Politics & Policy

Got Kleenex?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column appears in the December 27, 2004, issue of National Review, in Richard Brookhiser’s regular “City Desk” spot.

New Yorkers are adept at making what they care about happen. Therefore, every medically minded New Yorker got his flu shot, no matter how young, old, or feeble he was. The savvy New Yorker has, not one, but several good doctors; they all know his special needs (special because they are his); and one of them came up with some vaccine. This is one of the privileges, and the opportunities, of being a New Yorker. If getting a flu shot in a tight year is not a priority for you, then there are many fine communities in the republic.

But flu is not the only ailment that stalks the approaches to winter. Colds and weariness of all kinds lurk behind the holiday bustle, and the pole’s tilt away from the sun. Perhaps your cold started with a marathon phone call, prolonged by flattery or nostalgia. After you hung up, you coughed, and coughed again. Or maybe it began when, still not used to the shortened days and the chill they bring, the head that had soaked up the noon sun at lunchtime felt, after work, uncomfortably hatless. Or possibly the onset came with that first weekend store-crawl, looking for Christmas gifts. Madison Avenue and West Broadway both go slightly uphill; the way down and the way up are not the same.

The hour of the cold and the hour of the wolf are the same: nighttime. Rest, you fondly think, will fend the approaching cold off, a good snooze will fix everything. But as soon as your head hits the pillow, your throat fills with snot. There is a Croton Reservoir of mucus in your head, feeding a tunnel that runs past your tonsils, and drains–where? Your lungs? Your stomach? Wherever it goes, it shouldn’t. You pile up pillows, like a courtesan receiving her admirers or an old man dying, trying to modify the hydraulics. It does no good. Drip, drip, drip. The ease of oblivion becomes the torment of awareness. Extra bonus point: Your spouse hates you; you are as charming as a loud clock.

Your days become a long wrestle with Kleenexes. The number you can stuff in your pockets contends with the number you will need. How many times can you thriftily fold the used quarterings of one, before it becomes a disgusting, sodden deposit? Worse, though, are the sudden losses of energy. You made a foray, to have coffee or buy a newspaper. Then bam, you are picked off by the sniper of weariness. The paraphernalia of sickness is a clutter of bad things; exhaustion is the theft of good things.

You can’t just burrow miserably in your apartment, however…

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Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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