I’m Allergic to the Valley

I woke up this morning with an allergy attack. For years, this was the case every morning. Now that I live downtown, the attacks have become less frequent. There aren’t many trees here. Usually, I can open my windows before I pop the pills.

Today was different. I stepped outside and the sneezes hit every few minutes. A sinus headache was slowly creeping up on me. So I downed two over-the-counter pills, pumped the last bit of Flonase up my nostrils and did what any masochist with allergies would do. I drove to the Valley.

I’m allergic to the Valley. I’ve been telling people this since I was a kid, but everyone just rolls their eyes like I’m some pretentious jerk who thinks she’s too good for the place whence she came. Truly, I’m just allergic to green things that grow. I think this is what the folks in commercials refer to as “seasonal” allergies, but I live in a place where seasons aren’t really a thing. The last time I was able to breath through my nose without the aid of pharmaceuticals was in New York a couple Januaries ago. We don’t have months like that– months where nothing is growing– in L.A., and in the Valley, it’s year-round full-bloomin’. There’s a lot of green stuff sprouting from the curbs of the 818, far more than what you’ll ever see downtown. It’s enough to drive your nose to the brink of an explosion.

The Valley isn’t some pastoral haven inside the Los Angeles city limits. It’s a grid of congested streets lined by the same urban-suburban clash you’ll see in the rest of the city. The difference here is that people are always planting stuff. There are trees everywhere: palm trees; cypress trees; those trees with the purple flowers whose name I can never recall. There’s green grass lining the sidewalks and huge rose bushes toppling over onto the lawns. Fruit trees are a big deal too. Sometimes you’ll see clusters of oranges, either a relic of the Valley’s past or a tribute to every old timer who ever said, “I remember when it was all orange groves here.”

Greenery in the Valley is much like the mighty swimming pool. We need it to try and forget the fact that we live in a place that it is dreadfully hot and disgusting from Memorial Day through Halloween. But, greenery has its price. For me, that’s a nose that’s constantly stuffy, right-side headaches that travel through to the cheekbone, eyes that appear on the verge of tears, hands that won’t stop itching. On the worst days, I get airplane ear that no amount of gum-chewing can relieve. Alleviating the symptoms is a game of trial and error. Some pills make me sleepy. Others make me anxious. Almost all of them will make me thirsty. Eventually, I found a good combination of pills, nasal sprays, eyedrops and dietary musts. (Jalapeños and wasabi are my friends.) The pill that works best for me is a barely over-the-counter product. I once got into a debate with a Walgreen’s pharmacist about her need to scan my ID for a small box. I said that I have a right to buy allergy pills without being treated like a potential meth-cooker. She said it was for the greater good. The conversation devolved into a mountain of nonsense, mostly because I’m paranoid that the DEA is going to come after me for having sinuses that will never clear.

I started out the day with an attack downtown, but it got worse when I headed back to the motherland. Once I crossed Cahuenga on the 101, driving with the windows down, my eyes started to itch. Then the water flowed. I swear I was totally not crying while blasting Soft Cell.  As I got closer to my mom’s house, I sang along to “Tainted Love” and my voice dropped. I didn’t sound like Doctor Girlfriend yet, but I was getting pretty close. A few hours later, the itchy hands took hold. Then came the lump of snot in my throat. Sometimes, snot-lump is so bad that I think I might vomit. Today, that wasn’t the case. Still, I ran out for more pills.  I spent the rest of the day trapped in a pseudoephedrine haze.

The symptoms weren’t going away, I was just functioning in slow motion with a dull throb around my right eye. I thought I was getting sick. Slowly, I packed up a car full of clean clothes and trudged through the traffic back home. Once the smell of trees was replaced by the scent of bus fumes, I started to feel better. Maybe the pills finally started working, but I think I’m just allergic to the Valley.


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