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highlander

Cat Allergies is the New 30

By Dom Sinacola · Dec 03, 2013

One never expects that with age one’s body will become less accustomed to being alive. This is what antibodies are for, right: to continue to harden and fortify the carapace that protects our spiritual selves from the cruel, indifferent universe threatening to totally ruin and then penetrate our physical selves at almost every single juncture. Which, I’m not implying that I don’t dread the time when I will feel in my bones (my brittle, sad little bones) the rapid decline of my health and so then will know intuitively that my time’s running out, because like most people I do, and because atrophy is a very real presence in our lives, and most of us just have to pretend that we aren’t constantly bidding adieu to one more chunk of energy within ourselves as it passes on to some other part of the universe. Like, check you later, ankle flexibility; it’s been nice knowing you, waking up without lumbar pain. What I am implying is that a good 75% or more of our lifespan—however that portions out—should probably work in much the same way that a pair of Birkenstocks or sex or a fine wine or a virus or the Highlander of the Zombie Apocalypse would: better with age.

This is how I expected my body to work up until about eight weeks ago, when I turned 30 years old. The age is almost definitely arbitrary, especially nowadays when people sincerely spout off the phrase “40 is the new 30” like they’re attempting to console me on how I haven’t reached typical life milestones, like accumulating a graduate degree, spouse, house, child, or dog. Still, the week that I turned 30 I began to have a lot of trouble spending too much time at friends’ houses where cats also resided, exacerbated by my deep burning desire to pick up said cats and cuddle them within an inch of their furry lives, regardless of the cats’ or God’s wishes. Uncontrollable sneezing was followed by shortness of breath, unendurably red eyes, coughing fits, and this weird thing where my neck itched a lot, the sum total being that I resembled a crack addict too far pre- or post-crack (insert Rob Ford joke here).

So I’m allergic to cats. Get over it, I know. But here’s the thing: I’ve known I’ve been allergic to cats since I was six years old, which was the age at which I received what must be a now-primeval allergy “test,” which was mostly about an hour of a doctor poking my back with a series of needles labeled—or so I remember it—with such allergens as “ragweed” or “pine combs” or “mustard” or whatever the fuck people are allergic to, the result being that my whole back was completely swollen. Because I couldn’t scratch any of the pricked areas, the doctor told me I should instead rip up that rough, brown butcher’s-type paper doctor’s offices lay over examination tables, as if ripping up a strip of paper is somehow comparable to the intense fiery sensation of having your soul escape screaming through hundreds of tiny holes in your back. I’m sorry you have testicular torsion, here’s a coupon to Fantastic Sams. Plus, when the doctor returns to the examination room to check in on the writhing six year-old with his eyes rolled up into the back of his head, the paper the child’s been given to alleviate the pain of a million suns liquefied into pulp around his belly-down person, and that doctor goes, “Huh, whoa,” then you know your six year-old is probably allergic to everything on this earth.

Luckily I was never deathly allergic to anything, like peanuts or bees, or bees made out of peanuts. But my best friend growing up got his family dog especially considering my proclivity for allergy attacks, meaning the dog had, as it was explained to me, “hair” and not “fur” (RIP Max), a consideration that made sense given how often I was at their house drinking their pop and listening to my friend’s older brother’s Weezer CD, because there is nothing more hilarious to an 11 year-old fueled on sugar than Weezer’s “Sweater Song.” It worked, and I learned my limits, and with a healthy regimen of pills and serums prescribed by the doctor who saw the Face of God in my back, I made it through my teens and out of my childhood home into college as a person relatively well adjusted to the world that was trying to kill me.

Then from about 20 on, something happened that I thought was impossible: I “grew out” of my allergies. This was an occurrence often mentioned to me half-believed, like a myth, like the Lochness Monster or a Selfless Act or True Love, all “I’ve heard that you can grow out of your allergies,” says the person who doesn’t have allergies before disappearing behind a puff of smoke into the ether. Yet, throughout college and two cities and countless jobs and ten years, I went almost without any major attacks at all. I say “almost” because there was this one time in like 2006 when I was on an Amtrak train heading from Chicago to Detroit and spent five of its nine hours trying desperately to figure out why my hands and lips had ballooned to almost twice their normal size, which must have had something to do with the fact that I was sitting on the ground about ten feet from a trash can because I had given up my seat on the overbooked trip to a woman who wanted to sit next to her friend, which of course wasn’t a Selfless Act, because those don’t exist. If I remember correctly, I was hoping to somehow achieve orgasm with this person at some point, somehow, down the line, due to my illusionary Selflessness, but also due to the same act looked horrific and wouldn’t have any chance seeing how I, by the time we reached Detroit, most resembled Joan Rivers. The moral of the story being that you should never do nice things for anyone ever.

At one point, I even owned and cared for a cat—“Kitty,” an incredibly dumb and needy little thing who didn’t meow so much as emit a gurgled “hello?” as she stalked stupidly around the halls of my apartment, like she was asking life’s biggest question of the indifferent void of the universe that forever pressed in on her—before pawning her off on some too-innocent college students, only because I was moving in with an ex-girlfriend who hated her—as did most people—and not because she ever caused me to itch my neck like a fiending boxcar hobo. Kitty’s probably dead now, but that’s not the point: she was my proof that I had successfully grown out of my allergies. It was real, and I believed in it.

Then eight weeks ago I was at my stepsister’s house, where one single teensy cat named, adorably, Pancake lives, and it came upon me almost instantaneously, what began as an itch in the furrows of my nose hair and ended during the drive home when I had two dripping wet Kleenexes stuffed into my two nostrils only so I could have at least one hand on the wheel and my eyes opened long enough to be able to see where I was steering my car. It was Pancake’s fault, and I knew it the moment she crawled onto my lap and curled up crustaceanally, as if within the brown and gray whorls of her fur were the blueprints to my demise. I was told at that time that Pancake must really like me, but living with Kitty has taught me otherwise, which: cats are disengaged, indifferent, self-absorbed animals, much like the Universe, and seek human contact purely on the basis of self-preservation. I have an oddly overactive metabolism, which both means that I sweat profusely on a regular basis, never because I’m overheated or even remotely uncomfortable, but because my corporeal being is only regulating itself with fury, and that my internal temperature is slightly elevated above a normal human’s. It makes sense, then, that a cat would seek my lap, or my chest, or my face—as Kitty often did while I slept, not determined to murder me but unconcerned that my homicide might be the result—for its warmth. Cats love me because I am a luxurious furnace behind a thin, elastic vessel of flesh. There can’t be any other reason; there’s no preference behind any cat’s eyes besides those places and people who cater heedlessly to that cat’s every need. And even then, that cat would immediately begin to eat your face as soon as you die.

Seven weeks ago I noticed my sinuses constrict at my best friend’s apartment. There, their cat—appropriately named Floyd, which I only say because it has the correct ring, as he was a cat seemingly born to be difficult, bitter, and rough to be around, then only with effort, much like the name itself reminds one of a pool of acid rain left to stagnate next to an abandoned gas station in some shitty sub-suburb of L.A., say—had already scratched the inside of my wrist, a lesion which reddened and itched furiously. It’s not their fault he was the way he was; theories abound as to why he ended up such a chore, but at the end of the day that was just who he was: a sociopath perhaps, if you don’t already believe that all cats are sociopaths. My best friend put in so much work to condition and domesticize the little guy, and even then achieved a few small steps: a lap sitting for a few minutes at night; a greeting at the door when coming home from work; a few cute rollings around.

Six weeks ago I used up a whole roll of toilet paper at their house. It still is inconceivable to me where all that snot comes from. I hold out hope every time I go into a sneezing fit that if I continue blowing enough, that if I continue wiping out the insides of my nose enough, I’ll have depleted my mucus reserve and go about my day dry and without having anyone respond to my every sneeze with a scared twitch or the now obligatory “Jeez!” It’s the burden an allergy attacked must bear: the embarrassment of having your insides erupt violently from you, over and over and over, as if your underwear is hanging from your neck and streaked with the kind of shit stains that every person admittedly has after owning a pair of underwear for over a decade. No one ever really owns a pair of underwear for over a decade, so most people can safely tell themselves that they are morally and maturely above streaking themselves, but streaking is an inevitability given enough time, and like our mortality itself, with age your sphincter loosens and your bowels become messier, so it’s only a matter of time before the integrity of your undergarments fails under the persistence of time and anatomy.

Five weeks ago Floyd was put down. His kidneys failed after an ultrasound showed that his stomach was a bean-shaped mass of hair-ties, which he ate indiscriminately after pawing them about playfully. Thus, his doom was spelled in the thin line between recreation and mortality—much like the moral of the movie Bloodsport—and so, with little recourse besides expensive surgery followed by years of even more expensive dialysis treatments, Floyd humanely left this earth. It was as hard on my best friend as could be expected given my best friend’s often graceful way of dealing with things he has no choice but to accept, but even in my almost total lack of connection to Floyd, as well as the reemergence of my miserable allergies, I felt his loss: he was gone, and for senseless, possibly even anecdotal reasons, which seems like a fate that no other living being should ever endure.

Four weeks ago I thought about my step-grandpa in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. He’s a man I don’t like and he’s a man I’ll never like, long past the day he dies; there isn’t much more to say about him without going into excruciating detail about years of bitterness and resentment that could be refracted in so many ways for so many people he’s touched. About him I’ve said before, countless times, “I wish he would just go and die,” to which many people have responded, even those he’s mistreated almost preternaturally, with something akin to disgust, not for him, but for me, as if death should never be wished about anyone, or anything, ahead of its time. What I’ve realized is that all along I’ve wished my step-grandfather’s death at precisely the time it’s meant to happen, in the way it’s meant to, which in my case is soon, and meaninglessly. I don’t believe in fate, or fortune, but in the inevitability of time passing in epochs, where a beginning and an end define this amorphous, ceaseless block of energy we’ve amassed, honed, and then lost or will lose. For my step-grandpa, his many beginnings were probably moments when he held a shred of hope in his heart, and his ends were those times when hope was replaced by disappointment. The last end for him—for whatever piece of the universe we’ve referred to as him—will be a final disappointment, and I believe that soon his end is nigh. There is no hope remaining inside him.

For ten years I operated under the illusion that I had grown out of my allergies, that maybe I’d even beat them through the sheer breadth of my time spent enduring all of the epochs that up until that point defined my life. But last week I spent at my father’s condo in Palm Springs, where two long-hair cats, Sam and Reggie, are treated as if they are not the animals wrapped impenetrably within themselves, and instead are multifaceted beings of depth and emotional grandeur. It was hard not to be jealous of them and the sedentary lifestyle allowed them, especially when, in one more moment of self-denial, I picked up an especially cute Reggie and soon elapsed into a terrifyingly asthmatic allergic fit. My dad’s condo was their domain, and not mine, and the frankness of that fact burrowed deep within me, reinforcing the tentativeness I’ve felt embarking upon this fourth decade of being alive. Here were these nascent animals, a dearth of experience attending to their luxury, and still pretty much beating me paw over fist, at least as far as keeping score when it comes to who’s more content than whom.

And reflected in those fucking bleary solipsistic eyes of theirs was the reality that there’s really no such thing as life-long accumulation. It’s in the Bible somewhere, but it’s true: we can build up as much as much as we like, as much as it takes to keep us feeling reassured by the fortress of stuff that surrounds us, but none of it—no antibodies, or hours at the gym, or experience suffering through sickness to not be sick, or growth, or fashionable haircuts—will follow us as we pass into another epoch beyond whatever it is we consider to be the realm we currently inhabit. Not even “us” will go. Which isn’t meant to be scary, or even all that sad, at all. It just means that there’s no such thing as “growing out” of one’s allergies; use that Fantastic Sams coupon while you still can.

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