, the Class of 2020, collectively, has to be chewing their fingernails, unsure of where and how they’ll land that $250,000 a year position they were certain they’d get after cramming and cribbing through four years of college.

So, this week, joining me on Big Talk will be a member of last week’s IU graduating class, Charlotte Wager-Miller. She’s a typical college grad (well, not really all that typical, as you’ll find out) but she’ll be tackling the same lockdown economy, to be followed by a potential depression, that hundreds of thousands of other fresh-ex-students are.

Tune in today at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. And come back here tomorrow for a link to the podcast of the program, as always.


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