We moved back to Austin — known variously as the Live Music Capital of the World and the Allergy Capital of the Universe — in 1997. Coming back, we could always count on people talking about two things:
1) Have you noticed how much Austin has changed? (This was always commented on in a mournful tone of voice, part of a Chicken Little mantra that Central Texas was going straight to hell in a handbasket. Republicans! Californians! Traffic! Subdivisions with meaningless Spanish or Olde English names! It used to be heaven, but now it’s ruined! Liberty Lunch, Soapcreek, Les Amis!)
I thought the woe-is-us growth bitchings were pretty sad. There’s nothing worse than people who moan about how the past was better, the present stinks and the future promises to be horrific.
But allergies. I mean, for Christ’s sake. There’s nothing more boring than people constantly kvetching about their health, I thought, rolling my eyes, especially if it involves repeated mentions of mucus membranes and sinus cavities. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief and don’t forget to breathe those pollens, hon. I’ve got better things to think about.
That was then — 11 years ago. This is now. Now. I’ve spent the spring feeling like an evil troll is belting me repeatedly in the head with a sledgehammer, which would account for those days I shuffle around, shedding IQ points like drops of sweat in a sauna, nose tickling, voice hoarse, head bursting. I pore through the newspaper to find out what’s in the air (oak? molds? grasses?). I compare symptoms with total strangers, finding solace, solidarity, vindication in our common suffering. Oh, you get headaches, too? Really bad ones?
I ask everybody from my hairdresser to a pharmacy clerk to neighbors what they suggest as a remedy. Something at Whole Foods? Nose irrigation system? Air purifier? Allergist? Shots? Euthanasia?
Doing this, I see the old me, the judgmental, head-shaking, superior little snot of 11 years ago who mocked the allergies, the complaints, the symptoms, the wasted time, the rather obvious and tedious hypochondria. Don’t these people have anything better, more interesting to talk about? she wondered.
I can answer her now. No, they don’t. And neither do I.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)