Monday, May 26, 2008

Just For the Taste of It
There’s a great running gag in the movie Airplane. Lloyd Bridges plays this seasoned pilot in the control tower talking down a shell shocked veteran who’s taken over flying the plane when the pilots are stricken with food poisoning. The Bridges character keeps saying, “I guess I picked a bad week to give up smoking,” as he lights up a cigarette, then “I picked a bad week to give up drinking,” as he downs a double bourbon, then “I picked a bad week to give up snorting coke,” “I picked a bad week to give up sniffing glue…” as things go from bad to worse.
That’s what I’ve felt like from time to time, though it wasn’t smoking, drinking, or sniffing glue which was issuing the siren call.
It was Diet Coke. Innocuous stuff or death trap; despite my decades-long dependency, I suspect the latter. I’m not exactly main-lining it, it’s more like a can here, a bottle there, the summer glory of a Big Gulp. But believing as I do, logic dictates that I would never again imbibe that dark, bubbly, and potentially noxious elixir.


There are worse things to be addicted to, right? Actually, my Diet Coke addiction is one of those surrogate addictions you see in action at any AA meeting when the coffee and cigarettes flow. Not only does it keep me off the well-worn alcoholic path bred deep in my DNA, it was also my dietary crutch for eons.

To the teenage girl who could never match her mother’s twenty-three inch waist, a drink like Diet Coke (or in the olden days Tab) seemed like a godsend. Who needed food when you had a Diet Coke? You got the sensory pleasure of sucking on a bottle or straw, you got the caffeine buzz and the strange woozy feeling of the Nutra-sweet rearranging your gene pool. You got a slightly nauseating feeling of fullness if you drank enough, which warded off those inconvenient urges to eat.

These days, I’m more moderate, as if I had a choice. One of the nice things about having babies is that you have an excuse to put on a pound or two. There are moms out there with cutting board abs, but unless you want to give up your life to exercise (see “Demi Moore”), you’ve got to relax, because those stretch marks and Shar Pei belly are here to stay.
I’ve been Diet Coke-free before, like during my first pregnancy. I was good: oatmeal, V8 juice, and cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches on whole wheat. No sugary snacks, no junk food, no soda. I must have complained more than I realized though, because immediately after the labor from hell, the receptionist from our doctor’s office (who’d witnessed the labor from hell) placed an ice cold can in my hand, patted my arm, and said, “You deserve it.”

A couple of years ago, Jannine and I made a concerted effort to quit soda, mostly because it was such a nasty habit to pass along to the children. Unlike, say, smoking, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s still not good. I don’t think I lasted a week.
We have all these idealistic desires as parents. My wife and I would like to be the kind of people who buy organic produce, free-range chicken, and grow a half-acre garden out back. We’d like to be naturopathic, chemical-free individuals raising children without pesticides in their veins and cartoon characters in their brains.

Alas, we can’t even take our vitamins on a regular basis, though we did give up beef, and we’re working on the free-range thing. Our kids don’t have every kid’s meal toy invented, just half. The sick thing is that every time we find ourselves in fast food heaven, my paranoid theory that not only Diet Coke, but all fast food is laced with addictive chemicals is only reinforced. Yet, I still yearn to drink the stuff.

One time, when the kids were younger, I decided to get that cola monkey off my back, cold turkey. I couldn’t have picked a worse time. My urge to come clean fell just as Jannine was embarking on a business trip for a week. While she was away in sunny California, I endured colds, flus, and school crises, plus the rigors of housebreaking a brand-new (and increasingly humongous) puppy. Though I wasn’t exactly talking any jet planes down from the sky, I was talking myself blue in the face trying to persuade our two year-old that pushing the puppy’s head down would probably result in reconstructive surgery, for her. I was hearing that siren call in a big way. By the time I rolled into the airport to pick up Jannine (Anna puking in her car seat in the back), there was nothing left to do but laugh.

And go get a Diet Coke.

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