Dear Big Daddy,
After years of working in different political jobs around the state, I finally landed the one I want, here in Sacramento. The problem is one of my co-workers. She blows her nose all day long, and worse. All of the hacking and sniffling one desk over is making it hard for me to work. She claims she doesn't smoke, but I have trouble believing allergies would do all that. Help!
– Grossed Out and Distracted
Dear Glimpsing Your Future,
Every culture and time has its fertility symbols. The prehistoric Venus of Willendorf proved that baby has had back for a long, long time. The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats for their ability to quickly make more cats. Even repression-as-worship Christianity popped out with that wonderfully surreal Easter Bunny and egg hunt bit.
If some future civilization ever digs our ephemeral moment in history out of the mud of the collapsed delta, they may rightly come to believe we worshiped boxes of Kleenex and bottles of Claritin. Because here in the fruit basket of the nation, nature's money shot is a doozy.
Which is all a complicated and show-offy way of saying: Get used to it. And even: There but for the grace of genes go you. And also: There you may be going soon. And don't forget: It may even be worth getting a Costco card just to have access to pallets of Kleenex and those 300-count bottles of allergy medicine. And one more: Had you actually heard of Sacramento before coming here?
To you, your co-worker probably seems like the mutant child of H.R. Giger and H.P. Lovecraft. To the rest of us, she's a symbol of spring, sort of like bluebirds, late sunsets and budget standoffs. Live here long enough, and at the first burbling sneeze you'll start resetting your clocks and planning a summer vacation.
Go back about a century point five, you'll find the Golden State going through the same adolescent mistake made by the likes of New York, Illinois and quite a few others. A capital had popped up in a big, hip, fun city – but the citizens of another region decided they didn't want to be dominated and the dome had to be moved to some godforsaken backwater. These days, the Bay Area vs. Los Angeles rivalry plays out over issues like water rights and condo prices, but L.A.'s initial victory was making sure state workers complained about pollen instead of fog. Those of us in politics have been sneezing with that decision ever since. I bet there are some libertarian types out there who get a nice chuckle over the idea that we cogs of government are subjected to chemical warfare every spring.
And what a backwater they found, i.e., one that was actually taken back from the water. Until the levees were built, Sacramento got a kind of biblical urban renewal every few years. True story: Gov. Leland Stanford traveled to his 1862 inauguration in a rowboat. Now they're telling us the levees are in trouble. Personally, I love the idea of just giving in and having a sort of Venice in the Valley, complete with lawmakers tooling around in their state yachts and throwing staffers overboard instead of just firing them (I imagine Assembly Rules would have a lifeboat always following the USS Parra).
But it does kind of bring home the fact that the far more complicated Dome-over-Sacramento project is probably never going to happen. All that water brings fertility to the lands around us, and all that fertility seems to blow up against the foothills and fall back down on Sacramento in an amber haze every March and April. As Lloyd Levine loves to tell us, fertility has consequences – messy, smelly, sneezy, trash-can-filling consequences.
But I do have some good news. Eventually, you may be surprised what you can handle without a second thought. Just like people who, say, have children or go work in slaughterhouses end up having a higher capacity to withstand grossness than they ever thought possible, you too may find that in a few months or years that gurgling snot monster at the next desk no longer bothers you.
Especially since that gurgling snot monster may have once been just like you – wondering if her liquefying co-worker was secretly snorting iron filings and then blaming it on ag dust. Because much like the charms of yours truly, your own River City allergies may take a couple years to fully kick in. Your dream of a phlegm-free workplace will never happen, but next year you may not even be able to see or hear the snot monster through your own mucus tsunami.