Gut Instinct: That's Sick

Right back...ahhh-choo.

Since quitting that soul-eating porn-editing job eight years ago and becoming a full-time freelancer, I’ve assumed a modified mailman’s ethos: Neither rain, nor snow, nor hangover, nor sickness shall keep me from earning a paycheck.

As a freelancer, every minute I’m not working is a minute I’m not paid. To compensate for uncompensated vacations, my workweeks often stretch to 70 or 80 Gorilla Coffee–juiced hours. But come wintertime, my Midwestern work ethic is tested by respiratory infections. Since I lack the luxury of sick days, I’ll chug DayQuil like it’s Jack Daniels and write with one hand on the keyboard, the other clutching Kleenex like a toddler to his blankie. Deadlines don’t give two damns about your health.

Office workers do. “Are you feeling OK?” asked a coworker last week at the Midtown corporation where I copyedit. Her clues were my crumpled-tissue mountain and the clumsily hacked lemon and ginger sitting on my desk—my attempt to make tea, foiled by a plastic knife.Why stock plastic knives? Like airlines, are corporations afraid of revolt? Give us health benefits, bastards, or we’ll stab HR with our salad forks!

“I’ve felt better,” I croaked, honking into a wet tissue. She scuttled off as if I were a dirty bomb. I tried burning away the sniffles with steaming, spicy Mandarin noodle soup (pork and pickles!) from Hing Won (48 W. 48th St., betw. 5th & 6th Aves., 212-719- 1451). That was as effective as shooting a charging rhino with a foam Nerf dart. My health continued its downward slide with a car-alarm headache and sinuses as stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey. Sometime around 9 p.m. and my hundredth sneeze—Fridays are always late at my gig—my boss sent my wounded carcass home.

I slumped to the subway—a fluorescent-lit lair of rickety despair when one’s unwell—and bounced back to Brooklyn. I clodded upstairs to my apartment and, after air-kissing my girlfriend as if I were a Hollywood starlet, popped a fistful of Tylenol PM. “Don’t forget,” my girlfriend said, as I slid into pharmaceutically-enhanced slumber, “we’re hosting a dinner party tomorrow night.”

***

For the last several months, friends had planned a progressive dinner party. It’s less about liberalism than travel. One household serves cocktails.Then you move to a new house to slurp soup.The next dwelling serves dinner. This concept works swell in cities where cars reign. But intra-NYC transit can be a nightmare, especially given the MTA’s service cuts.

That left two options: bike or car service.

“You’re not biking, much less going out in that weather,” my girlfriend said when I awoke around noon, my head foggier than a San Francisco morn. Outside, rain hammered down like an angry construction worker.

“But…dinner,” I groaned. “We must… make…dinner.” Our house was the party’s penultimate stop.We’d host the entrée. And dessert.What was a progressive dinner party without dinner?

“That’s a good idea. You have a fever.”

She felt my head. It was hot enough to cook an egg over-easy.

“No surrender,” I said, outlining my plan. I would rest in a NyQuil coma, then rise after sunset to construct our curried-cauliflower course.

It’d be made with ingredients earlier secured at Bangkok Center Grocery (104 Mosco St., betw. Mulberry & Mott Sts., 212-349-1979), the city’s top Thai provisionary. Owner Nong Premjit sells rare ingredients like kefir lime leaves, galangal root and freshly ground curry pastes, doling out sage, patient advice to cooks who can’t tell lemongrass from wheatgrass.

“I’ll skip the first few stops. Just tell them I have a little cold,” I instructed.

“But you have a fever and look like you were run over by a steamroller.”

“Do it!” I pleaded.Who can resist a sick man’s wishes?

Lies were uttered. Condolences were muttered. When my girlfriend departed for the first home’s first course, I arose like Lazarus.To keep germs at bay, I wore a silk sleep mask as a sneeze guard. Our apartment filled with the perfume of jasmine rice and simmering coconut milk—I hoped. Cooking with no sense of smell is like a deaf man working a concert soundboard.

At the appointed time, nine people roared through my front door, drunk and ready for dinner. My glassy eyes and slow, slurred speech matched theirs.

“I can’t believe you pulled it off,” my girlfriend said. “And the curry actually tastes like, well, curry.”

“Dinner party can’t be denied,” I replied, blowing my girlfriend a contagion-free air kiss and dissolving into a druggy daze.