According to rock and roll urban legend, Neil Young wrote two of his greatest songs, “Cinnamon Girl” (the one with the one note guitar solo) and “Down By The River” (it’s 10 minutes long, so you never hear it on the radio), while sick with a fever. Just imagine that: a sweaty, feverish, Neil Young in the ‘60s, hair all greasy, and stumbling around his California cabin coughing and wheezing his way to one of his acoustic guitars propped up against the wall in a desperate attempt to find something to do except stare at the wall, and by the time he’s done he’s created two masterpieces.
Please do me a favor, dear readers, and not hold me to the same standard. For nearly a week ago to the day, I went to bed with a strange rumble deep in my chest and woke up with a persistent cough. By the end of that day there I was, on the couch, four blankets on me, curled up into a ball and yeah, staring at the wall. The last six days since then have been a roller-coaster ride of varying symptoms, all the usual greatest hits, the worst of which has been a constant brain-fog and accompanying fatigue which has ensured that I’ve managed to do nothing else at home but lay down and moo vague sounds like a dying animal while watching the piles of various things-to-be-tidied abandoned the night I started coughing becoming a part of the floor and wondering just how deep into my chest of drawers I’m going to have to go to find clean socks for the next day.
All of this means that the article you’re reading right now represents the longest string of connective thoughts I’ve been able to put together for about a week. OK, not exactly “Cinnamon Girl” level so far in terms of quality but hey, it’s got to be better than what you’d be getting if you were here at the JG-TC office asking me a question in person, which would be a glare over my glasses with reddened eyes and a wet, croupy open-mouthed cough that would sound not a little unlike the sound your garbage disposal makes when it’s full of romaine salad and ice cubes.
As you’re suspecting, I’m a full believer in the phenomenon known as “Man-Flu”. You know…the malady whereupon even the strongest, truck-drivin’, blue-collar guy you know turns into a shivering man baby splayed out on your couch whining for you to bring him more crackers for his soup. Being that I’m an overly educated nerd with soft moisturized hands who drives a make of car no doubt driven by some of the finest lady tennis players of the early ‘90s, you can imagine how well I’m holding up. As such, I’ve found that my number one symptom of the “Man-Flu” manifests itself as a low-level disinterest in doing, sometimes even thinking, about anything that I normally would. And for a guy who lives about 90 percent of his life in his own head, obsessing about his interests, you can imagine that’s quite a debilitating state for someone like me to be in, especially when he has a column to write.
Rest assured, I turned to the archives to find some relief, and lo and behold I had to travel all the way back to the Feb. 26, 1931, Journal Gazette to find my old feel-better-buddies The Smith Brothers and their “new” cough syrup, guaranteed to bring that squalling child with the Dust Bowl Coughs some comfort. No small feat at a time when I’m sure the preferred way of treating anything was to give someone a spoonful of Castor Oil. Smith Brothers cough drops, on the other hand, were essentially just a Life Saver. Certs probably had more medicinal value. But wow did they ever taste good, and that box they came in sure made them look like they were purchased at the Darby Pipe Shop.
Oh, how I remember the scramble for medicine during those little-kid sicknesses of the ‘80s; little yellow half-pills of Chlor-Trimoton, dusky-white spoonfulls of Dyslum, and acrid glup-downs of Alupent. They surely can’t make any of those products anymore, can they? I’ll tell you what, if you show me somehow you’ve got a box of “Chlor-Trimoton” in your house, I’ll show you a medicine cabinet that needs to be cleaned out. I also have vague memories of a blue plastic thing with a motor that was essentially a fog machine for vaporized Vicks Cough Syrup called a “Humectifer”, a device that my friends continue to insist is a nonsense word I’m mistaking for “Humidifier.”
Here’s a bit of my Man-Flu-caused malcontented-ness showing up…what’s the point of even taking any of that over-the-counter stuff? Be honest with yourself -- none of it really does anything. Yes, it’s that kind of “why bother, nothing works?” mentality of mine as of late that led me to do another archives search for another half-remembered medicinal panic: the Tylenol-Cyanide panic of the early ‘80s. And wouldn’t you know it, there it was, in the Nov. 1, 1982, Journal Gazette, a notice in the “City Briefs” section about how the “Tylanol-Cyanide” scare has finally reached Coles County. Allright, maybe in the grand scheme of national news that’s not quite on the level of the Mad Gasser or FutureGen but hey, it’s something right?
And then imagine my shock when my plans on finding the perfect way to close out this week’s column fell apart when I actually read the article only to discover that there wasn’t any Tylenol-poisoning in Coles County that year, but a bunch of local yokels who felt weird after scarfing down some of their kids' Halloween candy and then somehow became paranoid it was cyanide. Sigh. That seems about right, doesn’t it?
But if I started this column with an urban legend, then I’ll I’ve got left is to close out with a rural legend: just tell me you don’t still have a mother or grandmother who, to this very day, still tells you to be careful taking Tylenol.