Has this ever happened to you?
You’re walking down the street, and you hear a loud hacking sound, like a dog choking on a bone—only wetter.
The sound is coming from somewhere around the corner or maybe even from the next street over. You can’t see its source, but the sound is clearly audible, only slightly muffled by the city noise of
revving engines and distant sirens.
The hacking stops for a half-second, then resumes and begins to build into a rolling cough, the kind that doctors call “productive.” As you listen to the crescendo-ing gurgle, you can actually envision the viscous liquid dislodging itself from the tracheal walls and making its way up through the uvula.
There’s a small verbal utterance of effort, a small whoosh like milkshake through a straw, and finally, the thick smack of phlegm hitting pavement. You might be walking down the streets of my old D.C. neighborhood. Sarah, a car-free comrade and Columbia Heights neighbor, first brought this trend to my attention:
“Have you ever noticed that people are always hocking loogies around here?”
When I contemplated for a moment, I realized she was right. People in our neighborhood were phlegmy. In the next few days, I tuned my ears in more deliberately, and I heard the sound even more, until I felt like I couldn’t even make it the three blocks to the Metro without the sensation that I was in a pediatric clinic waiting room.
Sarah and I theorized about reasons for the phlegminess:
- It was winter, the season of colds?
- It was spring, the season of allergies?
- It was summer, the season of smog?
Did a larger-than-average percentage of our neighbors smoke and, therefore, suffer from advanced emphysema? We thought a little more critically and factored in the low-income status of a large portion of local residents—could our neighbors not afford a doctor’s visit to take care of the phlegm?
The only conclusion we ever came to was this: Such rich food for thought may be harvested by simply walking!
What interesting, curious, or disgusting things have you witnessed while walking the streets of your neighborhood?