Aller-Geez!

springtime in Wisconsin is punching me in the face

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Janae Breunig

I don’t like spicy foods. But I do like hot horseradish, and I like whatever that green paste is we all call “wasabi” while joyless, snobby sushi-lovers call “not actually wasabi” because “real wasabi is almost impossible to find outside of Japan.”

I like eating really hot horseradish mustard and feeling a nice buzz-inducing flare of heat up in my sinuses. I like it when my face screams, “Oh god, I can’t take it,” and then, right when I’m about to black out, the burn dies away, leaving me bleary eyed and smiling. I like surviving the fire. And unlike spicy peppers and whatnot, the trip through horseradish’s flaming facial flare up is a short one.

So why don’t I like allergies? They produce a very similar kind of burn up in my sinuses, so what’s not to like? Well, there’s the constant river of snot, the headaches, the sneezing, the itchy eyes, and the fuzzy-headedness. I hate them.
You read that right. I’m taking a controversial stand against allergies.

Currently in full effect, my allergies are seasonal, and besides the occasional crazy-ass reaction to a kind of pollen I’ve yet to identify where my whole face swells up, they’re not that bad. Oh, they’re bad enough to make me whine about them, but not so bad that I’ve seen a doctor. I know others have it much worse.

I only feel them in the springtime. And much like the Challenger space shuttle explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and my first bite of stuffed crust pizza, I can remember exactly where I was when my allergies first hit.

I was in college with some buddies, and we decided to head over to Braun’s Bay in Carson Park for some ultra-sweet hangout time, yo. (That’s how people talked in the 1990s.) We had gotten out of the car and started walking over to the shoreline when we passed through a thick cloud of POISON DEATH POLLEN.

Clear, aqueous snot suddenly gushed from my nose like a Wisconsin Dells water slide. My tear ducts sizzled with dryness. The skin around my eyes felt all puffy and weird. I stood there, frozen in my Sketchers.

Clear, aqueous snot suddenly gushed from my nose like a Wisconsin Dells water slide. My tear ducts sizzled with dryness. The skin around my eyes felt all puffy and weird. I stood there, frozen in my Sketchers.

And there wasn’t a tissue to be found for miles.

I turned to my college buddies and said, “Not cool, college buddies. My nose is running like 1996 Olympic Gold medalist for track Michael Johnson. We need to cut our ultra-sweet hangout time short. Yo.”

And from that day on, the Wisconsin springtime has delivered allergies to the doorstep of my face. For a while I wasn’t sure how to handle them. The first time my allergies got annoying enough to warrant medication, I was at a family gathering. At my (eventual) wife’s suggestion, I swallowed some Benadryl and immediately fell to the floor, snoring and drooling and dreaming of purple unicorns and candy furniture. So, while I no longer had snot bursting from my face – which was nice – I basically slept through the whole weekend. Also nice, but not an ideal situation.

Now, don’t even get me started on non-drowsy allergy medicine. For Mike Paulus, nothing is “non-drowsy,” because Mike Paulus is “always drowsy.”

I could double fist watering cans of Starbucks espresso, pouring them directly into my nostrils as I float in a bathtub filled with Dr. Pepper, chocolate syrup, and pop rocks – all afternoon – and then lie down on the icy concrete floor of a haunted house basement, only to doze off within seconds. That’s how good I am. At sleeping.

So even non-drowsy allergy medicine can leave me feeling weird and dopey. There’s no magic-bullet-pill to fix this. But before you start feeling bad for poor ol’ Mikey and his Springtime Snot Spectacular, know this: I can just wait it out. Depending on pollen levels and atmospheric conditions, my own allergy season rarely lasts longer then a month. And like a handsome, drowsy grizzly bear I can just sleep through this seasonal hardship. I’ll be OK. And I can always eat lots of horseradish mustard to pass the time.


Note from the Writer: I would like to take a quick moment to apologize for the title of this column.

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