Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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Addiction: Coke Zero

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I went to Costco for one reason: to get two cases of Coke Zero. It really is the only reason I ever go to Costco. Mel goes there for bulk string cheese or peanut butter, but if I ask her to get me some Coke Zero, she always gives me a crusty look. Then she grunts. And lastly, she only gets me one case rather than two.
She often says that I have an addiction. And it is then that I show her the nutritional facts on the back of the can.
“Look at all those zeros,” I say. “It’s as good as water. Wait, I take that back. There’s a little salt in there. I suppose it’s as good as medicinal salt water. In fact, it’s probably better than water. Science has improved it!”
She always brings up the carcinogens in diet cola, and how aspartame has been linked to Alzheimer's disease. And I always act like she is speaking in big words that I don’t have the intelligence to understand.
I know that she is just worried about me. She wants me to be around for a while. So I have mixed feeling about all this. I don’t want to quit drinking Coke Zero. I honestly think that it isn’t going to kill me. But then again, one of my coworkers often likens diet cola to cigarettes. She seems to think that it is just a matter of time before we have “Diet Cola Free Zones” and commercials about the dangers of diet cola that guilt all us zero calorie drinkers into making better life decisions.
I pray that day will never come because I can think of few things in life as refreshing as a cold can of Coke Zero. It’s crisp refreshing taste helps me through the day. Some writers write while drinking. Others write with a cigarette in hand. I write while drinking Coke Zero.

I went to the soda isle. I always grab a cart because it’s difficult to lug two 32-can cases of Coke Zero up to the register. However, I do find it strange that I need a massive Costco cart for only two items. And once I reached the Coke Zero, there were only two cases on the self. And, in fact, there was not a place for the Coke Zero anymore, it had been filled with an additional facing of shitty Diet Coke, a beverage that had been improved upon by the invention of Coke Zero. I have strong feelings about Diet Coke. My mother drinks a surprising amount of it, so I associate it with old people. Coke Zero, on the other hand, comes in a sharply designed black and red can. It is newer, tastes better, and seems cooler. I feel young drinking it. Hard core. Alive!
The two remaining cases of Coke Zero were stacked, loosely, on top of the Diet Coke. Now I’ve worked in retail, and I know that this sort of product condensement is usually only done when a company is planning to get rid of an item. And I am going to be honest here, I freaked out a little. I thought about how Coke Zero was the only diet cola I enjoyed. I thought about how I couldn’t afford to continue drinking 5 to 6 cans of Coke Zero a day if I had to buy it at a regular grocery store. Cutting back would require restraint. It would result in caffeine withdrawal headaches. I thought about all my Coke Rewards points, the ones I was planning to donate to Tristan’s school, and suddenly I became selfish. Something came over me.
 I said to hell with Tristan’s school, and wondered if I could instead use them towards discounted Coke Zero so I could prolong my intake until I found an alternative that was as affordable as Costco.
I looked around me, fearful that some other Coke Zero consumer was going to swoop in and steal the last two cases. I didn’t see anyone, but I will admit that if someone had, I probably would have struck him or her down. I was feeling crazy. I snapped them up, and then walked to the front of the store for some answers. 
He kind of looked like this guy, but with less class

Between the soda and the registers, I ran into a dark haired sweaty fat man in an ill fitting blue suit and white running shoes. The front of his white shirt was un-tucked, and flapped before him like the awning above a window. He was selling air conditioners, which seemed strange considering it was January. He looked in my cart, winked at me, and said, “You’ve got 60 points there.”
I looked at him for a while. He was about 10 years older than me, and he looked wore out and unkempt. He face was scruffy and his receding hair was greasy. His pits were dark. He was sweating enough to penetrate the suit. His teeth were a jagged mix of yellow and black, and a few were missing. He smelled like mustard.
And yet, as we looked each other in the eye, I knew that we shared the same love for diet cola.
“Yeah,” I said, “It’s probably about 60 reward points.”
He smiled back at me in a big, exaggerated grin. “Yup,” he said. “I love Coke Zero. Drink it all the time.” Then he slapped his large gut and said, “It’s what turned me into the man I am today.” Then he winked at me again (he was obviously a winker) and asked me how I cooled my home.
I wondered if this was my future. I wondered if his round smile was the face of addiction. I thought about all the pressure I was getting from Mel to quit drinking Coke Zero. Had she seen this man, or perhaps a man like him, and didn’t want me to turn into him? Could she see the future?
I will be honest, I started getting a little scared, and I cannot decide if it was because of my fear that Costco had stopped selling Coke Zero; or if it was because I may have just seen a glimpse of my future self, and found it repulsive.
I reached the front of the store and asked a manager if they were planning to stop carrying Coke Zero. She said, “I don’t know.”
And I thought, How could you not know!? What the hell is wrong with you? I need answers.
I was freaking out.
“But I can tell you how to find out,” She said. “If there is an asterisk next to the price tag, then it is going to be discontinued.”
I hurried back to the soda, looked that the price label, and it was asterisk free. I felt a huge relief, more than I expected.
I don’t know much about personal addiction. I tried a few addictive substances in high school (alcohol and cigarettes), but I didn’t do them for very long. Not long enough to become dependent. My father died at forty-nine from alcohol and prescription pill abuse, so I suppose I’ve always been weary of that sort of thing. And I’m Mormon, so that helps to keep me clean. So I suppose my reaction to this potential change in my Coke Zero consumption really jarred me a bit.
I often hear that the first step in overcoming addiction is admitting that you have a problem. But I’m not ready to admit that. What I am willing to say is that I might be addicted, which is probably a step in the right direction. And I am not going to say that I am going to change. But what I will say is that I will try to try.
The End.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley