Every five years or so I get a cold so bad, I’d give my worldly possessions (a 2000 Acura) to anyone willing to take over my symptoms. Remember in the Green Mile when John Coffey cures Paul Edgecomb’s bladder infection by absorbing it into his own body? That’s the kind of selfless act I’m looking for, a surrogate sufferer. I don’t care if he’s murdered a bunch of people. Obviously you can’t have everything, especially when you’re sick and look horrendous.
Having said that, it’s not easy finding a surrogate sufferer. Either they’ve got their own colds, or they haven’t murdered enough people. I even checked out surrogate sufferers on the Internet. Not a single taker, even when I offered up my 2000 Acura. In the Green Mile, Edgecomb didn’t have to offer Coffey anything. That’s why I hate the prison system. Wardens get all the perks.
Since I couldn’t find a surrogate sufferer, I had to get dressed, stick Kleenex up my nose, and go to the drugstore. During cold season, you can find any number of people with Kleenex stuck up their noses. It’s like a Masonic society. Everyone knows the secret sign, meaning they sneeze. Check out the floor of any drugstore during flu season. You’ll find tons of Kleenex balls.
You’ll also find people following them like hens following bird seed. For a hen, it’s elementary. For a cold sufferer, it’s the only way you’ll find anything in drugstores these days. One wrong move and you’re in the frozen food section.
Fortunately, I heard hacking in the aisle next to me, and soon found four or five other cold sufferers staring at a wall of cold medications. I stood behind them with the same intense concentration prairie dogs show a passing coyote.
Moving our heads in unison, we compared brands, then indications. A hand would reach out, grabbing a box, then put it back. “That’s only a decongestant,” an elderly woman said to her husband.
In head-shaking horror, the man returned the box, apologizing for not having his wits about him. We all nodded in unison, figuring it could have happened to any of us. “This has a decongestant and an expectorant,” the elderly woman continued. “You wanna be back here tomorrow with your throat all clogged up? I ain’t driving you.”
With that, they hustled off to the front cashier. I figured the old lady knew her cough medications, but then this guy next to me said, “She could have got the same thing for less with this store brand.”
I nodded, even though I’d left the house vowing to spend whatever was necessary to end my agony. At the same time, there’s no point spending more than necessary, and clearly the store brand was a dollar less. “But it doesn’t have as much gualifenesin,” a woman said, which had us all leaning over her shoulder, probably infecting her more than she already was.
“You get what you pay for,” another man said. He grabbed what the elderly couple grabbed and followed them to the front. I was all for doing the same thing, but then the woman next to me grabbed something else.
“This has more gualifenesin than the others,” she said, pronouncing it gwally-feny-sin. Turns out, this is what clears mucus — not to mention sending any pharmacist into hysterics if you pronounce it that way. Since there wasn’t a pharmacist for miles, she went on calling it gwally-feny-sin, until she got to the cashier and suggested better labeling. “I could hardly read it’s got gwally-feny-sin,” she complained. The cashier called the pharmacist who went into hysterics. Seems it’s about the only entertainment pharmacists get these days.
So that left me and the bargain hunter, who was still checking out store brands. “What about this?” he said, finding one loaded with gwally-feny-sin. “Still a buck less.” No point overspending, I thought, so we both grabbed the store brand and made our way past the pharmacist who was still laughing. “Anything else I can do for you?” he asked us. We kept going. Why give pharmacists all the chuckles?
“Smug bastard,” the guy said to me outside, already taking a swig of his gwally-feny-sin. There we were, standing like a couple of cheap winos, drinking our gwally-feny-sin, waiting for the loosening described on the packaging. We gave each other our own secret sign, sneezing, and went our separate ways.
Now I’m home, sipping my gwally-feny-sin, wondering if I got shafted buying the store brand. I’m not feeling the loosening as promised. “You always want to economize,” my girlfriend says.
She’s right of course. You won’t find a more level-headed woman, even if she is eyeing me now, rubbing her throat. “If you’ve given me your stupid cold, I’ll murder you,” she warns.
I hand her the bottle, telling her it’s got more gwally-feny-sin than the leading national brand. “What the hell’s gwally-feny-sin?” she says. No point going into a long explanation. She’s already guzzling. “You look stupid with that Kleenex in your nose, you know,” she adds, going off to the washroom.
“Oh, my God!” I hear her scream. “Look at my eyes!”
“We’ll get through this,” I promise her, making for the door. She’s already slamming the medicine chest, no doubt holding a pair of scissors like Norman Bates.
“Where the hell are you going?” she screams again.
“To the drugstore.”
“Don’t you scrimp, you economizing bastard!”
Like I said, a clear-headed woman. Just not one you want to deal with holding scissors. Fortunately, like everyone else, she’ll learn in time to stop worrying and love expectorant. Even as I close the door, I can hear the sign of the brotherhood. She just sneezed.
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details (you can buy the book from them as well).