This is a cautionary tale. There are many evils inherent in an appetite for Coca Cola, the consumption of which is, for many, akin to injecting heroin into an eyeball. All that fructose and glucose and artificial flavours, it’s pure poison. But, I have left most of my beloved bad habits behind, and I still thirst, albeit with appropriate guilt, for the, very cold Coke or Pepsi, diluted with ice, cut with lemon. Chateaunuef du Cola, carbonation blended with caffeine and suicidal sugars, slips the brain and heart into a 4th gear. Especially these days when humidity is at 20 per cent, the car is overheated and the fireplace cooks my throat dry. And, so, I was dancing in the IGA, picking up this and that for dinner. This was overpriced and tasteless, that was on sale and a day away from transforming into Petri dish of mysterious fungi. Steering a cart up one aisle and down another, supposedly good for the knees, easy on the back, the shopping cart a harbinger of folding walkers to come, I curse the prices, the packaging and the endless shelves burdened with the physical and moral weight of all the beautifully packaged poisons and ridiculous food-like substances. My kingdom for real food. One should not overlook the cardio benefits of the walk and the attendant rush of cortisol derived from strolling down the rows of a culture gone to sugar and fat and preservatives but, soon ... alas thirst did strike, joints did creak, throat was dried and all I want was coke. So the shopping cart guides me to an area consisting of only beer, in stacks and piled in a refrigerated room bigger than my first house. Better built, too. And palates of soft drinks and freezer cases of frozen everything, with a multi-door unit reserved for 143,760 kinds of pizza. The reflection in the freezer windows is of the aforementioned canned poisons and untold quantities of potato chips, popcorn, corn chips, vegetable chips in a multitude of flavours, colours and shapes, begging to be washed down with a can of bubbly something. Or perhaps Italian flat water, cause Canada has so little of it we need to import bottles of it. Coke and every other brand name fructose/glucose concoction is on sale for about $7 a case, which is curious because that’s about twice the price they sell it in summer. But, if you buy two cases for $14 they’ll give you another two cases free. Can you say excess inventory? So they’ll sell me my Coke for about the price they sell it in summer but only if I take 48 cans. Thinking of loading this into the trunk of my car is alr4eady inflaming my spine and visions of NSAIDs dance before me. But, they can’t fool me. They have a machine in the store entrance that drops a generic Coke in your hand for 75 cents. So I pay for my three or four items, $50 or $60, bag five cents extra to save the planet, and pop a dollar into the soft drink machine. My quarter change rattles down the chute and I pinch it with two thin fingers. And wait for my coveted can. But nada. I press and pull anything that can be pressed and pulled. Nada.
I am a Zen master, cool as the promise of a can of bubbly and, undeterred, I go to the Courtesy Counter and explain. I’m thirsty. I need a Coke. The machine swallowed my money but did not regurgitate a Coke. There is a distinct lack of empathy here and I am pointed in the direction of a supervisor working two cashes over. I wait for her to cash out a customer’s beer, white bread, some cookie-like substance and a vacuujm-sealed, meat-like product with a shelf life of several civilizations. I explain. The machine ate my money but I’m still without my bubbles and I’m parched. I’m instructed to see the young woman at the next cash to get my money. No problem. I’m a Zen master.
I wait for her to cash out a customer and his food-like acquisitions and then the young woman asks for a quarter so she can give me a dollar. I give her the quarter. She gives me a dollar. I say, with my dry, anxious throat, I’d still like a drink. She directs me to their ready-to eat counter, primed with sandwiches made yesterday, chicken cooked six hours ago and a selection of fried foods staying moist and warm on a steam table. Nothing improves a crispy fried potato or fried chicken like sitting in a steam table for a few hours. At the ready-to-eat counter, a woman hands me, at last, a can of Coke after sticking a price and a bar code on it. I can’t pay her, I’m told. I’m directed to the express cash. Her Coke is 85 cents. I stand in line to pay for my Coke. I can almost taste it. The cashier is scanning someone’s goods (or would that be bads?) and when the customer’s dispatched I’m moved up to the cashier who ignores me to go and sell lottery tickets to a man at the Courtesy Counter. He also has bottles to cash in. And scratch and sniff cards to choose. This is the fifth person I’ve seen to buy this Coke. The process has taken 10 minutes. I’m thirsty. My Zen is dissipating. At this moment, there is nothing more important in my life than to pay for this fucking Coke and drink it. I crack open the cold can and pour it back. It is frigid and sweet and as perfect as its TV commercials. I even feel younger and better looking. The lottery-hungry customer’s still sifting through scratch cards. I’m still thirsty. I take another slug and then another, standing at the cash, watching my cashier sell lottery tickets. I take another shot. My thirst and appetite for icy sugar is quenched. I leave it two thirds empty, or one third full, depending on how your parents raised you, drop a damn and the rest of my precious Coke or her abandoned register, and walk to my car. I am many dollars lighter for the over-priced groceries and but my thirst is finally quenched, my patience stretched and my resolve to kick my soft drink habit enforced. Maybe I should think about heroin. I’m told it would be simpler.