Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write for the HUMOR Genre (10/09/14)
- TITLE: Sneezes I Have Known - or Suspected
By Noel Mitaxa
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If you are standing, your feet will feel the first tremors of a sneeze or an eruption, and they instinctively seek a secure base for balance. That's before the build-up lays claim to your intestines. However if you are seated, a sneeze will suddenly sit you erect—before recruiting your sinuses and adenoids as assault troops in the oncoming crescendo.
This relentlessly-rising juggernaut then proceeds to lay siege to your diaphragm; replacing smooth movements with short, staccato bursts. While you begin inhaling more deeply and more frequently, your exhaling is reduced to brief snorts. Until your mind is ambushed by a twofold obsession: to ensure some upper-abdominal support; and to place inestimable value on any nearby tissue or handkerchief…
At this point, failure to immediately cover your nostrils is certain to result in your removal from the greeting-card lists—email or snail mail—of anyone doused by the hard rain of your imminent, rapid-fire nasal residue.
Any sneeze that fails to launch may cause others to praise your apparent self-control, but your internal system will boycott any accolades. It will be plunged into the grief of seeing its potential eruption dissipate into nothing more than an itchy nose.
Without divulging any more visceral descriptions; or―in paralleling the earlier volcano analogy―any crater detail; I must say that I rarely sneeze only once.
Like father, like son.
Neighbours told me they could hear dad’s sustained nasal uproars from two houses away. And not just in springtime, when we could have blamed hay fever, for there were no sneezonal factors at all. And since we never knew when his sneezes might arrive; overnight visitors all received earplugs with their guest towels.
I’m not naturally suspicious, but we cannot leave this subject without asking if historians haven’t overlooked how sneezes may have been factors on major and mundane events. So let’s examine a few familiar scenarios, without allowing the truth to impede the progress of a good story…
Was hay fever making life miserable for Humphrey Bogart on the set of Casablanca? As a possible back-story for his memorable line, “Here’s looking Ah Choo, kid!”
Did one top-ranking conductor’s similar struggles with hay fever throughout outdoor summer concerts during the 1950s and 1960s prompt orchestra members to bestow on him the sobriquet “Ah Choo-ro Toscanini?” Without a single a-pollen-gy from anyone!
Could a sudden chill in Louisiana’s bayou air have ushered in years of wedded bliss for a good old boy, as a sneeze invaded his proposal? “Honey child, out of all the gals that Ah know, Ah Choose yew to be mah brahd!”
While visiting Rome last year, I walked up from the Coliseum along the Via Sacra, the deeply-rutted, cobbled road which runs to the ruins of the Forum. Its crest and half-way point is marked by Trajan’s Arch; and it was here that our tour guide pointed out the Basilica of Maxentius on our right. The floor of this majestic basilica measures over seventy thousand square feet, but only one third of its triple-arched, one-hundred-foot high roof remains intact. The collapse of the other two-thirds is attributed to the earthquake in 1349 which also felled the Coliseum’s outer two southern walls.
However, this huge edifice was once a bulk pepper storage. So its contents could easily have triggered a collective reaction from almost three million Roman nostrils—with equally-devastating effects.
At the highpoint of British colonial power, England’s upper classes regularly sniffed tiny quantities of snuff―a fine, highly-spiced powder which invoked head-clearing sneezes―and elaborate snuff-boxes became symbols of significant status.
The origin of this British monopoly on snuff has been shrouded in secrecy. Until now.
A hotbed of shadowy dealings was lurking behind the 1850s Opium Wars, which sought to pressure China into opening its ports to international trade. The Chinese are only now embracing this opening with any enthusiasm, but behind Britain’s pressure was a small, secret cadre of British naval and army officers who worked through a code-named Chinese intermediary. They gained access to the trade in the spices that were blended to produce the purest snuff, and they cornered the market to the Empire and the wider world.
Astute readers may have already guessed that this Chinese intermediary’s code-name was Ah Choo!
That’s “snuff” truth-tampering from me, so I’ll rest my case.
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