That's it. I'm done. Finished. Kaput. I will never again say those three words that have enslaved me for so long. And, no, I'm not talking about "I Love You," which is a slavery of a different sort. I am talking about the three words that we say after somebody in our vicinity releases an involuntary, convulsive, expulsion of particulates through the nose and mouth.
In other words, I will never again utter the words "God bless you" after somebody sneezes. And I don't care who it is: my mother, my boss, my parole officer. I could be sitting in the Oval Office with President Obama listening to him rant about the Iranian government when he suddenly starts squinting and scrunching his nose and going, "Ah... ah... ah... ah-madinejad!" And I still will not say, "God bless you."
I don't know when it was that I started to question the requirement (and make no mistake, we are required) to say "God bless you" after someone sneezes, but at some point it occurred to me that it was an enormously silly thing to do. Consequently, I've increasingly felt the desire to stop saying it. But it is difficult.
After all, doesn't the air become thick with obligation after someone sneezes—as if the effluvium of the sneeze forms a cloud of expectation hovering over you? Well, I hate being expected to do something—especially when what's expected is asinine. And if you think about it—I mean really think about it—asking an invisible man who lives in the sky to bestow favor on a person simply because the cilia in their nostrils failed to prevent foreign particles from reaching the nasal mucosa, causing their trigeminal nerve network to trigger an involuntary expulsion of air through the nose and mouth is as asinine as it gets.
So, what happened that put me over the edge? Well, of course, family is what happened. I had visited my parents in New York this winter, right in the middle of the influenza outbreak. First, The Mother caught it, followed by The Father, then me. At one point, all three of us were sick at the same time.
Now, keep in mind, it was the dead of winter, as cold as the Nigerian prince who took your grandma's nest egg, so we were all stuck inside this House that Influenza Built. It was terrible. Three festering sickozoids hacking and sneezing so much that it seemed the only conversation that was being had—aside from repeated requests to "just shoot me, please"—was the rat-a-tat-tatting of sneezes and God bless yous and thank yous and more sneezes, God bless yous, thank yous over and over throughout the day, then the night, and continuing deep into our uneasy dreams.
The following morning, we'd wake up, stagger to the kitchen, forgetting at first what was happening in this Calamityville Horror house, until someone would sneeze, followed by a chorus of God bless yous, and a "thank you" and all we could think is, Really? Couldn't it have waited until after I've had my coffee?
But the answer was always no, it could not wait. And the process would start all over again.
There are several theories as to why we say "God bless you" when people sneeze. The prevailing two are that the sneezing expels an inner devil and the other is that when we sneeze, we eject our mortal soul, leaving us vulnerable to demonic attack. But it's the 21st century. We know there aren't any demons possessing us, and we know that asking God to bless someone is like asking a mermaid to be a lifeguard at the Fountain of Youth.
Besides, why do sneezers need blessing more than victims of any other minor malady? Nobody says "God bless you" for a sprained ankle, cut finger or a bloody nose. Never once has anyone asked God to bless me while on my knees vomiting into a garbage can. And those activities are more bothersome than sneezing. Truth be told, sneezing kicks ass. It's an orgiastic explosion that ripples through your entire body—a nasally induced orgasm about which one should not say "God bless you" so much as one should say, "Oh God, oh God—don't stop!"
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, What's the big deal? Just say "God bless you" and be done with it. Believe me, I wish I could. But as soon as I hear a sneeze, I panic. I begin overthinking the whole thing: Should I say it? Should I wait for somebody else to say it? Now that somebody else has said it, can I get away with not saying it? And it's all because saying it makes me feel like a disingenuous bovine—by which I mean, saying something meaningless because everyone else does.
Now look, I don't want you to think that I'm against uttering social niceties. I just prefer they not be obligatory and/or meaningless. I am, however, a big fan of passing along good tidings when they actually mean something, such as when I write, "Good luck and bon voyage!" which is exactly what I want to say to CityBeat editor David Rolland, and associate editor Kelly Davis.
Dave, Kelly, working with the two of you—and I mean this with maximum allowable sincerity for a column titled "Sordid Tales"—has been a pleasure and an honor. I hate that we are losing you, but I'm excited for what lies in your near future. Here's a little parting prayer to bring on your journeys:
Dear Dave and Kelly, may the dust and dander along your chosen paths never reach your nasal mucosa. But if they do, well, then, achoo. Gesundheit. And danke schoen.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Edwin Decker blogs at www.edwindecker.com. Follow him on Twitter @edwindecker or find him on Facebook.
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