For my tenth birthday I asked my parents for the new Billy Joel album, 52nd Street.
I remember putting the record on after cake and listening to the lyrics of Big Shot:
Well you went uptown riding in your limousine
With your fine Park Avenue clothes
You had the Dom Perignon in your hand
And the spoon up your nose
Now, in 1979 there were no labels on record covers advising parental guidance for lyrical content. And back then, this pre-teen in northern New Jersey didn’t have a clue what Billy Joel was talking about in any of his songs anyway (Captain Jack was a pirate, no?). I wasn’t hip to Dom and certainly couldn’t get my head wrapped around the lyric about the spoon. Why was the spoon up this person’s nose in the limousine? Was she eating yogurt in the back seat and the driver hit a speed bump?
Some years later, when peers were fully realizing those lyrics (well, more like riding to the local grocery store parking lot in a Dodge, with mall clothes, Old Milwaukee in hand), I was not in the least interested in being a big shot. Not that I wasn’t curious to know what all the fantastic fuss was about the white stuff or that I was judging. There was simply no way I was going to snort anything up my nose.
After I moved to Los Angeles, things changed. Parties in the Hollywood Hills. Celebrity laden dinners on the patio at Les Deux (the original, which closed, and happily just reopened). Moonlit nights in Malibu. Keeping my nose clean was suddenly not so easy anymore. Not that I started doing blow. I started blowing. Newly surrounded by flowering Mulberry trees, Santa Ana winds and ragweed, I quickly became a pollen-infested, allergy-ridden East Coast émigré living in the wild west.
My angel city peers (riding electric bicycles to the farmer’s market, with Golden Bridge yogi clothes, kale-infused coconut water in hand) soon introduced me to a different kind of rush with white stuff: the neti pot. A ceramic teapot originally created in ancient India whose elongated spout is purposefully inserted in the nose for nasal irrigation. Not an easy sell to one so nostril protective as myself. But when breathing clearly became as distant a memory as my Reebok high-tops and Benetton sweaters, it was no longer now or neti.
Admittedly, it took me many months of persuasive conversations with myself to willingly pour salt water through my nose with Aladdin’s lamp. At best, the sensation is of a gentle creek, a light trickling of water traveling naturally through the nasal passages, taking pollen, bacteria-laced mucous and other gunk away with it. At worst, it’s a deep-sea dive gone terribly, terribly wrong. (Hint: it takes a steady hand, tilted head and continually gaping trout mouth for non-gagging success.) Either way, the final result is wondrously the same. A beautiful, oxygen-filled natural high that makes me feel like, well, a big shot.
© Jennifer Dowd