Hey tough guy, wanna buy a Pepsi?
Thursday, January 8, 20040 Comments
The Globe and Mail, January 6, 2004
I can see it now. A gang of toughs, you know the type: dead-end kids, kids with no future and too much past. Kids who don’t fit the system, outsiders, rebels with and without a cause. They slouch through the high school halls waiting for a fix, drooling to the cooler, dying to crack one open. All morning they dream of getting some mother’s little helper, a taste of the forbidden. These kids are jonesing for the dark juice; they’d kill for cola. They’ve gotta have pop. And you know this too: one of those kids is you.
You burst out of the school and hit the street looking to score, and there, right there on the corner is the dealer, the man with the stuff, the man who, unlike the Ontario government and unlike the school administration, cares not a jot about childhood obesity, pimples, or rotten teeth. He cares only about the money in your hand. He owns the store -- or at least works there for not much more than minimum wage -- and if you’ve got the cash, children, he’s got what you need. He’s got the bad stuff what nobody else will give you. Look, there it is: back past the white bread, past the chocolate bars full of trans fats, past the nitrate laden meat sticks, past the sugar soaked Skittles and the cans of nutrition-free pasta there stands the motherlode. Coke, Pepsi, and all the lesser soda gods loom up in a floor-to-ceiling display of wickedness, and your hands tremble in the presence of their awesome power. Death is at your fingertips. You know that what you want is pure poison, and the weight of its nefariousness, the potency of the canned evil you are about to embrace, almost sends you running the other way. You glace at the bottled water, the juice, the sports drinks; you consider all the warnings – oh my god, the warnings, the warnings -- but then you hear that voice. That sneering, cloying, grating voice . . . “hey, tough guy, wanna by a Pepsi” . . . and you know what you must do.
The plastic litre bottle feels good in your hand and you can already anticipate the hit. Cold as coal, the dark acid that will rip through breakfast, disintegrate lunch, and scrape through your stomach lining bubbles with anticipation, eager to do its dirty work. You carry it like a loaded weapon, and as you lay it on the counter the man makes no eye contact. Instead he silently takes your Toonie and gives you change, mumbling “have a nice day” as if he hadn’t just sold you a sip of suicide. His tone is so neutral it’s as if you’d just dropped in for a Joe Louis, a big bag of Nibs, or a family pack of Pringles. And you realize that you are far gone, you’ve been sucked deep into the mire of pop culture and now you’re a soda jerk – but you don’t give a damn because soon, almost before second thoughts can plague you, you are on the street, around the corner popping the cap and pouring the pure good poison down your young throat. It fizzes, and you feel good.
In a moment you will belch, you know that for certain, you’ve been here before. But you chug more; you must chug more. You are defiant now, full in your distain of the rules, sickened by the authorities that tell you what beverages you can have and when. You step out of the shadow of the store in full view of the school. Is that the principal in the window looking out at you? Well so what if it is. You’re not on school property now and there’s nothing he can do. Your average is in the high 90s, you’ve never been in a fight, you are polite to your teachers – what more can they ask for? None of that seems to matter because they all know you have this habit, and that has forevermore made you an outcast.
You lift the litre bottle to your lips once again and chug. You feel the sugar starting to race through your veins, your head hums with the rush of caffeine, and the long awaited belch begins to rise in your throat. Blaaaaattttttt. Your burp echoes across the lawn of the academy. It hits them like a slap, a rebuke, a cry of freedom. In the office of the principal, all they can do is draw the blinds and shake their heads. At least they have to walk across the street to get pop, the principal thinks. That’s exercise in my book.
Back inside the school you start to come down. You head to the Cafeteria and order a large fries with gravy, grab a cream filled doughnut, a fruit punch (ingredient 1: water, 2, sugar, 3 fruit juice from concentrate) and wolf it down just as the bell rings for your next class. Nobody can touch you now.