Real-Life Dialogue: Men Are from Illinois, Women Are from Manhattan Edition

[The setting: a Saturday morning at a suburban home in North Florida, USA. He has been experiencing back pain for a few days; she approaches him in the kitchen, question marks in her eyes.]

She: How’s your back?

He: Still not normal.

She: Where is it? What sort of pain is it?

[He has been expecting and preparing mentally for this line of questioning, but hasn’t quite nailed down his metaphors yet.]

He: I don’t know — it’s hard to describe…

She: Try anyway.

He: It feels, well, wobbly. It’s like when you take a… a dozen Lincoln Logs, say, and they’re stacked end-to-end in a, like, a tower, and you’re trying not to let ’em topple but—

[She holds up the palm of her hand, stopping him.]

She: Wait.

He: But—

She: Wait. You need to use terms I can understand.

He: Such as—?

She: Well, say my martini glass is too full, up to the brim, and you’re carrying it to me while holding the base of the stem…

[A momentary pause, giving him time to recognize his confusion as such.]

He: [rolling his eyes] Yes. It’s exactly like that.

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A Bout of Gout

'The Gout,' by James Gillray

From Richard Selzer’s Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, quoting Lady Mary Wortley, via Hugh Walpole:

People wish their enemies dead — but I do not; I say, give them gout, give them the stone.

From “When in Gout,” by Allison Williams, Time Out New York, April 16-22, 2008:

You would know if you had gout because it’s associated with the most excruciating pain this side of childbirth. “The classical gouty attack hits the base of the big toe, and it will wake the patient up,” says Dr. Stephen Honig of NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. “Just the weight of a sheet on the toe can be painful.” So if your bedmate wakes up screaming bloody murder, and their cries only escalate when you poke their big toe, don’t take it personally.


Back in the days when The Missus was buying and selling antiques, she came across a curious little piece of wooden furniture. About a foot long, upholstered, its surface on an incline, the upper end curled around itself, it resembled one of those old Victorian-era fainting couches.

“What is that?” was the obvious question.

“Oh,” came the non-obvious answer, “it’s a gout stool.”

That was some time before I had my first gout attack, and shortly The Missus managed to sell it anyway. So I never really got to appreciate the point of a gout stool until later.

The first time gout afflicted me it was in a big toe, which was red and swollen. Wearing sandals, I went to the doctor. He smiled when he saw the toe, touched it with a fingertip, and when I jumped six inches he smiled even more broadly and said, “I thought so!” Alas, he couldn’t really do anything for it except order up some prescription-strength version of an anti-inflammatory/painkiller. He said I might want to drink cranberry juice, too, and sort of half-frowned when I told him of my two- to three-cups-of-tea-a-day habit. “Tea? Hmm. You might want to rethink that…”

Later, more than once, I got it in one knee or the other.

I called my boss on one of those occasions, said I didn’t think I’d be able to come in to work because all I really wanted to do was stay immobile as long as possible — preferably with that leg elevated. She told me her deceased husband had had gout, and it would get so painful that he could go up and down the stairs only by sitting on them and pulling himself up or easing himself down, one at a time.

This time around, the demon has for two days had its teeth sunk into the right ankle.

Until experiencing it, I’d never appreciated how difficult it is to keep your ankle from bending. The optimal step, it seems, requires that you turn the foot to the outside — go splay-footed on that one side, à la Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character. And you also learn how to negotiate a step: when going down, you keep the ankle straight and step down with that foot first (because the ankle with the trailing foot will always have to tilt to move your weight forward and down). Going up, of course, you again lead with the gouted foot. Although putting weight on it does cause a bit of a twinge, it’s nothing compared to the fiery clamp which seizes the ankle when it bends.

Meanwhile, my childhood friend Jim is up in New Jersey Philadelphia, recovering from Monday’s spinal-fusion surgery which will — we all hope — finally free him of the devil of pain which has plagued his back for many years.

Hang in there, Jim. (And you know, you might want to drink some cranberry juice.)

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