Barry Smith: Graphicness of sickness |

Barry Smith: Graphicness of sickness

It’s the dead of winter in the Rocky Mountains, but the sun is shining outside.

I’d love to be out in that good sunshine, instead of sitting inside writing about it, but I don’t have the strength to scale the mound of crumpled tissues that stand between me and the door.

I don’t get sick all that often, so when I do, I like to really go big, make it into a Cecil B. DeMille-like spectacle of moaning, shuffling, honking, whining, egocentrism and manic confusion. I am now on the tail end of a mighty strong sick run, and I feel as if I’ve been through a dog, but I’m ready to share. I can’t promise any coherence or continuity, because I’m SICK, so just

back off. No, seriously, for your own good ” back off:

I have discovered that the following conversation is the root of all exchanges in our society …

OTHER PERSON: How are you?

YOU: Actually, I’m kinda sick.

OTHER PERSON: Oh yeah? I was sick last week.

That’s it ” when someone finds out that you’re sick, or that you were just sick, they find it imperative to reference the last time that THEY were sick. And it isn’t just them, either. It’s you. You do the same. And if you can’t remember the last time you were sick, you’ll tell me about a family member who’s sick.

Who cares? I’m the one that’s sick. Me. Me. Me.

But no, it’s always, “Really? My kids are sick, too.”

So?! Look, I don’t even know your kids. I didn’t even know you had kids. In fact, I’m not even sure that I know who you are. Where am I?

Whew …

One of the ways I like to “do” sick is to make sure that everyone gets a full report on my symptoms at all times, the more graphic the better. Better for me, at least. As my symptoms progress, I keep the phone nearby ” my only contact with the healthy world.


“How are you today?”

“Man, I’m feeling really bad. (Cough) My fever has pretty much broken, but now it’s time for the phlegm to start working its way up. I’ve been doing lots of steam. You know, with a towel (cough, cough) over my head and my face over a pot of boiling water. That seems to break up (cough) the (cough, cough) … excuse me … (cough, cough, haaack!)

“That sounds pretty bad.”

“Cough, cough … Jesus! I’m dying! I swear to God, I’m cough cough cough …!”

“Gee, that is awful. Anyway, are you the person in your household responsible for making decisions about long distance service?”

Somewhere around day three I remembered, in a feverish hallucination, being a child and hearing my dad explaining his latest illness to a neighbor: “… and I was coughing up these big, green oysters.”

Good lord, what a horrible thing to tell your neighbor. What an even more horrible childhood memory. And, now that I think about it, what a horrible thing to pass on to you. Sorry.

Oysters. Clearly I learned my symptom-sharing tendencies from my father, as well as my disdain for oysters.

The sun is still pouring through my window. I can feel the warmth radiating up from the floor where the yellow sunbeam is stretched. And I can’t, for the life of me, stop thinking about oysters, or even words that sound similar. I would make a smoothie, but my blender is an Osterizer. My friends aren’t stopping by. Is it because I’m ostentatious? Are they ostracizing me? Ostensibly.

My ability to focus ebbs and flows. I don’t know if that was an ebb or a flow, but I’m back now, ready to continue my project ” making a pile of spent tissues that is visible from space.

Move over Great Pyramid of Giza. Step aside Great Wall of China. An Eighth Wonder of the World is in the making … The Humongous Snotrag Pile Of Aspen. Archeologists will be baffled. Tourists will flock. Trinkets will be sold. A National Park will be declared. Take only pictures, leave only oysters. Cough. Excuse me, I think I need to lie down.

[Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at]