Saturday, December 8, 2007

Pop Culture and the Big Noo

My friend and Lost Dog writer Bill Cameron suggests I rename "The Big P" to "The Big Noo," lest I give the impression that pneumonia travels to the urinary tract. So in honor of Bill, I wanted to share some impressions along my road to recovery from you-know-what.

It takes too damn long, number one. We're used to things that feel like bad colds or viruses lasting a week. Pneumonia, from the combination of the illness itself, which is debilitating, and the antibiotics (and I was on two of them, since I like to do everything in a big way), lingers like the smell of old beer in a college dorm room.

Consequently, I'm in the frustrating stage when I want to resume life as usual and can't, because I'm weak, and feeling weak makes me irritable. No one likes to feel mortality pressing in on them, especially when your career is writing about it. Besides, I like to get into the holiday spirit, do my patriotic duty, and go shopping.

So what to do? Well, I was able to work on my new novel a little yesterday, and that made me feel better. And I've been watching TCM. A lot. I'm an old movie fan, and my next series is set in '39, so what better way to pass the time if I can't write?

Now, during my film festival, I noticed something both scary and funny ... The Big Noo was mentioned or depicted in over half the films I watched. Seems like every time the RKO Radio signal buzzed out morse code or the MGM lion roared, some character would mention pneumonia ... with one of those looks that says "I hope you've got life insurance."

Irene Dunne compared it to typhoid. Ann Southern kept kids out of the rain so they wouldn't get it. Lew Ayres, as Dr. Kildare, tried to cure it. Everywhere I turned, pneumonia. The Big Noo, indeed.

This sort of brought home how lucky we are, even in an age of diminishing antibiotics. And it made me stop fretting and slow down. Pneumonia was spoken of in my grandparents' era as if it were the Plague. Next to "consumption" (TB), it was one of those illnesses feared most throughout the 19th century--remember, Kate Winslet may have survived the Titanic, but she barely survived the Big Noo in Sense and Sensibility.

Even in 1949, the year of one of the greatest Christmas songs ever--Baby, It's Cold Outside--you don't get away from it:

There's bound to be talk tomorrow--
(Think of my life long sorrow ...)
At least there'll be plenty implied!
(If you caught pneumonia and died--)

You get the picture. The Big Noo loomed prominently in the pop culture of the past. I'm gonna give it the respect it deserves, and quit treating it like a virus. Maybe when NOX DORMIENDA comes out next July, I'll run a contest for the most Big Noo citations in pop culture ... and next year ... well, I'm getting a pneumonia shot!


Bill Cameron said...

Can you get a pneumonia shot? Sign me up!

I had the Big Noo when I was in third grade. They called it "walking pneumonia", which I guess is not as bad as sitting pneumonia or lounging pneumonia. To be honest, I didn't do much walking. During my bout, I occupied myself with the precursor to TCM: the local independent television station. Underdog, Green Acres, Gilligan's Island. The giants, you know.

Anyway, I don't remember how I felt about having the Big Noo. I suspect I was plenty bored, and when I got back to school after almost a month off I know I wasn't enthused about all the catching up I had to do.

Perhaps these days the Big Noo has become an ironic commentary on how skewed our life priorities have become. As you say, it used to be something more than an item to check off on our To Do list.

Kelli Stanley said...

You said it, buddy. Nowadays, we stress about illness more than ever. Too much economic pressure!

A far cry from thirty and forty years ago when 21st century predictions about a four day work week, a huge leisure industry and smart little air vehicles (just like our pals, the Jetsons) were all the rage ...

And yeah, I didn't know about Noo shots either, until I went to the ER. They're good for five years, and since I've had the BN twice in the last five years, I'm a good candidate!

rebecca cantrell said...

I'm gonna get me one of those shots too. So now it's Noir Noo? That sounds like some kind of cutesy dog you carry in your purse.

Thanks for all the references to the Big Noo in classic movies.

And maybe you can use the feeling of weakness in a book, as the protagonist is paralyzed, too weakened by the Big Noo to run or scream...or maybe now's not the best time to be thinking about that. :)

Hope you feel better soon, and do take it easy. I selfishly want you to get better so I can read a series set in 1939.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Beck! Yes, Noo shots are the hot new thing ... forget Ecstasy, next time you're at a rave, ask for the BNS, and you'll get a knowing wink. ;)

I just hope Paris Hilton doesn't read this and think Noir Noo is a good name for her next dog ...
And I love that plot idea, but hmmm ... you're right ... I'll need more distance. Sort of "Sorry, Wrong Number" with Noo.

And extra special thanks for wanting to read the '39 book! I love the '20s-'30s period, and I can't wait to read EVEN SMOKE LEAVES A TRACE!! The setting, the situation, and of course your writing--all fantastic!

I did a lot of research on the Nazis when I was younger ... still one of the best books I remember reading was "A Social History of the Third Reich." When we get together, I'll tell you about the trip I made to Dachau.

Anyway, I'm on the mend and hoping to have the '39 project done by March. Stay healthy!! :)

rebecca cantrell said...

Aww, shucks. I'm glad you like the book. I'm moving through the 1930s in the series. The book I'm working on now (THE NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES) is set in 1934, then I'm thinking 1936. Maybe just a trilogy.

As geeky as it sounds, I can't wait to talk to you about 20s and 30s stuff (the joy of finding old newspapers, the range of old photos now on the web, etc.) and
your trip to Dachau. I mention Dachau in the second book, but don't go there.

Germany just gets so much bleaker and bleaker in the 1930s. That's why I set the first one in 1931, back when I thought it would be a standalone.

Kelli Stanley said...

I love geek talk, girl ... I'm a geek from way back when. I collect comic books (vintage, natch) and owned a comic book/pop culture store, and it doesn't get geekier than that! ;)

(Well, actually it does ... the academic classical world is geekier than the comic book world).

I've loved that era since I was a wee tot. In fact, I think I'll write about it and geekiness in my next blog post (hopefully today ... you've inspired me!) :)

My goal is to progress through WWII with this character ... but that's not for about four or five more books.

Can't wait to dish over old newspapers! :)