Chalkfest Voting is Open! View the artwork & vote now — Aug. 1

The Rear End

THE REAR END: Crawlin’ in the Pollen

when springtime kicks you in the nostrils

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

I’ll confess, I don’t like spicy foods. But I do like hot horseradish, and I like that green paste many of us call “wasabi” while snobby, joyless sushi-lovers say it’s “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 emerging from 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. These things are hard to like.

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 and produce all kinds of repulsive face sounds, 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 cool people talked in the 1990s.) We’d 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.

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

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 hella short, home skillets.”

mike paulus

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 hella short, home skillets.”

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-coated hot air balloons. I no longer had snot bursting from my face – which was nice – but I basically slept through the whole weekend. Totally not dope.

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 and pop rocks – all afternoon – and then lie down on the icy concrete floor of an abandoned mental asylum, 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 than a month. And like a handsome, drowsy grizzly bear, I can just sleep through my seasonal hardship. I’ll be OK. And I can always chug horseradish mustard to pass the time.

Peace out, I gotta bounce.