The Tale of Sneaky the Germ

Damon Runyon

“Sneaky,” I said to Sneaky the Flu Germ the other day, “I have just heard that you have a lot of relatives.”

“Bums,” retorted Sneaky, hotly. “I don’t have any truck with them.”

“Well,” I said, “did you ever hear of a germ by the name of A Typical Pneumonia? He claims he is a distant cousin of yours.”

“A Double Bum,” shouted Sneaky. “He goes around using my material such as chills and fever. I deny that he is any kin of mine. He is a plagiarist. I’ll have him arrested for impersonating an attack of me. He has been getting a raft of my business lately under false pretences. Where did you hear of him? Has he been hanging around your house?”

“No,” I said. I explained that I had heard of A Typical Pneumonia from Mr. Eddie Goulding, the cinema director, who had entertained the stranger for quite a spell and became quite interested in him.

“Goulding is one of my old customers,” grumbled Sneaky. “I am surprised to learn that he has been taking his trade elsewhere. I understand this bum A Typical What’s-This is a foreigner and I am going to have J. Edgar Hoover investigate him.”

“Not exactly a foreigner,” I said, “I am informed that he is from Honolulu which makes him a citizen. He migrated from there a couple of years ago. Sneaky, he is offering tough competition to you. He is inclined to be extremely democratic and will not permit himself to be isolated.”

“Yeah?” said Sneaky. “Bidding for the popular vote, hey! Well, we will see who comes out on top.”

I suppose we will, at that. Personally, I think Sneaky will outlast A Typical in popularity among our people because he attempts no new-fangled tricks like this Johnny-Come-Lately.

They tell me he first fancied soldiers and plied his traffic among our armed forces with considerable effect. Then he discovered civilians and has been raising Cain with them. He is described by the medical fraternity as low grade and lacking in the personality of Sneaky. The medicos run his name together thus: Atypical.

It seems that one of the few animals that can be infected with this germ is the mongoose, a fact that worried Mr. Eddie Goulding no little when he was familiarizing himself with his guest, because Mr. Goulding, the perfect host, wanted to call in some subject besides himself for the entertainment of A Typical and discovered that mongooses are not permitted in these United States.

The mongoose is a small critter of the rodent family that is indigenous to India, Burma, North Africa and Spain and is noted for its ability to lick its weight in cobras. The nearest mongoose to these shores are in Bermuda and our doctors have made some studies of A Typical there. Mr. Goulding wrote to a soldier friend in North Africa and asked him to capture and mail a mongoose at his earliest convenience but the soldier replied that all he had been able to capture was a Nazi and wouldn’t he do just as well for infection purposes?

At one time it is said there were as many as 1,500 cases of A Typical Pneumonia in one large soldier camp in this country at once, but in each case the germ was knocked out with reasonable speed, and apparently without evil after-effect.

“It proved the bum is a bum,” said Sneaky the Flu Germ, when I told him of this matter. “He has none of my endurance and penetration. You know very well I would not leave my customers without something to remember me by. Look at yourself.”

Sneaky is definitely of the sterner sex. We have known him for years and could not possibly be mistaken. He wears a black moustache and smokes cigars.

What is more, Sneaky has a wife. Mrs. Sneaky is a small flu germ of rather timid disposition and, we think, of good heart. When she lights on you it is never in the fiendish manner of her husband. Her attacks are so gentle that folks mention them as “a touch of flu.” Sometimes she does not knock you off your pins; when Sneaky lands you think you have been hit by a blackjack.

We believe if Mrs. Sneaky had her way about it she would never bother anybody but would stay at home minding the children and attending to the housework. However, old Sneaky probably grouches around saying she never does anything to help him, a charge that will be familiar to wives who are not even germs, so she finally goes out and lays her “touch” here and there in self-defense against his grumbling.

Some pessimists claim our theory is altogether too altruistic. They say we give Mrs. Sneaky a character that she does not deserve, asserting that there is sinister method in the very lightness of her “touch.” It permits the patients to walk around the streets and infest movie houses and street cars and other places where human beings may be found in groups and spreads her gentle contamination among them in the form of sniffles and small coughs.

Several of the pessimists we are quoting are playwrights and theatrical producers and they allege that Mrs. Sneaky’s dirtiest work is against them. They say she makes it a point to produce among her clientele the sniffles and small coughs aforesaid on opening nights of plays in the theatres so that the actors will be unable to make themselves heard by the dramatic critics. When a dramatic critic is unable to hear what actors are saying it tends to give him a most melancholy attitude toward a play which may be reflected in his review thereof.

One theatrical producer told us that the business would be better off if Mrs. Sneaky kept out of the picture and let Sneaky himself do his worst. The producer said that Sneaky put the sniffles and coughs in bed where they belonged and sometimes the dramatic critics with them. He said he thought his average of play successes would be 50 per cent higher if the dramatic critics had been in bed on opening nights.

Another gloomy view of Mrs. Sneaky’s character is that she softens folks up with her “touches” and makes them duck soup for the subsequent and more severe attacks of Sneaky. We are loath to credit any of this slander. We like to think well of all females, including germs, but we admit we have never had any personal experience with Mrs. Sneaky. Her husband considers us his private job and though the accusation against Mrs. Sneaky that we have just mentioned were true, it would be unnecessary in our case. We are always in a softened up condition for Sneaky the Flu Germ. (Knock wood.)

We wonder how many of our readers are acquainted with Sneaky’s nephew, Bronch Itis, who generally remains on the scene after Sneaky has departed. Bronch Itis is a nasty little guy who delights in keeping you awake by tickling your throat with a feather duster and making you go buh-roop, buh-roop, buh-roop. You let Bronch Itis get in a berth with you in a crowded Pullman and we guarantee that he will not only cause you one of the most uncomfortable nights you have ever known but will win you more enemies than would a speech in favor of Hitler.

If that inquiring reader wants to know why we are so positive about Bronch Itis’ sex, we can say that it is because we are dead certain no female could be as ornery as Bronch, even a germ.