By Greg Clark, August 10, 1946
“I feel,” said Jimmie Frise, “a little peaked.” (He pronounced it peakid.)
“What does peaked mean, Jim?” I inquired solicitously,
“Well, kind of …” muttered Jim. “… kind of … peaked. There isn’t any other way of expressing it.”
“I know it’s an old-fashioned word, Jim,” I admitted “My own grandmother always used it. She used to say we looked peaked and gave us senna tea or liquorice powders. But I’d like to know how you feel when you feel peaked.”
“Well,” explained Jimmie earnestly, “you feel sort of … uh … peaked, like.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That clears it all up.”
“You feel,” said Jim, “sort of limp and off your feed. You feel kind of sickish but not sick.”
“Aw, Jim,” I soothed, “it’s just the heat. It’s the food we’re eating these summer days with our families away. It’s our age. When you get to be 50, you’ve got to expect to feel a little woozy now and then. A man, after all, is just a mechanism. All mechanisms get out of order as time goes by and wear and tear make themselves felt.”
“I suppose,” agreed Jim wanly.
“You take a watch or a clock,” I pursued. “You don’t expect a clock or a watch, even an expensive watch, to be guaranteed for life. You have to take it in to be overhauled every now and then. Sometimes, it gets a jolt and you have to get a new mainspring in it. But mostly, it just gets clogged up and needs cleaning and oiling.”
“I don’t suppose,” sighed Jim, “there ever was a man guaranteed for life.”
“No, sir,” I agreed. “No man is guaranteed for life. He starts to wear out in his late 30s. In his 40s, he can actually feel the works starting to squeak. And now, in his 50s, a man is entitled to feel that the guarantee was only for about 30 years at the most.”
“Don’t you ever feel peaked?” asked Jim wistfully.
“I can’t say I do,” I submitted. “The way I do, Jim, is to treat my machinery to what is called the surprise system. I remember, when I was a small boy, suddenly feeling sorry for my feet. I looked at my feet one night after I had got ready for bed, and I had a sudden flood of sympathy for them. Poor feet! Locked up all days in socks and boots. Stuck down all night at the very darkest bottom end of the bedclothes. Poor pallid feet! And I felt sorry for them in a detached sort of way, as if they were creatures apart from me.”
“Hmmm, that’s an interesting thought,” admitted Jim.
“So,” I went on, “in early boyhood I began giving my feet the odd treat. For example, in church – our church was a very dim Presbyterian church in the Byzantine style – I used to slip my shoes off and let my feet twiddle secretly down in the privacy found underneath a pew. I went barefoot every chance I got. I didn’t particularly enjoy going barefoot. But I was happy in giving my feet a little holiday from their dismal prison, year in, year out.”
“Well, what’s this got to do,” asked Jim listlessly, “with feeling peaked?”
” A few years later,” I said, “after I had discovered my feet, I discovered my stomach. We were having a big dinner. There was cauliflower, parsnips, roast duck and a whole lot of other things I hated.”
“Duck! Ugh!” groaned Jim.
“But in my youth,” I explained, there was no question about whether you liked your food. You just ate what was put on your plate, or else! So I sat there, hating my food and feeling sorry for myself, when all of a sudden I thought of my poor stomach. I visualized it. If I was suffering, what of my poor stomach! There it was down in the middle of me, doomed for life to the dark and the humid warmth. Never could it come out, like my feet, for a breath of air or sunlight. Doomed my poor stomach, to squatting down in the middle of me to receive whatever I chucked at it. Helpless, hopeless, in the dark.”
Jim shuddered slightly.
“And I was filled,” I expounded, “with a sudden, warm, kindly feeling for my stomach. I decided then and there that I would befriend it at every opportunity. I would give it surprises. I would treat it to little excursions. And that very night, at the supper table, I surreptitiously took a dessert spoonful of my grandmother’s Wooster sauce and downed it when nobody was looking. You could feel my stomach cheer!”
“Didn’t it kill you?” asked Jim weakly.
“Kill me?” I cried. “My dear boy, that was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between me and my stomach. I have never failed, all across the years, to give it a surprise at every opportunity. When it thinks it is going to get a load of the same old junk, the same old mashed potatoes, the same old overdone beef and the same old apple pie, what do I do?”
“Don’t tell me, groaned Jim.
“I give it,” I announced, “an onion sandwich.”
“Onion …” quivered Jim.
“A strong onion sandwich, with peppergrass or parsley thickly padded on top of the onion, a good slather of pepper, some salt and a dab of vinegar.”
“You should have dyspepsia,” asserted Jim thickly.
“Never,” I assured. “My stomach knows I am playing. It knows we are having fun. I give it the surprise treatment. I go along the street at lunch time, thinking about fried steak, home-fried potatoes, ice cream and chocolate sauce, until my poor old stomach has all collapsed with foreboding, and is lying in limp glob down in the middle of me. Then, all of a sudden, I whip into a lunch counter and send down to it fruit salad, a slice of toast and … by golly… a large glass of buttermilk. …”
“Awghh!” begged Jimmie, holding up his hands in horror and beseeching me to stop.
“I never feel peaked,” I stated finally. Because, in my opinion, feeling peaked is simply from treating your stomach as if it were just … just a receptacle.”
“I’ve heard a lot of cockeyed health ideas,” said Jim, “but that is the worst. The surprise system!”
“The secret of health,” I declaimed, “is In treating every part of your mechanism with decent consideration. Give it a surprise every once in a while. Shock it. Wake it up. Make it feel it’s a member of the community of you, not just a dumb, blind slave.”
Surprise Your Liver
Jim stared down the garden.
“My liver,” he said thoughtfully. “Now, how could I surprise my liver?”
“Simplest thing in the world, Jim,” I assured. “Get down and walk around the garden four or five times every night on all fours.”
“On all what?” protested Jim.
“Look, my dear sir,” I reasoned, “it’s only in the last couple of million years that we human beings have been walking erect. Don’t forget that for the preceding billion years we were slowly emerging from the ancient slime, we humans, and, like most other animals except birds, went on all fours. Our architecture is that of a four-footed animal. All our innards are arranged, not for walking upright, but for walking on all fours. The way our hearts are placed, our lungs, livers, stomachs everything is arranged as in a four-footed beast. I bet for the first couple of hundred thousand years that men adopted the fashion of trying to walk upright, there were an awful lot of peaked-feeling people.”
“You mean,” cried Jim, “that I should get down on my hands and knees and perambulate around the garden…?”
“Certainly,” I said. “Why not? It would give all your insides surprise. Not only your liver, but all the rest of the handiworks. Imagine! I bet none of your ancestors, for the past 10,000 years, has ever gone around on all fours. So you can imagine the sigh of relief your liver and lights would give if you started walking around in the old-fashioned manner.”
“The old-fashioned …” snorted Jim.
“Certainly, the old-fashioned manner,” I said, rising, walking over to the grass (which Jim hadn’t cut lately) and getting down on my hands and knees.
I walked about 10 yards on hands and knees. It did feel good. The grass was spring under my palms. It smelt good. I looked down and saw ants in the grass and interesting small plants hidden in the roughage. I stood up, stretched and walked back and sat down.
“Aaaaahh,” I said with satisfaction. “That feels good! I feel as good as a dog feels when it gives that big, long stretch after having a sleep.”
Jim glanced around to the left and right to see if any of his neighbors were about. He contemplated the lawn before him with an expression of doubt and worry on his face. Then he got up, walked over and got down on all fours and went about 10 feet. Then got hurriedly to his feet and came and sat down again.
“It feels ridiculous,” he snapped. “It feels demeaning, humiliating.”
“But doesn’t your liver feel better?” I inquired, “Sort of surprised?”
Jim sat up and listened.
“As a matter of fact,” he replied, “it does.”
And he got up and went over to the grass again and started crawling around on his hands and knees. He made a complete circuit of the garden plodding like a cow coming home at eventide.
“Do you know,” he stated, as he sat down again, “I believe you’ve got something there. I could sort of feel my insides moving around freely, as if they were taking up easier and more natural positions.”
“Jim,” I enunciated, “in deference to our remote ancestors, I think everybody should go around on their hands and knees for one hour after supper every day.”
“It could be a new cult, like nudism,” agreed Jim. “Wherever you looked, after supper, you’d see your neighbors crawling around their gardens, up their back steps, out to their cars. After a few months, it would be no shock at all to see a neighbor going down to the corner to post a letter on his hands and knees, with the letter held in his mouth.”
“Nobody feels better,” I furthered, “than when lying down. Think what a relief it is to lie down. Think how eased and delighted the whole body feels. The reason is simple. When we lie down, we permit our insides, which have been held up all day in a most unnatural position, to resume their proper or normal position.”
“All healthy, natural men,” agreed Jim, “love to lie back in their chairs and put their feet on the desk. That is the same thing. Taking the weight off the insides.”
“We’ve got something here, Jim,” I announced.
“Let’s go another round,” suggested Jim alertly.
So we got up and did another round of the garden, taking our time, placing our front paws and hind knees very solidly and deliberately, the way a horse or a cow does.
And just as we finished the first round. Jim suddenly jumped to his feet with low “Oh, oh!” to me.
He went and sat down.
I looked around and saw the cause of his perturbation. The neighbors in the next garden were standing watching us with expressions of astonishment and some disapproval.
Bless the Car Keys
As I, to, took my seat in the garden chair, I heard the woman say: “Why can’t they leave it alone? With their wives away, I suppose they feel they can go on the tear…”
So we both got up and strolled across to the fence and chatted amiably with them. We can’t have any unfounded rumors going about the neighborhood. We showed them that we were perfectly sober and under control.
They made no reference to our parade around the garden, and we offered no explanations. We both thought it was better than trying to explain any new health scheme. We talked of the dahlias and the asters and the other oncoming flowers of August. And then I remembered I had left the hose running back at my place.
“Jim, I’ll have to go and turn off my hose,” I said.
I went out to my car and got in. I felt in my pocket, my usual pocket, for my car key. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t in any pocket. I searched thoroughly and then realized what had happened. I had lost my car key in Jim’s unkempt grass while on all fours.
Jim was still chattering with the neighbors when I returned to the garden.
I sidled up to him and asked in a low voice: “Feel better?
“Much better,” replied Jim quietly. “Certainly surprised my liver. Or something.”
“I’ve lost my car key,” I told him. “It must have fallen out of my pocket. Would you like to help me look for it in the grass . . . ?”
Jim looked at me with delight. Then he turned to his neighbors.
“Mr. Clark,” he said, as though just recollecting, “has lost his car key in the grass. We’ve got to continue looking for it…”
And down we went crawling in the grass to our heart’s content, while the neighbors, everything now perfectly clear to them, watched us with amusement as we continued our search.
Jim found the key after only about 30 seconds of hunting. He passed me and showed it to me in the palm of his hand, but we both went right on hunting for it, this way, that way, until our livers were thoroughly surprised, our insides were properly shaken free from their unnatural upright position, and we felt we had had enough.
Then Jim cried that he had found the key, up we got, and I went home and turned off my hose.
But the moral is: If you want to surprise your liver and don’t feel like scandalizing the neighbors, just to your car key out on the lawn and then go looking for it.
In fact, the whole family could come and help. Much to everybody’s improvement.
Editor’s Notes: Senna tea is a herb used as a laxative.
Licorice powder was used for stomach pains.