A Case On Behalf of Elevating The Creator of Sudafed to the Papacy

March 8, 2008

I got sick this week.

In Western Pennsylvania, we’re undergoing a minor epidemic of sorts. Plenty of people are contracting the flu, or at least flu-like symptoms, and are flooding the hospital rooms awaiting treatment. Now, I’m not averse to seeking medical treatment, but I always kind of wonder about people who somehow manage to get to the hospital any time a cough lasts more than two hours and yet seem to have cognitive difficulties in, say, showing up to work on time. Then, of course, I remembered that the reason all these people are hot-footing it to the hospital instead of actually being productive with their lives is that everyone in Western Pennsylvania is approximately 2000 years old and if it wasn’t for sitting around the waiting room they’d be eying up Powder Blue Tag Day at the Salvation Army.

Of course, the hospitals’ reaction to the patient overload is to weed out those who have truly life-threatening illnesses with those that simply need to drink a lot of water and maybe take a day off instead of trying to save it for being “sick” on July 5th. Thankfully, they’ve come up with a fairly comprehensive battery of medical tests to differentiate these two groups:

Patient: I think I have the flu.
Nurse: Do you have insurance?

I don’t think I have the flu. Even though the company I work for engages in the cost-saving practice of recirculating all of the air in the building instead of having to subscribe to a costly daily influx of fresh air, I have managed to successfully avoid being sick this season…until this week. I went from a small tickle in the back of my throat to grasping desperately at the imaginary blades that were continually piercing my sinuses in a matter of a day and a half. But it still seemed like a fairly normal winterish cold to me, so I figured I would soldier on and see how things turned out.

Whilst I was sick, I was trying to manage it as holistically as possible, but it just wasn’t happening. I tend to have a reasonably robust immune system, in the sense that the natural colds and bugs everyone catches are mild for me and run their course over the matter of a few days. Sure, there’s the occasional day where allusions to open faucets and Dresden would not be too terribly off target. But it’s been nearly ten years since I’ve had a drag-down, knockout illness that made me locate random objects and convert them into abstract manifestations of things I can beg to for the sweet release of death. (“Please, white ceramic toilet, crack and fall upon my head one final time to prevent that incessant throbbing interrupted only occasionally for the act of evacuating the contents of my stomach via multiple conduits.”) And that was in college, where the normal rules of health and sanitation no longer apply in any meaningful way.

Of course, I hate 1) doctors, 2) medicine, and 3) science, so I tend towards self-medication. And as far as I’m concerned the only cure anyone ever needs, from the common cold to congestive heart failure, is a healthy supply of cough drops. This masks my mental block of not actually doing anything to cure my illness; it also signals to anyone within range to realize that I smell like menthol and probably should steer clear of me lest they end up spending the week feeling like those unfortunate folks on 28 Days Later.

To complicate things, I hadn’t really been sleeping right. On Sunday night, I laid my head down for my nightly snooze, thinking there would be little else in the world to worry about except for perhaps a mild case of the standard Monday Morning Grumpy-Poos. I had yet to feel sick.

I awoke the next morning and my bedroom was like Ho Chi Minh City. I had somehow managed to ball up all my blankets—each individually—and launch them across the room. I had opened drawers, kicked over boxes, knocked over stacks of books, and rifled through my papers. And I had no recollection of doing any of this. Now, I somehow managed to make it through the first thirty years of my life without ever having a nightmare. And as far as I know I didn’t that night, either, though I had this vague sense of intensity through the night—an understatement, given how disrespectfully I treated my blankets. I wasn’t tired or angry when I woke up, but I probably would have given John Kerry a run for his money, at least in the realm of unpredictable night thrashing.

Monday night, the same thing happened. Only this time it wasn’t as bad, but that was mostly because I hadn’t bothered to clean up from the previous night.

Tuesday night…well, the less said, the better. Suffice it to say I woke up around two in the morning curled up shirtless in the fetal position on my floor. Granted, I’ve spent a lot of two o’clocks in my life waking up in this fashion, but at least this time I wasn’t crying.

Wednesday night, I said the hell with this, and took two Benedryl. Problem solved.

Only perhaps too well. I’m a big fan of Benedryl, but I’m certainly aware that different people have different reactions. For me, as far as I’m concerned, given how I act when I take Benedryl, it would have been a sure way to have my draft exemption revoked had I been taking it forty years ago. I’m also fully aware that while taking one Benedryl is bad enough, two is actively making the choice to subtract actual years off of your life, but after a third night of unprofessional nocturnal behavior it was a cost I was willing to pay. (To be fair, this was Benedryl’s “pansy-strength” dosage, which is still strong enough to conquer Tikrit if the UN would let us.)

Note that this was independent of my flu-like symptoms. I didn’t start feeling sick until Tuesday night. I assumed the Benedryl would work. While it stopped the night terrorism, I was still sick.

After a day and a half, I realized that this wasn’t a common cold, but something a little stronger, and eating Vicks Vap-O-Rub out of the jar and slipping knockout drops in my coffee wasn’t going to cut it. I was starting to get sinus pressure, which, given my historical record, occurs once every never. So instead of becoming the person I used to sit next to at work who spent 100% of her effort in any activity in her entire life complaining about her sinuses, I decided to nip it in the bud. So I stopped by the drug store and bought a medication I had never, in my entire life, taken before: Sudafed.

I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.

Now, my decision to purchase Sudafed was based on less than rational premises. At the time, I was kind of stumbling through the aisles at seven in the morning, half drunk on Benedryl and half delirious from sinus pressure. (Oh, don’t look at me like that. You’ve straggled into Denny’s at three in the morning under less respectable circumstances than this.) At this point, my market decision would be based not on active ingredients or price, but on what graphical representation of generic icons destroying viruses was prominently displayed on the box. It was a tough call, because there were really only two medications that seemed to match my symptoms. One of them had a flower on it; I think this was supposed to signify that, once I took their medicine, I would be able to smell flowers with no problem. Considering at this point that I was about to demand that the medication I purchase have a dog-molesting Nazi drug fiend garroting a virus in front of its children, I was in no mood to buy anything with flowers on it. So I bought Sudafed instead.

Now, Sudafed almost lost out in the Battle of Me Making Up My mind, too, since there is a huge yellow box that says “Does not contain Pseudoephedrine.” This did not seem like a selling point to me, really, but in the end I wasn’t going to blame the manufacturer of Sudafed any more than the people that have gone out and cut off the balls of the FDA regulators that ever thought about approving any drug that might actually help someone without there being an iron-clad guarantee that anyone who has a one out of two billion change of dying is not a lawyer.

So I took some Sudafed, for the first time in my life. And now, I am an adult.

Normally, while I’m at work, I tend to not involve myself with the affairs of others. Mostly because most transactions that occur on company property do not fall within the jurisdiction of being any of my business, but primarily because everyone at work (for some inexplicable reason) considered me to be an unapproachable monster. But whilst under the influence of Sudafed, I was engaging in activities I never before knew possible. I was flirting with single, attractive girls that were well out of my league. I was flirting with married, attractive girls that were well out of my league. I was telling humorous anecdotes about doing my taxes to anyone in the listening audience of my cubicle. I think I was actually doing more work, too, though I’m pretty sure I just felt like I was doing more work but was really doing the same amount of productivity as before, only with less blatant passive-aggressiveness.

I was, in a word, high. (I type this in the past tense in a futile and deceitful manner, as if I’m not high right now.) How this thing is permitted in the open market is beyond my comprehension. My decision-making processes had been altered to the point where I was making left turns on red, buying Outkast ringtones and tipping more than 15% for merely adequate service. And I’m fairly certain that there are other, worse decisions I’ve made, since there are reasonably large chunks of time that have effectively been blocked out of my memory, either out of some sense of self-preservation or because of some chemically induced reaction.

Of course, whether Sudafed is actually making me feel better is questionable. It could simply be that I’m just as sick as before, I just don’t care now. Which as far as I’m concerned is fine. Potential liver failure is a small price to pay for the unconditional apathy about my everyday life, don’t you think? Maybe you should ask me again in six to eight hours.

Go Directly To An Undisclosed Location

October 10, 2007

Sometimes, I think public figures are more intelligent than we all think.

Now, I’m using the phrase “public figure” fairly liberally. I mean it’s not exactly a secret that most celebrities are a few bricks shy of a deck; they became actors and actresses not because they love the stage or find theater in their soul, but because they couldn’t master conjugated verbs in the tenth grade.

The other major form of public figure is the politician, of which there is little to say that cannot already be deduced. Candidates that spend $100 million dollars to win an office that pays $400,000 a year should tell you enough about their logical and mathematical capabilities, though you could also look at the budget, foreign policy, and pretty much anything any politician has ever done as another example.

One politician who may have got it right was Robert Levy.

Robert Levy is hardly a household name. He is relatively unknown outside of New Jersey, where he serves as the mayor of Atlantic City. Or, rather, served. I think. As of this writing his status as mayor is fairly uncertain. The reason for this, of course, is that he has disappeared.

Now, in New Jersey there are two distinct ways to disappear. You can disappear and you can “disappear,” the major difference being that one is voluntary while the other is decidedly not. Levy had his own peculiar set of issues that made either one plausible, and from the looks of it he took a little from column A and a little from column B.

Being mayor of Atlantic City would normally seem to be a low-risk occupation, even if it is in New Jersey and is known primarily for it s gambling and occasional hosting of the never-rigged Miss America pageant. Oh, and the fact that in today’s age pretty much the only tourists that would voluntarily elect to go to Atlantic City instead of, say, Miami Beach or the local Indian reservation, are people that are about a thousand years old or people that don’t have enough money to gamble, let alone walk along the boardwalk to buy overpriced elephant ears or kitschy junk manufactured in China. Atlantic City’s status as a closer alternative to other gambling hot spots like Las Vegas has declined in recent years as airline tickets and hotel accommodations have dropped and the chance of seeing someone pretty much naked at any hour of the night is significantly higher. Atlantic City’s only real hope of become a tourist destination again is if, like Vegas and New Orleans, they codify all laws to be optional.

It is in this bleak backdrop that Levy was first pushed into the spotlight. The election to the mayorship was hardly noteworthy. Proving that Atlantic City is just like very other town in America, one sure way to get elected is to make the occasional humble offhand remark, in the manner of printing it in every single piece of literature you pass out during the campaign, about how you used to be a Green Beret. This is enough to get you elected in pretty much every jurisdiction except Berkeley, California, where you will be strung up by your neck in the least politically offensive manner possible instead.

Except that it turns out he wasn’t exactly a Green Beret. While he was in the service, he exaggerated his decorations, an act not entirely uncommon for political campaigns. However, he may have also used it to increase his military pension, something that even by the standards of both Atlantic City and the federal government is considered fraud.

After pressure mounted, Levy woke up one day, signed some paperwork, then…disappeared. Or “disappeared.” We’re not positive yet. A smart move, if you ask me, and one too few politicians take. The city’s business administrator stated that he had left to go to a vaguely-defined “medical facility” and, oh, by the way, he made the rather convenient verbal assurance that whomever the business administrator of the city is—hey! That’s me!—is to be in charge.

The statement of his whereabouts is a speechwriter’s dream of vagueness. He may or may not have left to what may or may not have been a leave of absence, and it may or may not have been within the state of New Jersey. In a city like Atlantic City, such statements are usually followed up a few days later stating that he may or may not have poured an entire sack of cement around his shoes and jumped in the Hudson of his own free will, but regardless of the circumstances that’s how he ended up.

There’s a split decision as to what actually happened. The official story appears to be a hybrid substance abuse/mental health issue, which seems rather convenient and mundane. The more likely explanation is that he was “asked” to “disappear” after it was found that he was not a “Green Beret” and so the office of the mayor was declared “vacant.”

Perhaps I should reassess my original thesis. Taking a powder in mobtown isn’t particularly smart. It helps when forcing yourself into the public eye, but so does being a coke-addled drunk, a pill-popping head case, and/or a stalking horse with a horde of skeletons in your closet. People like Levy have a long way to go to do the public right. Rehab and psychiatry didn’t work for Lindsay Lohan, how could it possibly work for the mayor of Monopoly Town?

30 Is The New 30

September 3, 2007

Today, I’m thirty.

At the risk of clinging desperately onto any modicum of self-worth, I’ll rightly declare that actual act of turning thirty has had no conceivable effect on me. Health-wise, I’m fine, at least for anything age-related. (I am assuming that my inability to sleep for any period longer than forty-five minutes is directly attributed to the fact that I absorb close to the GNP of China in caffeine on a daily basis.) Certainly, there’s a nagging thought in the back of my mind that I’ve kind of hit the halfway mark of my life, and the trajectory of my life at this moment points towards a singularly dreadful and soulless future based on self-loathing and trying to eke out moments of solitary pleasure from the casual and irregular highs from cough suppressants and expired percocet. But, I mean, besides that, it’s all cool.

While I can’t say that I’ve learned any particularly unique lessons in thirty years, I think I’ve earned a little indulgence into a few reflections. (I deserve this, of course, since I am the first person on the face of the earth to ever turn thirty.) Sure, sure, sure, I’ve learned the exact same things that everyone else on the face of the planet have learned, but there are a few things that particularly stick out. So here are a few aggrandizing sweeping oversimplifications of dubious merit to think about.

Music Gets Degeneratively Worse. Every generation claims that the previous generation’s music sucks donkey crank. This has been scientifically proven in laboratories across the globe, but it bears repeating. For instance, I think the music of the Greatest Generation pretty much blows. Now, I’m talking about the sappy 1950’s-early 60’s drag racin’ surf’s up prom night car-crash cookie-cutter novelty doo-wop love songs. I mean, sure, one or two stand out as exemplary examples of a genre, well-orchestrated and cleverly written. But as far as I’m concerned every single piece of music released to the public during that era included the exact same score with only a few words and shifting of emphasis enough so that the lawyers would not be able to claim plagiarism, such as changing “Alice died on the railroad track on her way to the snowball dance as I waited at the park with her engagement ring” to “Betty died on the railroad track on the way to the snowball dance as I waited at the park with her engagement ring.” And there weren’t enough songs about defeating the communists for my taste.

Not to worry, of course, because as far as I’m concerned the music of my generation is just as bad. Well, not quite; the music of my early school years were the tail end of the overly synthesized glam rock poser period of quote-unquote rock and roll, when MTV made sexy outfits and sweat-leather jumpsuits more important than crafting a song that doesn’t sound like someone dropped Roget’s Rhyming Dictionary into a boiling vat of the stuff they put in glo-bands and stamped with the portentous word “Casio.” There is a brief, shining window while I was in college of what I estimate to be approximately six to eight weeks where music released by the major recording studios didn’t suck, in addition to Steve Earle and Bob Seger.

High School Never Stops. Certainly, you eventually stop showing up to class and you don’t have to worry about the cosine anymore (although I would like to point out you still pay property taxes), but all the squawking gossipers will remain with you for the rest of your life, standing idly by ten feet out of earshot where they could just be as easily talking about the last episode of Lost as they are about what you do with your tongue and how much you charge for it. Whether it be church, work, college, the local DAR chapter, or the blonde clerk at Wal Mart with her cute redheaded friend, someone, somewhere, is irritated that there’s something they don’t know about you and will either try to find out what that is or else make something up, and then tell someone. This is, in my estimation, the single greatest driving force behind all social activity since the beginning of time with the possible exception of FHM magazine spreads and bingo night at the fire hall.

The Important Things Never Change. The ranking of Important Things in Life for men has always pretty much been Sex, Money, and Food. I’m pretty sure as men get older the standards for food go up and the standards for sex go down, but otherwise rarely change. And, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong about that. Me, I prefer my food smoking hot with revealing dressing and my women enhanced with a seasoned dry rub. OK, that didn’t sound nearly as nondisturbing as I thought it would.

Women Don’t Really Ever Change, Either. Far be it for me to make grand overgeneralizations about an entire species for once, but women never really change. Neither as individuals nor as an entire gender. I can only assume that this statement will be greeted with an indecisive conclusion based off of irrational emotion using otherwise forgotten events that transpired ten years ago as a force multiplier. I’m just sayin’.

All Jobs Suck In Their Own Particular Way. You know full well that someone, somewhere, is saying, “You know, I may be making $10,000 an hour, but filling out this expense report is a pain in my ass.” These people should probably die. I’m just sayin’.

Straight Up Until Morning

August 3, 2007

I have a few, shall we say, unique personality traits, something my friends would no doubt be perfectly happy to discuss at length, and probably have to their therapists. One of those adjectives that could be used to described my personality, besides “dashing,” “impressive,” and “prevaricator,” would be “uninitiated,” or, for those with simpler tastes, “lazy.”

I’m not lazy in that brother-in-law college slacker student way, but more of the not-wanting-to-get-out-of-the-chair-to-change- the-station-so-I-guess-I’ll-just-watch-Flip This House way. I’ve found myself often getting increasingly sleepy, unable to concentrate on such important tasks as reading through my mail, sitting through meetings, or staring at the back of the skirt that redhead was wearing yesterday at the coffee shop. Boosting my energy level seemed to suddenly be a rather top priority, and I was willing to undergo pretty much any sort of experiment so long as it did not require me to pay out to, or, more importantly, speak with a doctor or anyone else in any way involved in the medical community.

Instead of, you know, getting enough sleep or exercising to increase my energy level, I decided to try something different: an energy drink.

Now, under normal circumstances I rate energy drinks as a standard-issue scam, one step below electroshock weight loss and one step above Michael Bloomberg. I have no doubt that energy drinks are chock full of special Tibetan herbs and ancient Polynesian spice combinations, but I pretty much assume they just inject about a hectare of caffeine in it and throw some lemon rinds in it to make it not come back up after you chug it. I see these energy bars, which are pretty much Snickers but with 2% less calories but 2000% more carbs which somehow makes them healthy, much like how Cookie Crisp is part of a healthy breakfast assuming your breakfast includes toast, a glass of OJ, and a shot of insulin, and assume energy drinks are only one branch away from them in the nutritional supplement tree.

I also consider another strike against energy drinks: they cost too damn much. Somehow, they’ve suckered people into purchasing slim cans of the nectar small enough to fit into the chamber of most handguns, yet somehow have the marketing nads to charge nearly four times as much as a regular can of soda. They’re even ugly, too—silver or gold-patterned cans with some retro logo on it, as if people will associate this drink with the late seventies. Somehow someone determined that having people wanting to be all jumpy and hyper like they were during an era of 21% interest rates is somehow a selling point.

However, in the interests of science, I decided that it would be worth my time to check out these energy drinks. (Always on the cutting edge, I am. It’s only been about four years since they hit the shelves. The next consumer report I’m doing is going to be either on Furbys or OS/2.) I picked the most popular energy drink, Red Bull, at least evidenced by the annoying commercial-to-consumption ratio. And I chose a day of my own choosing, in this case Thursday, since I kind of forgot about it on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

My daily routine is largely determined by forces outside of my control, but generally speaking it revolves around 1) waking up tired 2) driving to work tired 3) working tired 4) driving home tired and, finally, 5) not being able to get to sleep. On the day of my experiment, I chugged a tall can of Red Bull and waited for my world to open up and present me with a landscape of perpetual harmony and orgasmic bliss.

You know that feeling you get when your have been laying on your arm for an hour or so watching Cribs and you cut off its circulation, then there’s that awkward, vaguely painful sensation as the blood swirls its way through your arm? Well, picture that sensation happening to the internal organs of your body, and that’s what happened to me for about forty seconds after I drank the energy drink. And that was it. I was, as I always am, somewhat underwhelmed.

Perhaps I was just too hasty, though. I spent most of the day at work kind of jumpy, but for me “kind of jumpy” means that I don’t fall asleep quite as quickly as normal when I’m running reports or something. I’m pretty sure I felt differently, but any kind of change causes my body to react differently to its environment, such as eating Corn Flakes instead of Froot Loops or the Doha Round.

So while I’m not going to be dismissive of the drinks, I’m not holding them up as any particularly shining example of a medical success. A decade-old can of Jolt seems like it would have the same effect only with less of an aluminum taste (though, I venture to say, not by much). I’ll have to run some more control experiments, such as drinking it before I go to bed; drinking it before I eat breakfast, drinking it during lunch, and drinking it before I shell out $2.00 for another 10 ounces of caffeinated hummingbird syrup.