It’s February 1969 – You’re A Teenager – You Live In L.A. – You Have The Dreaded Hong-Kong Flu – Charlie Tuna Is Your Nurse.
KHJ – Charlie Tuna – February 23, 1969 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
If you were a teenager and lived in L.A. and it was anywhere from late November 1968 to March 1969, chances were you had the flu. Not just any flu, but the dreaded Hong Kong flu. It started off as a splitting headache – the kind of headache no quantity of aspirin or Excedrin on earth could fix. And then you got the shakes – followed by the sweats – somewhere in between, your temperature shoots up and you’re hallucinating. If you had “those” kinds of parents, they asked you if you were “on anything”, thinking no one could act this bad this suddenly and not be having some sort of drug overdose. Your entire vocabulary is confined to grunts and groans.
And then . . .that sudden, unexplainable dilemma; whether to throw up everything you’ve eaten since you were five or shit your brains out. Either way, it’s going to be a mess and the idea of lying in a bathtub with running water seems appealing. You want to go to the hospital, but your mom doesn’t believe in doctors – and your dad can’t afford to take off work, so he retreats to the living room and watches TV, hoping he doesn’t catch it, whatever it is.
Unfortunately for you, the purge your body is going through lasts for days, but at least your body is in sync. First barfing and then the runs. You try to sleep and you have nothing but one bizarre dream after the next – usually ending with that all-too-familiar groan coming up from your soul and on to the porcelain.
And keeping you company, providing the musical background to your sensory tsunami is the radio, the one sitting on your nightstand – the one dialed to KHJ, quietly and happily churning out tunes and frothy banter, while you lie there and listen – and sweat – and shake – and feel that bubbling sensation in your stomach and wait for the next alarm to stagger out of bed and pray you make it to the toilet in one piece this time.
At least there was radio, so it wasn’t completely hopeless.
And perhaps you remember what it was like, and what it sounded like, listening to KHJ and Charlie Tuna on February 23, 1969. Or maybe you were just lucky and missed it.