Kage Baker used to say, when feeling indeterminedly ill, “Oh, the Cold Robbies gots me!”
This is a Walt Kellyism, initially cherished by Kage because it sounded absurd. And because no one in Pogo ever knew exactly what it was. And because when I finally found out about kohlrabi and showed her a picture of it, she had laughing hysterics.
Kohlrabi is a vegetable of the cabbage family – related to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collybrolly, broccoflower and all the other unnatural hybrids of Brassica that slouch through the world. Kage would eat very few of them, but she honoured them all in the abstract because of their maritime history. Before the British got into citrus fruit and became known as Limeys, they were heavily into pickled cabbage as an antiscorbutic.
Kage always thought that must have put the entire belowdecks on the same safety procedures as the gun room …
Anyway, kohlrabi is a weird vegetable that comes in the usual pale green and livid purple shades of most Brassica kin. It is also known as the German turnip, for reasons I never learned. It’s main claim to fame is the way it looks in the field – it has many spindly little stalks or leaves or roots or God knows what, on which it grows above the field. It looks exactly as though it is levering itself out of the ground on multiple limbs, like a Martian invader.
Seen in the grocery store, they have always been neatly trimmed and emasculated, thus occasioning no fear among naive shoppers. However, when seen in the field – and they do grow widely in California, like every other freaky vegetable – they look like an alien army pulling itself out of the ground to come get you.
What do they taste like? I have no idea. But they’re Brassica, after all, so they probably taste like cabbage: which is like wet stone, with overtones of old newspaper and despair.
Mind you, I rather like a nice cabbage, properly prepared. I adore Brussel Sprouts, and in hot weather a lovely spicy slaw is beyond reproach. But I like it as far removed from the feral reality of Brassica as possible. If any of you have ever driven the miles between Paso Robles and Salinas on a sweltering day – or any night after Halloween, when the fields have been turned and abandoned for the winter – you too would have a twitching abhorrence of the smell of the damned stuff. Antique cabbage is not a good smell, nor does it lie easy in the earth even when it’s been harrowed and ploughed under as fertilizer …
Anyway. Kohlrabi was a source of much snickering for Kage. And the cold robbies, that amorphous disease of Walt Kelly ( who clearly had no good idea what the hell it was either) was her favourite description of general malaise.
And the Cold Robbies has got me today. I cannot sleep at night, and then I keep falling asleep all day. It would be easy to just give up and go nocturnal – reverse my working and sleeping times – but my family likes to see me up and moving from time to time. And if I sit up all night to write and read and recreate, I keep my diurnal roommates awake. (Okay, they’re a parrot and a small cat, but they complain incessently …)
In the meantime, narcolepsy is my constant companion. My back hurts. My arms hurt. When I finally woke up this morning, the feather mattress was on the floor (having somehow crawled out from under me) and my coverlet was still on the bed but was sideways. So I figure I am having St. Vitus Dance episodes in my sleep …
I wish I could recall what the cure for Cold Robbies was.