By Greg Clark, September 16, 1939
“You poor guy,” cried Jimmie Frise, “now what’s happened?”
“It’s the hay fever,” I replied sullenly.
“You look as though you’d been crying for a week,” said Jim.
I’ve been crying,” I informed him, “for nearly thirty years.”
Why don’t you do something for it?” demanded Jim. “You’ve no right to be going around in that condition, distressing all your friends. I bet even strangers shudder at the sight of you.”
“I don’t expect any sympathy,” I stated coldly.
“At first sight,” remarked Jim, scrutinizing my swollen and inflamed countenance “you would think you were agonized with grief.”
“I am,” I admitted.
“On second sight,” continued Jim, “you look like an alcohol-drinking hobo that had got dressed up in good clothes.
“I know what I look like,” I informed him bitterly. “If you don’t like the look of me, look some place else.”
“Why don’t you take some of the cures?” demanded Jim. “There are pills that are very helpful. And at any hospital they will test you out with forty or fifty vaccines and find what it is you are allergic to.”
“Yes, and make forty or fifty holes in my arms,” I retorted. “I know hay fever victims that have had over two hundred incisions. They have the tattoo marks of our affliction all over both arms, both legs and a new geometrical pattern started on their chests.
“And not cured yet?” inquired Jim.
“There is no limit,” I explained to the number of things a man might be allergic to. The ordinary things are pollen, dust, fur and things like that. But after a man had allowed himself to be cut to pieces and all the outrageous particles from horse dandruff to asbestos rubbed into his hide, he might die of acute asthma and find, in the great Beyond, where all things are made known, that what he suffered from was pork chops.”
“Yet,” argued Jim, “you might find your enemy on the fifth incision. And wouldn’t that be worth it?”
“I think everybody ought to have some sort of affliction,” I declared. “It makes us more kindly disposed towards our fellowmen. An annual affliction, like hay fever, is better than a case of appendicitis, because as the years go by you not only get over thinking about your appendix; you even stop talking about it. Whereas, hay fever is recurrent. It comes back every year, and every year it grows worse. It is not a fatal malady, but it is as miserable as any affliction you can imagine. Lots of us wish it were fatal.”
“Come, Come”, Laughs Jim
“Oh, come, come,” laughed Jimmie.
“Hay fever looks funny,” I admitted. “But it is far from funny. It isn’t an ache and it isn’t a pain. It isn’t a tickle and it isn’t an itch. But it is all those things combined into one complete agony.”
“Why don’t you do something about it, then?” asked Jim. “Why don’t you go away for a couple of weeks’ holidays?”
“Who wants to take holidays in September,” I demanded, “when all the resorts are deserted? Who wants to go up to a summer cottage in mid-September and see nothing but boarded-up and shuttered cottages staring deadly all around? A man who reaches my age wants a little human companionship.”
“There are plenty of little hotels run exclusively for hay fever sufferers,” said Jim. “Mighty cosy little places, too, and you would be amongst the company of your fellow victims. There would be a fellowship amongst you that would be a damn sight more amiable than the fellowship of a summer hotel.”
“I don’t fancy hospitals,” I stated, “or convalescent homes.”
“These aren’t hospitals,” cried Jim. “I know one little spot I ran into two years ago when I was lunge fishing. It’s the smartest little modern hotel you’d ever want to see. And it is packed full of hay fever victims right through to October. They have grand fishing, and September is the loveliest month of all, if we only realized it. The trees turning and fine winds and sunny days.”
“I’ve had my holidays,” I advised.
“But if you spoke to the editor,” cried Jim, “do you think he would want you to suffer like this? You could do your writing up at the hotel and mail it down.”
“It would just look like so much graft,” I protested. “Editors are hardened to hangings and murders and things. What do they care for hay fever?”
“I was thinking,” explained Jim, that if I were to sell the editor a real bad case of hay fever for you he might suggest that I go with you and do my drawing up there, too. We have to be together.”
Ah, He Knows ‘Em
“Pooh,” I said. “I know editors.”
“Anyway,” went on Jim with mounting excitement, “you couldn’t drive yourself, the condition you’re in. Somebody would have to take you. Just for a few days. Just for a week or so.”
“Pipe dreams, Jim,” I assured him, trying to get my typewriter clicking.
“And if a traffic cop were to see you driving,” said Jim, “with a boiled face and bleary eyes like yours, he’d pinch you for drunken driving and there would be a scandal.”
“Just let me be, Jim,” I requested wearily. “It lasts about another week. Then I’ll be okay.”
“You have no objections,” inquired Jim, “if I try a little sales talk on the editor?”
“Hm, hm,” I said, starting my typewriter clicking.
And a few minutes later, Jim having left the room, the editor strolled in to talk over a story about Hollywood with me, wondering if I would like to go down and skyhoot around with all the movie stars for a while. And all the time he sat on my desk he kept staring intently at me.
“Hay fever?” he inquired at last.
“Mfff,” said I, having known this editor since we were boys together.
And he walked out, and a few minutes later Jim walked in with a note to me from the editor.
“I think,” said the editor’s note, “you had better slip away for a few days to some hay fever resort. You can write your copy there and mail it. I think Jim might accompany you and take his drawing board with him. I do not think it is in the best interests of the office that strangers should see you hanging about in your present condition They would misunderstand and possibly get a wrong impression as to the principles this newspaper stands for.”
“Wheeeee,” yelled Jimmie.
“How did you manage it?” I cried, leaping up and joining hands for a little ring-around-a-rosey with Jim.
“I told him I had overheard a conversation in the elevator,” said Jim “between two ladies who said they wondered at The Star Weekly employing such dissipated-looking scoundrels. They meant you.”
“I don’t approve of the means,” I stated, “but the end is okay.”
They Get Away
And after cleaning up the odds and ends that infringe on all unexpected holidays, Jim and I got away the following noon and had not gone fifty miles through the fine breezy September countryside before I felt my head clearing, my eyes losing their itch: and Jim, looking at me, said that he could already see traces of my normal self appearing out from amidst the blotches and blobs.
September is a fine month. May has a quality of delight in it, after the long winter. But September is like a man of forty compared with the childish tantrums of April and the sulky fulness of July. September is the year in its maturity.
“Hoy,” I hailed the wide fields, the coloring trees. “Wheeee.”
“Whatever it is gives you hay fever,” said Jim, “it is in the city. It certainly isn’t in the country. You’re like a new man already.”
And over country highways with hardly any traffic we lifted and dipped and soared and came at last to the lake country and the gravel roads that led us just before supper time to the little hotel devoted to the victims of allergy.
It was, as Jim had promised, a dandy little hotel. Set in a grove of pines, on a hill, and well built and rugged, with fireplaces everywhere, and stuffed fish and paintings of sportsmen and big game animals. A decidedly pretty waitress showed us to the registration desk where a large lady welcomed us and gave us our rooms.
“My husband,” she said, introducing a large, shy gentleman who ambled up. “He was a terrible sufferer. So I made him give up the brokerage business and we just came out here and launched this sanctuary.”
“You’ve got a lovely little place,” I agreed. “Are there many muskies caught this season?”
“This hotel,” said the lady, ignoring my piscatorial query, “this hotel has never been desecrated with a sneeze. Oh, Mrs. McKay …”
Another elderly lady bounced over and we were introduced.
“Mrs. McKay is a tragic sufferer,” assured the hostess. “She’s one of our charter members. Been coming here for twenty years… Oh, Mr. McWhirtle …”
Not a Sneeze in Roomful
And a gentleman passing was haled over and introduced. Apparently, at hay fever resorts, one meets everyone. It’s a club.
“Any fishing, Mr. McWhirtle?” Jim enquired heartily.
“I don’t fish,” said Mr. McWhirtle. “I am happy just breathing.”
And he took a deep breath to show us. He swelled all up.
Before we got out of the lobby, we met six other people, Mr. and Mrs. Macdonald, Miss Andrews, Dr. and Mrs. McSlockery and a widow, Mrs. McDrummle …
“I notice,” I said “that you are all Scottish?”
“That’s a fact,” agreed Dr. McSlockery heartily. “I wonder if the Scotch aren’t a little more subject to hay fever…”
“Dinner, gentlemen,” said the hostess, “will be in twenty minutes.”
So the merry little gathering in the lobby broke up and through upstairs halls faintly smelling of the happy odor of log fires, two pretty maids escorted Jim and me to our rooms and laid out our bags and brought us jugs of steaming water.
“Some place,” I assured Jim when we visited each other.
“We’ll be very cosy here for a week,” gloated Jim. “I’ll set my drawing board right here by this north window.”
“In honor of all those Scotchmen,” I said, “I’m glad I brought this Scotch tweed.”
“Wear it to dinner,” said Jim. “It makes you look distinguished.”
So when the mellow dinner bell rang, we descended the stairs with the excitement that comes in strange houses, and we paraded into the dining-room where all the guests were eagerly seated and the menu cards being inspected hungrily.
“This September air sharpens the appetite,” said the proprietor very friendly as we passed him to our table, next.
The dining-room faced south and the hot evening sun had made the room warm. Behind me an electric fan hummed happily. We all glanced around at one another in the friendliest fashion.
“Aaaachooow!” sneezed the waitress standing nearest us.
I thought the hostess, who was at the next table, would fall off her chair.
“Gertie!” she gasped. “Gertie.”
But Gertie laid her head back and go another.
The room seemed to freeze. No wolf howl ever created a more deathly silence in the sheep-fold than did Gertie’s outrageous sneeze.
“Waaa,” began Jimmie, unexpectedly, “chooo.”
The proprietor, turning to look in consternation, suddenly coiled up his nose, writhed his lips in agony and let go a terrific cross between a sneeze and a cough.
And before you could say Mackenzie King, the whole room was in an uproar of sneezing. Little sneezes, like a cat, big sneezes, like a horse, ladies, gents, waitresses, all paralyzed in the most extraordinary fit of sneezing gasping, coughing, choking.
And the glory of it was, I felt not the slightest tickle.
One by one, couple by couple, the guests rose and staggered from the room, holding their serviettes to their faces. I could see the tragic telltale signs, the running eye, the flushed brow and that expression of dumb despair known only to the allergic.
Everybody fled but Jim and me, and when the second waitress ran out the kitchen swing door, even Jim, reaching his tenth whopper, stood up and walked unsteadily to join the others in the lobby and on the cool veranda. I was left alone, clear-headed, dry-eyed, to sit and listen to the hubbub of sneezes, and babbled conversation sharp with a note of consternation in it.
Then I got up, having satisfactorily demonstrated my superior resistance, and walked out to the lobby.
Mrs. McSlockery was standing in the door leading to the veranda. She was breathing deep, wiping her eyes, and had apparently got herself under control.
“What an extraordinary…” I began amiably to the lady.
“Aaaaa,” she sighed, “whooop …”
I backed away from her.
“It’s Hib, Hib”, She Shouts
“It’s hib, it’s hib,” shouted Mrs. McSlockery wildly; and when I turned, she was pointing a frenzied finger at me.
“It’s hib, the biddit he cabe dear, I wet off agaid,” she cried furiously.
Dr. McSlockery approached me menacingly and withdrew his serviette from his blotched face long enough to take a quick sniff in my direction.
“It’s his coat,” shouted the doctor. “It’s full of heather! It’s heather pollen! Get him out of here. Get him out of here.”
I will draw a veil over the next seven minutes. I have never left a hotel so hurriedly. Not even in Flanders. The proprietress practically gave Jim and me the bum’s rush. We were bundled out. Weeping maids no longer pretty, dashed up and slammed our bags shut and yanked them downstairs hiding their faces from us in their aprons. The guests gathered out on the screened veranda and stood stonily and did not even wave good-by.
“I can leave my coat hanging out in the ice house,” I shouted, before I shut the car door. No answer came from the veranda and its dark huddle of figures. “I can parcel it up and mail it back home.”
“Oh, well,” said Jim, “you can’t blame them, exactly. You should understand their feelings.”
“The coat doesn’t affect me,” I retorted.
“You’re not Scotch,” said Jim. “Heather pollen never drove your ancestors from their native glens.”
So we drove out to the nearest village and got the address of the next best hay fever resort and went there. I left the coat in my bag and wore pullovers instead. But it wasn’t one, two, three with the other hotel. Jim went home Wednesday and I’m bringing this home tonight.