Is there anything more pathetic than a houseguest with the sniffles? I caught my current cold while visiting a woman with a chronic illness of considerable gravity who nonetheless went out of her way to make over me. As she brought me my umpteenth mug of hot tea, I was seized with a convulsion of guilt and told her, “You must think it’s pretty lame of me to be lying on the couch and whining like this, considering how sick you are.”
“Actually, it feels worse to have a cold, at least in the short run,” she replied. “When you’re really sick, your point of view changes–it gets easier to cope, somehow. So shut up and drink your tea.”
This reminded me of how I felt when I was in the hospital last December. I was desperately scared until I picked up the phone and dialed 911–and then, all at once, I wasn’t. It was like throwing a switch. From that moment on, I was completely calm. You may not understand what I’m talking about unless you’ve had a similar experience, but as soon I told the operator to send an ambulance, I knew things were out of my hands, and for the first time in weeks, I relaxed.
Needless to say, my host’s reassurances didn’t make me feel any less guilty, but they didn’t stop me from drinking my tea, either. Alas, I couldn’t indulge myself for very long, even with her wholehearted approval, for this was one of my three-deadline weeks. On Monday I wrote a four-thousand-word essay on John Hammond for Commentary. On Tuesday I returned to New York, writing my drama column for Friday’s Wall Street Journal on the train from Hartford to Penn Station. Yesterday I wrote my “Sightings” column for the Saturday Journal. All this was a bit much for a middle-aged man with a bad cold, but I had to grin and bear it, so I did. As James Burnham liked to say, if there’s no alternative, there’s no problem.
I spent Wednesday evening slumped on the couch, swilling tea and watching Howard Hawks’ Hatari! It’s not one of the master’s best movies: the plot is all but nonexistent, and the way Hawks handles his female characters tips over into full-fledged self-parody. One of them is named Brandy, the other Dallas, which tells you just about everything you need to know. Be that as it may, Hatari! turned out to be well suited to my modest aesthetic demands, for it jogs along amusingly for two and a half hours, the Tanganyikan scenery is soothing to the eye, and Henry Mancini’s score, which makes extensive and imaginative use of African percussion, is great fun. (This is the film for which “Baby Elephant Walk” was written.) No sooner had I shipped “Sightings” off to the Journal than I sent out for a pizza, turned on the TV, and left the rest to John Wayne. Thanks, Duke!
I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything today, and I’m not gonna. Friday, alas, is different: I’ll be catching a train to Washington, D.C., first thing in the morning, picking up a Zipcar at Union Station, and driving from there to Staunton, Virginia, where I’ll spend a day and a half watching Shenandoah Shakespeare perform Othello, As You Like It, and Macbeth. On Sunday I return to Washington (stopping along the way at the Pope-Leighey House) to see the Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s new production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. I’ll be back in New York on Monday night.
That, if I may say so, is one damn long weekend, so if you don’t hear from me between tomorrow and next Wednesday, do not adjust your set. I know, I know, it’s only a cold, but in the immortal words of Lili von Shtupp, I’m not a wabbit–I need some west!