Danny's going for his first allergy jabs tomorrow, something he's looking forward to in hope it will enable him to spend more time outdoors in spring and summer. I went for years starting at the age of seven, through about twelve. Then as a college student I did another two year treatment cycle. These days, the allergists say if it isn't helping by the end of the year, it likely won't-so at least he isn't looking at a lifetime commitment. I rarely suffer from seasonal allergies anymore though I can't say if it was the jabs, or moving away from Illinois.
I was thinking about how different the world was when I was getting my weekly jabs. Not the world of immunology (though certainly that's changed too) but the way my routine back then simply wouldn't be possible today.
The allergist was the paediatrician's brother (insert joke about how proud their mother must have been). By the time I was seeing him, he was in his 80's, and almost completely deaf. It hardly mattered, Dr. Levy had been jabbing needles into people's arms for decades and didn't really need to talk much. He wouldn't hear you come in, and sometimes I'd have to stand there a few seconds before he noticed, and I'd be greeted with an enthusiastic, "Good to see you, monkeybean!" Then, he'd grab my arm, always starting with the left and start administering two in each arm. Grass, trees, dust, and then something he called a, "cold shot" which I suspect was some combination of vitamins he believed would keep me well. There might have been something to it as I rarely caught colds as a child.
Dr. Levy had a receptionist named Doris who I think was Hawaiian. She had a dog-dish filled with candy ("people treats") and always made sure there were enough green apple Jolly Ranchers. At some point she retired, and was replaced by another receptionist also named Doris. I always suspected she was hired so Dr. Levy wouldn't have to remember another name at his advanced age. Doris II was a pleasant woman with a bouffant hairdo, but she was rubbish at keeping the candy dish stocked.
When you get allergy jabs, no matter how long you've been going there's a 20-30 minute wait afterward to be certain you won't suddenly have a reaction. I never minded (at least not when Doris I was in charge of the candy) and there was always a good selection of magazines in the small but pleasant waiting room. All the patients knew each other-this was how we spent our Saturday mornings.
My mother wasn't the sort of person that would spend time sitting in a waiting room unless she absolutely had to. Fair enough, as she was a gravely ill woman and saw quite enough of doctor's offices. Instead, being Saturday she'd drop me off for my appointment and pick me up (in front of the medical office building next to Best and Company department store) in two hours. How did I fill all that time after the appointment? Pleasantly.
After the all-clear from Dr. Levy, "See you next week Monkeybean. Be good or your mother will sell you for two cents and get change back!", I'd head over to Kroch's and Brentano's bookstore across the way. Oh, sometimes I'd look in Best's window at clothes, but I rarely bought anything there-I was more of a Marshall Field's or Chas. A. Stevens shopper. Saturdays were for books anyway.
Kroch's and Brentano's was the best bookstore in the city at that time. I rarely could afford new books, but downstairs they had tables of remaindered books well within my budget. There was a wide staircase with hammered-copper artwork for sale on the landing which I'm sure no one ever bought as the same pieces were there week after week, year after year. When I'd get to the landing there was a wonderful view down into the sales floor that always filled me with excitement. It was a great part of my childhood, roaming the basement at Kroch's and Brentano's without anyone telling me to hurry and choose something. I was lucky that my parents were both avid readers, as they were happy enough to supply me with a book-buying allowance for my Saturday afternoon visits. The remainders were always good quality books-you just didn't know what they would be.
I can remember the first book I bought, a re-print of an antiquated translation of the Tain Bo Cuailnge (sorry, can't figure out how to do accent slashes on this computer). I still have it! A small, cloth bound volume that never had a dust jacket and was more footnotes than body of text, the translation I discovered in later years wasn't very good. I took my purchase as I did every subsequent week over to the lunch counter at the dimestore where I ate a toasted cheese sandwich, drank a pink lemonade, and enjoyed my two hours of independence. If you let an eight year old do that today, you'd be arrested on neglect charges. In the 70's, no one even noticed.
That was the start of my reading for enjoyment, and over the many, many Saturdays I built an interesting collection of books. A coffee-table book about Movietone newsreels (still have that one), Future Shock (didn't keep that one), A biography of shoemaker Ferragamo (long before I knew about vintage), and so many other things I wouldn't have ever bothered to read if I didn't have access to a good bookstore, and a couple hours on my own. I'm a little sad Danny won't have that same opportunity to learn responsibility by going to an allergist's appointment, and then using a set time for lunch and book shopping. The allergist's office doesn't offer candy either.
The funny thing is, Danny is much more responsible at eleven than I was at the same age. I know he'd be fine, but the powers that be don't trust parents to decide what their children are capable of anymore. By his age, I was taking care of a sick parent, getting myself on the bus to school each day, and in some cases getting myself to bed at night. In all the years that I spent doing my Saturday routine, no one ever tried to kidnap or harm me. Ever. I wasn't a naive kid-if I'd got a creepy feeling from someone I knew what to do, but I didn't approach all adults as wishing to do me harm. Instead, I got to have interesting conversations about books, met people from all walks of life, and sat at the lunch counter with people I wouldn't have otherwise encountered. The zany old woman who would tell me about her shoes made with technology from NASA programmes (they were some sort of comfort shoe) every week like it was the first time we'd met in the waiting room-I wouldn't have met her. The waitress who always wanted to know how school was going-I wouldn't have met her. The salesclerk that would later help me to order specific books from the giant reference of "In-Print books" they kept behind the counter-I wouldn't have met him.
Eventually, I stopped going for allergy jabs and my Saturdays were spent instead sleeping at a friend's house and going shopping with her the next day. It was still independence, but I didn't need a weekly trip to buy clothes, and at least when I was buying books it wasn't influenced by anyone else's taste. My friend favoured a rather Ivy League look, and there's only so many button-down Oxford cloth shirts a person needs in their wardrobe. You can't learn anything useful from a shirt.
Danny does get time to interact with adults at bird banding, and I don't sit there with him. He's been given greater responsibilities because the people conducting the banding know they can count on him to take the duties seriously. Still, that's no substitute for being at large on a Saturday, enough money for lunch and a book. By the time the state decides he's old enough to be unattended for five minutes, he'll be a teenager-and we all know teenagers aren't open-minded enough to sit and listen to an adult that might have something interesting to say.
I wrote this late last evening. We went for the injections, all was fine, and generally painless. I noticed a pile of stickers at the reception desk, so that's something I guess.