Columns / Nicole Hollander

Never Tell Your Mother This Dream #3: I’ve Got You Under My Skin

nicole hollander the inch mite pattern2


Every year the Goodman Theater, partnering with the City of Chicago, sends a writing teacher to various senior centers around the city. The students get a 6-week writing course around a theme and a chance to see a play at the Goodman before anyone else does. This year it was Other Desert Cities. We all hated it. But the theme was “secrets,” a juicy topic. Why do I, a professional writer (in my own mind at least), take this course?

The teacher is a marvel of a guy, managing to move everyone along in their work so subtly that we sometimes think we did it ourselves.

I teach a lot, and I learn a lot about the art of invisible teaching from him…and, of course, it gives me a structured time period to write about a topic that I did not select myself. The course ends in a public performance (in front of friends) and renews my faith in students coming through with something revelatory at the last moment.

Here’s the secret I shared:

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Cue the music: lyrics by Cole Porter, and sung here by Ella Fitzgerald

I’ve got you under my skin

I’ve got you deep in the heart of me

So deep in my heart, that you’re really a part of me

I’ve got you under my skin.


Speaking of things that are hard to get rid of….

I noticed the red itchy patch running across my waist for several days. Finally I gave in.  I went to the doctor. Luckily the doctor’s office is 2 blocks east of my house. If necessary I could crawl to Dr. Larry’s office. Ever since my sister’s stroke, we have been calling him Dr. Larry.

I first met him in the place that I made many of my enduring friendships: Mojoe’s Café. Not that Dr. Lindeman joined the morning coffee group, no; he remained aloof from our stories and jokes. He bought his coffee and went directly to his office. I noticed it was right across the street.

His office was in a storefront. I was leery of doctors who practiced behind a plate glass window.

For many years I visited him only if I had twisted my ankle in front of his office or was terribly congested. One day I said, possibly in my most offensive voice: “The reason I don’t use you as my doctor is that I can only bring myself to go to a doctor who practices at Northwestern University Hospital. He replied: “Does it help that I attended Northwestern and I train their interns and that they take me to lunch often to woo me into becoming their head of Family Practice because they have no Family Practice Department?”  “Yes,” I said, “Will you be my doctor?” And he signed me up.

The itch arrived about a week before an enormously important event, an artist auction to benefit Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, a benefit for which I was co-host…Co-host mainly because I was an artist and knew a lot of artists who would donate their work. Artists are often politically left of center and since we don’t sell much of our work, we often give it away. Perfect. We would spend the evening bidding on the work of other artists and go home happy and slightly drunk.

I showed Dr. Larry the red patch across my waist. He was non-committal.  But gave me some crème and asked that I return in 2 days if it didn’t clear up. It didn’t.

The day before the event he gave me the bad news. I had scabies. SCABIES!!! And I was highly contagious. I couldn’t go anywhere and I certainly couldn’t touch anyone. My god I couldn’t even tell anyone.

Scabies! The very name sounded disgusting. Didn’t it have a Latin name to disguise its lower class origins? Yes, it did.  It was: Sarcoptes scabiei. In case you’re intensely curious it is caused by the itch mite. The itch mite!!!

Good grief! Talk about unromantic!  Mites are tiny and have eight legs in contrast to insects who have  only 6 and they burrow into your skin.  There you have it. I’m sure you’re dying to know more. Okay, here it is: the infestation can last up to 8 years… Usually children or very old people in nursing homes get mites.  My doctor couldn’t imagine where I picked it up.

I could. I had been taking swing dancing lessons and there were some very unsavory old guys there looking for young women to dance with, young women on their uppers who weren’t too fussy about who paid for their dinner.  I was way too old for these men, but we danced together occasionally and I was sure one of them, I even knew which one, gave me the disease.

He had absolutely no sense of rhythm, but he was capable of giving me scabies. Soon after, I lost interest in dancing.

How could I announce to my co-host, who would, of course, announce it to the crowd, many of whom I knew, that I couldn’t come to the benefit because I was contagious with scabies! I told her I had chicken pox. “Yes,” I said, “I know it’s unusual to have chicken pox in your late 60’s but there it is. I’m young at heart.”

She accepted it with grace and I blushed for weeks even when I wasn’t lying.

I have always believed that the person who gives you bad news, like Cassandra, should pay a price, perhaps not death, but some sort of compensation for the pain you have suffered.   Dr. Lindeman chose to make his amends by donating money to Obama’s campaign.

**My scabies drawings are the result of a large amount of research, disgusting research. I looked at many enlarged  images of scabies and attempted to turn them into drawings that someone working for Disney would do. I also looked at photos of people and animals with advanced Scabies. I wish I could erase those images.  Enjoy!!!!

Nicole Hollander created the cartoon character Sylvia in 1980. The strip was nationally syndicated for over 30 years.  Sylvia, Nicole, and, in fact, all the characters in the strip are blatant feminists and love good food, prepared by others. In 2008 Nicole retired Sylvia and started a 6 day a week blog featuring drawings, opinions, politics and classic Sylvia strips.  She welcomes  contributions by friends and sometimes mere acquaintances. Nicole teaches the graphic memoir, fiction and non-fiction in Chicago and has an introverted cat named Toots.

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