[The Sandoval Signpost (Web edition) is pleased as punch (diet punch that is) to bring you the humor and insightful human observations of Daniel Will Harris, author of My Wife and Times. We continue this entertaining series with Daniel’s discovery of his own mortality. —Ed].
Call me Camille
By Daniel Will Harris
have a cough and it's driving my wife crazy. You'd think that
I'd be the one being driven crazy by the constant need to
clear my throat or cough up something that looks like an alien
life form, but no, she's the one who's annoyed. I'm mostly
annoyed by her being annoyed.
I'm also annoyed I have this cough at all, especially since
I can pinpoint the source—my cousin Barry (I almost
wrote "my idiot cousin Bert" but I don't want to
use his real name as he might be reading this and there are
enough family issues around the holidays without this being
added into the "discussion.").
I know it was him because he was visiting from Ohio over
Thanksgiving, and his cough was so virulent and breezy it
could have been classified a biological weapon. We're lucky
the entire Department of Homeland Security didn't descend
on our dinner and confiscate the turkey (or cousin Barry,
though that might have been for the best).
Anyway, it's my own fault I got it, because I never said
to him, "Either you cover your mouth completely or I
will cover your face with a pillow" (you'd have to know
Barry; this is the only kind of language he'd understand).
But I didn't, so he coughed and I caught it and now I'm paying
the price of niceness.
For a while it was somewhat under control through the constant
use of cough drops—not those red candy ones, but the
Swiss ones with a kick, the ones that make you feel a little
like you've swallowed some Vicks Vapo-Rub, which I think might
be deadly. I wouldn't know, but my wife says it's not deadly,
since she claims to have eaten entire jars of the stuff as
a child with chronic tonsillitis.
But since the drops have stopped working I've once again
been reminded that my wife is a connoisseur of cough syrup.
She recalls, longingly, how in her youth, she looked forward
to a little nightcap of Vicks Formula 44, served up in those
elegant plastic measuring caps. Ah, the pseudo-cherry flavor.
The bite. The kick. '44 was clearly the best vintage.
Then they had to go and "improve" the flavor by
reducing the alcohol, which took most of the pleasure out
of it. The final thrill was eliminated when they removed all
traces of narcotic codeine. My wife tells me that having a
cough was never fun again, and this probably explains why
she's hardly ever sick anymore, and why she's annoyed with
me, because she doesn't like being reminded of the good old
Personally, I've always felt that cough medicine should taste
like medicine and that's the point. I have a theory about
the exact mechanism by which cough medicine is efficatious.
I don't throw words like "efficatious" around lightly,
in fact, I rarely ever toss them, but I just read it on the
package and thought it would make me sound smart.
So back to my theory—which is... now I've forgotten
it. I was thinking about those brothers on the cough drop
boxes, you know the two guys with long beards. One of their
names is "Trade" and the other is "Mark"
(at least that's what it says under their pictures). The Luddite
brothers or something, and the big secret ingredient of their
candy drops is apple pectin. Yeah, that's some hard stuff
Oh, I remembered. I don't think those drops work because
they taste too good, like LifeSavers candies. My theory is
that for a medicine to be effective it has to be really hard
to swallow. Forget that "spoonful of sugar" stuff;
the worse-tasting the medicine, the faster you get better.
The reason is simple—if the stuff is truly foul, you
force yourself to get well rather than take any more of it.
It really works. This is why all this "new, improved"
cough medicine is to be avoided at all costs. Look for packages
that proclaim, "Now even more vile tasting!"
So tonight I will take something with a name I can't pronounce
which came from the pharmacy—not from some colorful
box holding a clear bottle filled with Liz Taylor-purple liquid.
Oh no. This one came from behind the counter, in a brown bottle
filled with something the color and consistency of varnish.
It kind of smells like it, too, and if I hadn't seen the pharmacist
hand it to me personally, my brain, rattled from so much coughing,
might possibly think my wife was trying to slip one over me,
or in this case, into me.
I do occasionally think she's trying to do me in, but, as
I've said before, it's not like I haven't provoked her.
So I pour the stuff in a spoon. I wait momentarily to see
if it will eat through the spoon. When it doesn't, I hold
my nose with one hand (it really helps), and squint (for no
good reason) then try to swallow as fast as I can. Then, because
I'm holding my nose, my ears to close up, forcing me to yawn
a lot to open them, which leads to air getting in my nose
which causes the smell and flavor to attack.
Then my face goes through a series of involuntary spasms
which I really should videotape some day because I'm sure
I'd be amused by them if they were on someone else's face.
My wife says I first look like a constipated baby, followed
quickly by the expression of a raccoon that's licked a Christmas
tree ornament covered in glitter, segueing into the horrified
look of a vegetarian fooled into eating a piece of bacon,
and finishing with my best impression of an oddly-animated
The taste stays with me for hours, all the while reminding
me that if I don't stop coughing I will have to take the same
medicine again, maybe in just four hours.
Hence, I stop coughing.
Tonight I tried an experiment—what I call the "Placebo
Domingo" effect. I have visualized the sight, smell and
taste of the medicine so thoroughly that I haven't even had
to take it. I've stopped coughing just thinking about it.
But since I know my wife will eventually read this and be
annoyed if I haven't taken some revolting medicine, I'm going
and taking it right now.
Oh (baby). Uh (raccoon). Ick (vegetarian). Eww (prune). Worse
than I even imagined. I predict I will be well in just a few
minutes, just so I don't have to take it again. But, wait,
I feel kind of nice and warm inside. Maybe "expires 12/98"
was a good vintage after all.