If life imitated '70s disaster movies ࠬa The Towering Inferno, what role would you play? (Don't scoff—with the passage of I-695, expect to find yourself trapped on a collapsing bridge very soon.) Would you be the spoiled society bitch, endangering nobler souls with your ceaseless selfishness? Perhaps you'd portray the Midwestern bumpkin, miraculously shielded from the terrors technology hath wrought by your corn-fed naﶥt鮍
Most of us imagine ourselves as some workaday slob who shines brightly in a single, transforming moment of heroism. Sheila's been slinging hash in a baby-tee at Hooters for 10 years. More married men have walked out of her life than a Las Vegas chapel. But once, Sheila was the star of the high school track team. And now, she's gonna jump that chasm spanning a 500-foot fall into a lake of flames with a rope tied around her 22-inch waist and pull the other survivors to safety . . . or die trying.
I always pictured myself as the gruff-but-loveable George Kennedy character, whose committed principles have branded him an outsider yet have helped him soldier through impossible odds. (That, or as teenage Pamela Sue Martin in The Poseidon Adventure, brazenly tearing away the hem of her evening dress to climb into the protective embrace of Gene Hackman.) Yet events of late have forced me to reevaluate that casting. In actuality, I'm more like the mayor of Los Angeles (or the director of the cruise line) who ignores repeated warnings and lives to taste regret.
Like the barking dogs in Earthquake, my early alarm signals were enigmatic. Two weeks ago Monday, I kept smelling chocolate, even where there was none. Tiny white spots swam before my eyes, but I chalked them up to psychedelic drugs taken long ago but lingering in my fat cells. I mentioned these symptoms to a friend, an earnest grad student, and he recommended consulting a physician. Naturally, I ignored him.
Tuesday afternoon, catastrophe struck. Halfway through a set of chest presses at the gym, I felt as though someone were pushing my left eyeball out of the socket. The pounding in my temples shamed Japan's Kodo drummers, and the contents of my stomach threatened to introduce themselves to my fellow patrons. I stumbled outside, gasping shallow breaths, and drove home, dizzy with pain.
My discomfort continued throughout the week. I blamed my condition on work-related stress; creating promotional materials for the new Hanson album could give anyone a headache. I tried every remedy imaginable—red wine, pot, Advil, drinking more coffee, not drinking coffee—yet nothing helped. Perhaps my distress was caused by high blood pressure, another buddy suggested. It made perfect sense. Bacon, potato chips, and Knob Creek are three of my dietary staples. My incendiary road rage shocks even Los Angeles transplants. I was one order of Nachos Supreme away from a coronary.
Panicked, I scheduled an appointment with a general practitioner. Being a self-employed and uninsured loser, I only visit the doctor in cases of extreme emergency. Now my body was exacting a terrible revenge for this negligence. I called my mother to investigate our medical history. She admitted that heart disease ran in her family, then allayed my escalating fears with typical Hollywood dialogue: "Don't be alarmed if they want to scan for a brain tumor."
As befits any Irwin Allen opus, my MD proved young and movie-star handsome, a little like Conan O'Brien but minus the mean streak. He poked and prodded, chuckling when I asked if he could see blood clots while peeking in my ears. Finally, my red-haired angel of death handed down his diagnosis: "You have a migraine." Twenty million Americans suffer from them, yet the medical profession can't pinpoint their cause. I'll probably enjoy them with greater frequency in the future, but they won't kill me.
When I was a kid, my mother suffered from migraines.
She'd pull all the shades and lock herself in the bedroom. How could a simple headache paralyze my unstoppable Mom? It was like watching the Poseidon capsize, always knowing it was just a model. She was faking. But now I saw that the actual scale of the disaster was irrelevant. It didn't matter if I was truly a passenger trapped underwater or just some Hollywood has-been kicking around in a giant tank all day to nail a single 30-second shot. My life was going to be a little more unpleasant from here on out.
Back home, I perused a pamphlet for migraine sufferers and blanched at the "Things to Avoid": alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, aged cheese, peanut butter, nitrates, loud music, strong smells like incense, physical exertion, even sexual activity. To quote Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, "a few of my favorite things." My decision to disregard the list was instantaneous. A life of Enya, Kraft singles, and decaf isn't worth living. I'll probably suffer terrible consequences, but so what—that leaves the door open for a sequel.