I have the plague. I’m not sure where I inhaled it, but it’s burrowed deep into the tissues of my lungs and inspires a cacophonous hack anytime I think too ardently about the sea, turn nine degrees leftward, read the word “crème fraiche” or openly anticipate any given Wednesday. This is to say that I cough persistently, strenuously and with random provocation. After two weeks of this phlegm-glazed madness I finally made the co-pay and sought professional help.
The kindly doctor jotted data regarding my rate of smoking, toking and choking of late, which, all but the latter, has been nil. The notion of a chest x-ray came and went; tuberculosis briefly reared its congested head as a culprit but mercifully vanished. After further discussion and examination, it was determined that I should embark upon of a brief tour of modern pharmaceuticals, which I’m happy to report have me on the mend. I will never know wherefrom this virus which has infected me (and half of Sonoma as well, I’ve been told), but its virulence suggests at least one of the following possibilities: it’s a government experiment gone horribly awry; it’s some sort of airborne agent of karma; it’s from space and turning me into a pod-person from the inside out. Somehow, it’s got a mind-reading switch built into it because every time I ponder the possibilities of its origin I start coughing again and every train of thought is derailed into a smoky heap.
When most people get ill, they resolve to live a more healthful lifestyle and sidestep the next such episode. I wrote a will. As a kid, being sick amounted to a kind of vacation that brimmed with chicken noodle soup, saltine crackers and reruns of “Leave it to Beaver,” while home from school. Though I was not a sickly child, I must have been something of a child actor with a talent for sniffles because I can recall the plot lines of quite a few seasons of Beaver’s exploits (this is likely why threads of Eddie Haskell’s sociopathology lint my personality). As a man about to enter the hall of mirrors of middle age, I anticipate mortality lurks in each smile I might feign in its myriad reflections. Such grins are really just peepshows of the skull, aren’t they? Ah, but, there I go again, pairing the portentous with the pretentious – like so much whine and cheese.
Thankfully, I gave up hypochondria in my 20s, so I don’t fret too much about a cough, no matter how dreadful. That said, please fellow sufferers, don’t do what I did this past week and thumb into Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground,” the opening line of which reads “I AM A SICK MAN…. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased” and find yourself racked with the peculiar kind of existential nausea that befell me. For the record, I don’t make a habit of such thoughts, let alone Dostoevsky, but be assured when you’re feeling ill there’s always a dead author somewhere ready and able to make you feel worse. Someday, that might be me, but for the time being I’ll keep my literary aspirations on a more attainable plane, you know, like making my deadline. Barring that, I suppose I could always call in sick and cue up a hurricane of coughing and wheezing to prove it while on the line. Then I’ll take one of these horse pills I was prescribed and drift into a psychedelic sleep as visions of noodles and saltines dance through my head and Fyodor Dostoevsky stars as the Beave.