Men’s Handkerchiefs : A Key Tool for Health and Diagnostics Gone the Way of the Horse and Buggy


“Where,” I asked the young clerk at Sears, “are your men’s handkerchiefs?”

He got that deer in the headlights look. “Men’s handkerchiefs? I don’t think we have any of those.”

Most likely, he was mistaken. Most likely, Sears does still stock men’s handkerchiefs in this turbo-digital Presidential election year of 2012. But I’d already looked around the store on my own with no success. Currently on my fourth day of hardcore antibiotics after getting slammed with the fastest-moving flu I’d seen in all my 68 years, still only sort of functional, I was in no mood to press the issue with the young and ignorant.

I stalked from the store, heading for Dillard’s. Which was, I noted grimly, at the far end of the Mall. A Mall which in my current condition seemed to stretch approximately from Sierra Vista to…Yuma, maybe.

The visit to the Emergency Room had “only” cost a thousand bucks or so, including a bill from an M.D. who never saw me and another bill from a lab for an unnecessary test. I had the flu, pure and simple; it wasn’t a rocket science situation.

Maybe I didn’t need handkerchiefs all that badly. Maybe. After all, it wasn’t like it had been for my first fifty-some years, back before I’d gotten a handle on the constant suffering from every head cold and/or flu attack to show up my county of residence. Back when I’d always carried not one but two white handkerchiefs, minimum, 24/7, 365.

One cold had hung on for nine full months. Another had me promising God I’d actually believe in Him if He’d just cure the damned thing–that offer made from a church pew on a Sunday during Basic Training in Uncle Sam’s Army. How I made it through our 20-mile, full-pack hike the next day, vision so dulled that the boots of the soldier in front of me remain my only real recall of the ordeal, I have no idea.

This century had been different. I’d learned much about strengthening my defenses. This week marked only the third time in twelve years that Zithromax had needed to come to my rescure. In 2009, to fight off a flu that had clobbered more than half of my truck driving coworkers during a frozen Colorado winter. Before that, not since 2001…and that for spider bites, not sneezy stuff.

I plodded on. Dillard’s wasn’t really as far away as Yuma, and I wasn’t wearing a combat pack. Heck, I didn’t even have an M-14 rifle to weigh me down. Come on, wuss. Cowboy up.

“Do you stock men’s handkerchiefs?”

“No,” the sales clerk replied, “I don’t believe we do.” This clerk was female, not quite so underaged as the guy in Sears. A much more sensible-seeming presence.

I lost it anyway.

“What the Hell is wrong with this society?! Do the younger generations somehow think it’s supposed to be okay for a man with a cold to just blow snot all over everybody in public?!”

The lady rose to the occasion. Neither offended nor intimidated in the least, she looked…inspired. Picked up the phone. Called somebody. And when she was done, directed me to the counter that had, yes indeed, boxes of men’s handkerchiefs on display.

Wow. I had come to the right place after all. The 20 mile hike down the length of the Mall had been worth it.


There were several similar models of all-cotton handkerchiefs but just one Permanent Press version, a 65-35 poly-cotton blend. I took the Permanent Press, rained praise upon Dillard’s, and purchased a new billfold on the spot to reward the store.

Hey, I’d needed the billfold for months.

[WARNING: From here forward, the text is going to get a bit graphic. No photos–that would just be gross–but it’s time to “tell it how it is”. If you’re not up for that (and generally speaking, most of us aren’t), you may want to click away from this page now.]

Wha–?? You’re still here? Well, okay then. Here we go.

Here are the ways (yes, plural) that a man’s handkerchief can make a difference when he’s got a head cold (call it flu or whatever–the coughing, sneezing, runny nose, runny eyes kind of thing). By the numbers:

1. Comfort. Blowing your nose onto/into toilet paper or even Kleenex tissues (or modern versions thereof) is…nasty. Uncomfortable. Do it long enough, and your nose will be sore. Using a bandanna is a little better, but bandanna cloth is still rougher than a good white handkerchief. So there.

2. Efficiency. I discovered (or rediscovered) something yesterday: Using one of my nice, clean, brand new white hankies enabled me to clear my nasal and sinus passages far more effectively than any other method. It’s like that nice, soft cloth communicated with my skull, almost coaxed my head clear of all that nasty snot.

In other words, by clearing out the “liquid debris” more effectively, the handkerchief was actually a factor in healing me.

3. Diagnostics: It helps to know just how far along in the kill-and-remove-the-enemy process you are at any given point. By actually looking (occasionallty) at what’s getting blown into the rag, it’s possible to get a pretty good idea of how close you are to beating the beast:

    A. Clear runny stuff. Hang on; this rodeo’s just getting under way.

    B. Still clear, but gobbing up a bit. The battle has begun.

    C. White gobs. Making progress, but still a long way to go.

    D. Cream colored gobs. Almost, almost…

    E. Hardcore yellowish gunk. Now we’re kicking butt on this thing!

Summary: When this flu hit me after I’d drastically overextended myself electioneering during Arizona’s Presidential preference primary election on February 28, I had no idea the experience would end up producing a post about the lost art (among younger generations) of Cold Combat using Men’s Handkerchiefs. However, I’m grateful for the learning experience. Blowing your nose in public may not be particulary hygienic, but it beats just blowing snot all over everybody by a country mile.

Add in the comfort factor, the nose-cleaning healing factor, and the diagnostics…and we have a winner. So…whatever happened to the idea of, “If it works, don’t fix it?”

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