November 2, 2013

The Hitchhiker


During my recent tour of the Southwest I seem to have pulled over to the side of the road and picked up a cold. As near as I can figure it, the cold climbed aboard my body just outside of Bluff, Utah at the border of the Navajo reservation. It was probably dressed in dogwood and sagebrush camo inside of a cloud of pollen. It announced itself in the form of gargantuan sneezing fits so explosive that the car's safety glass shivered and my fellow passengers began to use their smartphones to order Hazmat suits for overnight delivery.

Not content with carpet-bombing the passenger compartment and surrounding landscapes with hell-fire sneezes, the cold immediately sat itself behind my eyes and began to pump out every bit of moisture there through my tear ducts. It seems that it amused my new and unwanted passenger to reduce me to a shaking, shambling, wheezing, sneezing, watery wreck of a man as quickly as possible. It was as if I could almost here it mumble under its foetid breath, "Now that's entertainment."

All colds behave like this. Rude and intrusive and overwhelming without so much as a "pretty please." We try to shake them off at the first sign we've picked them up. We consume vast amounts of zinc tablets, old wives' remedies, pills, ointments, potions, powders, and prayers. And the reaction of this cold was like the reaction of all the other colds I've picked up over the years. It just sits comfy in the passenger seat in your head and sneers.

"Where you heading?" I ask, hoping it just wants a lift to the next Navaho hogan down the road.

"Depends," says the cold. "Thought I'd just ride around with you for two weeks or fourteen days and see where it gets me."

"You know," I say, bargaining, "I haven't had any of your sort in the cab in long time. Can't say I've really enjoyed the company. How about I drop you at the next truck stop. I can hook you up with a semi full of laytex gloves and Handi-Wipes heading for the Dugway CBW Proving Grounds in upstate Utah. I hear they're doing great things with sexy, hot viruses up there."

"Just drive, sucker. You don't want me to use my little friends here." The cold opens up its backpack and shows me two containers. One is labeled "Bronchitus," and the other, "Pneumonia."

I sneeze explosively raising cries of alarm from my fellow passengers as a fine mist fills the cab. Then a sheet of water sluices from my eyes. I fumble at a small brick of "Personal Kleenex," the first of many. I say, "You make bunny cry," and off we roll on the rest of my grand tour of the Great Southwest.

It's been more than a week since that tour ended, but the cold from the side of the road continues its grand tour of my body. Although its Wagnerian entrance draped in sneezes and tears was unique, it quickly settled into the standard routines of resident colds. Like some dubious guest of consistently malevolent intent it resists all efforts at eviction. Instead it seems determined to inhabit, in turn, all the major organs of my body.

My once commodious nose and my previously spacious sinuses are, of course, the first favored location. This sojourn allows the cold to lay in vast stocks of mucus and associated detritus that brick up the sally ports of your breathing. Strange that you don't realize how convenient the nose is for breathing until yours has been sealed with what has to be a heady blend of damp concrete and gummy bears. You move to evict the cold from the nose with the forces of crude expulsion ("Better lay in that aloe soaked Kleenex with the steel mesh core in Costco quantities...") and intense infusion ("Excuse me, do you have the gallon sized 12 Hour Afrin pump with napalm chaser?"). After a time, these seem to succeed, but only because the cold has moved leaving you to shampoo your mustache repeatedly.

Having cleared the nose sector in the same hopeful manner that the Marines clear sectors in Afghanistan of the Taliban, the cold retaliates (Much like the Taliban) by simply shifting its residence across the border and digging in deeper. It moves to the lungs and sets up camp in the deepest, most out of the way section where it barricades itself behind vast berms of phlegm, settles in for siege warfare, and taunts you. It is going to be awhile. Like it said when you picked it up, "Two weeks or fourteen days, whichever comes first."

I've lost track of exactly how many days the siege has been going on since my sleeping has been a sometime thing. It would seem that the cold grew bored with my mere sneezing, sniffling, wheezing, hacking, snarfling, and snorting. At some point, to keep itself interested, it went to its big gun -- the cough. Since then it has launched a continuous barrage of coughs of such intensity that, after a day and a night of these attacks the cumulative effect of their impact is such that I seem to have pulled a set of muscles just below my left ribcage. This means that not only do I have the experience of a racking cough of such intensity that it startles small children in the street, I also have the simultaneous pleasure of feeling a stone axe pound against my ribs with every reverberation. If I ran some sort of commercial dungeon I could see this to masochists for a premium until their Visa card was reduced to a charred cinder.

Ah travel! The places you'll go! The sights that you'll see! The things you'll pick up!

This morning, however, here in the sunlight by the old mill stream, things seem to have quieted down a bit. The coughing barrages are coming in less frequently and the ribs are no longer reminding me of their cracked existence. The nose seems to be opening slowly like a spring blossom. Slight sniffles come and go with little bunny sneezes. Perhaps, just perhaps, the cold that I picked up among the Navajo is packing up, decamping, and getting ready to hitch a new ride with someone else.

I hope you'll forgive me if I don't shake hands.

[And this week, this lost week of 2013, this hitchhiker is baaaaaack!]

Posted by Vanderleun at November 2, 2013 2:18 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Hey, look at the bright side. You came home to wonderful spring weather. Less than two days till May and I'm out side watching the sunset. 39 degrees, spitting rain, good breeze out of the southwest.

I expect the advancing arctic ice sheet will be visible to the north any day now.

Posted by: westsoundmodern at April 29, 2011 10:55 AM


I had one one those a month ago; my condolences. Go to the drugstore or Amazon and get a NeilMed sinus rinse kit. My allergist told me to get it but my ENT demanded I do so. Made a world of difference for me. (You can get generic salt refill packets at CVS. You'll only skip the salt once.)

Posted by: Cris at April 29, 2011 11:14 AM

I still can't get enough of your wordsmithing, Gerard...About a cold, during a cold. Wow. :-)

Posted by: Patvann at April 29, 2011 4:22 PM

I've thrown out my back from sneezing, on more than one occasion. Luckily it hasn't happened recently.

I've had to run my air conditioner a couple of times this week. In Pennsylvania. In April.

Posted by: rickl at April 30, 2011 2:01 AM

Where in PA are you, rickl? We are wet and cold in Lancaster. I just got over my first of many bouts to come of bronchitis. The only upside of getting it so frequently is that my voice ends up sounding like Bea Arthur's.

Posted by: Jewel at April 30, 2011 3:37 AM

Jewel, as your physician, instead of bronchitis, may I recommend gin and cigarettes for the voice. It's easier on the lungs and a hell of a lot more fun.

Posted by: Peccable at April 30, 2011 5:37 AM

You know, once, Pec, I had a gig as an interpreter in a nursing home for a really fat and demented Russian. I mean, the fellow was at least 500 pounds and tied to a huge wheel chair with bed sheets. He was utterly insane, too. He didn't understand a lick of English, and couldn't understand much Russian, either.
One morning I got an emergency call from the doctors at the place. They wanted me to give a specific interpretation concerning the man's meds., and they wanted to make sure he understood exactly what they were telling him about them.
I show up with my pharmaceutical/medical dictionary in Russian and English, expecting to have to understand precise terms and dosages...and let me tell you...those dictionaries aren't cheap, either. And they are hard as hell to locate.
Once I arrived, I was quickly ushered into the dining hall, where I was given the following instructions:
...and keep in mind, that when people want you to translate something, they say it really, really loudly.
"Tell Mikhail that he can only smoke TWO cigarettes EVERY HOUR. NO MORE THAN TWO.
So much for needing my specialized medical dictionary. But I digress. I like my baritone voice. It makes singing All the Single Ladies while sounding like Bea Arthur more fun.

Posted by: Jewel at April 30, 2011 10:03 AM

Some of our natives here in the fog belt believed that dipping oneself in Puget Sound then spending time draped in seaweed inside a smoke-and-sweat lodge would cure the sneezies. No wonder they lost it all to the wonder-drug taking whities.

Jewel, my Russian ex-sister-in-law thought she was entitled to take our family jewelry when she walked out after only a few years of marriage - just after my brother had purchased American citizenship for her and her daughter. Now my brother wants to go get another Russian wife and I'm thinking of strangling him with his smartphone charging cable. The sooner we find an excuse to bomb Russia back into oblivion, the better.

Posted by: raincityjazz at April 30, 2011 10:37 AM

Great storytelling. And the perfect little pup photo to go with it.

Posted by: Patty at April 30, 2011 11:19 AM

Strategy is good in war and colds. I have sworn off the meds - they just make symptoms worse. My advice to my kids (and my mom voice is always right) is "take a steaming hot shower" (note to self: check temp of water heater ASAP) and "blow! Don't let that junk get into your chest!". Tylenol for pain, cases and cases of extra soft tissues, fluids and fresh citrus and ointment for sore nostrils.

Once it gets into the chest.. forget about it. Gerard, thanks for this. It pumped out every bit of moisture through my tear ducts in fits of laughter. I've never experienced a story personifying a head-cold but I sure as hell needed it. Looking forward to the "dry heaves after drinking too much version", by the way.

Posted by: RedCarolina at May 1, 2011 5:48 AM

The effects of long nights of drinking? Well, there was this time on the island of Hydra in Greece....

Posted by: Vanderleun at May 1, 2011 7:16 AM

Jewel: I'm in southeastern PA near Philadelphia. There were 2-3 days early last week where it got hot and muggy. I had to turn on the air conditioner for a few hours in the evening when I got home from work.

I could have made do with the ceiling fans, but my computer doesn't like the heat. The fan screams like a banshee when it gets up above 80ยบ.

Posted by: rickl at May 1, 2011 8:30 AM

Bronchitus? Bronchitus? Whither thou Bronchitus - mucusoid god of Lung Oysters? '

Posted by: Jewel at May 1, 2011 10:04 AM

I'm very sorry about your cold. I fought that very same one to a standstill this spring in New Mexico.

It's a Southwestern Cold; as influenza rolls off the Asian plains of the Gobi and Ebola cycles and thrives in the Congo, The Cold lives and thrives in the Desert Southwest. In scenery devoid of life, the viruses rattle to-and-fro with the wind looking for a nostril.

It's a stark, naked land with its life underground, drunk in a hogan or inhabiting a mucus membrane.

But it gets better.

Posted by: Gray at May 1, 2011 9:49 PM

Gerard, mine was after too much wine at a wedding in Smalltown, SC, but it's a universal theme. I don't think I've hugged any international toilets, but then again, my memory isn't what it used to be. It is less of stretch, however, to personify the cold... scientifically speaking. Thanks for the laughs. God knows we all need more of that these days.

Posted by: RedCarolina at May 2, 2011 6:30 AM

Uggh, now I have the hitch is exactly just as you described, too.

Posted by: Jewel at May 5, 2011 1:04 AM

Jala neti. It saved my life. No kidding. Lots of instructions to be found on the Internet. Just do it. Been doing it since 1999, and I never get sick, have colds, or sinus problems.

Posted by: DHH at November 2, 2013 3:12 PM

Feel better, Gerard. Too bad you are not touring the Southwest again...I would make you some chicken soup, or, maybe that hamburger broth you posted...

Posted by: Leslie at November 2, 2013 4:34 PM

GA moonshine infused with peppermint candy sticks

Posted by: Cletus Socrates at November 2, 2013 4:49 PM

"Strange that you don't realize how convenient the nose is for breathing until yours has been sealed with what has to be a heady blend of damp concrete and gummy bears."
Without doubt one of the best descriptive, hilarious sentences I have ever read. I'm so glad I wasn't drinking or chewing when I read it.

Posted by: Kerry at November 2, 2013 7:29 PM too

sucks, don't it?


Posted by: jwm at November 2, 2013 9:50 PM

Dang it all. I just hurt myself laughing.

Posted by: NCSue at November 3, 2013 4:06 AM