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A consumer warning

I gave up carbonated beverages in high school at a coach’s advice, and with rare exceptions have seldom looked back. If you’re laughing hysterically right now, note that this rule doesn’t apply to naturally carbonated beverages, ie: through a process of fermentation, if you catch my drift. As a result of my ban, the entire energy-drink phenomenon has left me largely untouched and unconcerned.

I’ve sampled Red Bull and other drinks like it on occasion before, but I’ve never drunk a can by myself. It’s true that they’re as effective at keeping you alert and awake as a brisk pinch to the testicles, but the taste, my God, the taste! Robitussin is too dignified a comparison for the vile concoctions; instead, think of the Safeway brand, sold under the somehow-legal name “Tussin”. That, and lurking fears about turning my body into a sugary petrochemical plant, kept me content with caffeine through strong black coffee – probably not a whole lot better for you, but at least with a larger clinical test base.

It started with Red Bull in those tiny cans, and a swarm of competitors swooped in to soak up consumer dollars in what would prove to be an obscenely profitable – albeit short-lived, as with all drink fads (think Snapple) – marketplace. With each new addition to that marketplace, the dosage increased, as did the number of chemicals, in what amounts to an arms race. If one beverage supplied gingko in a half-liter can, the next would be sure to double the gingko, add creatine and vitamin B6, and dispense it in 750 mL vessels. It was only a matter of time before a company had the brainwave to toss everyone’s favorite barbiturate into the mix and really cause some damage: thus was born Sparks, the first alcoholic energy drink, combining all the benefits and vices of a can of Rockstar and a bottle of Steel Reserve. It looks, except for the inconspicuous label of “6.0 ALC BY VOL”, like any other energy drink; the orange and silver can is meant to resemble a battery, with ‘+’ and ‘-‘ symbols fore and aft. As a result, I’ve never known anyone to get carded when purchasing one.

I tried the drink for the first time last night with Kelly, Laurel, and some amateur film students. They’d been up all weekend making an amateur film for a competition, and a cocktail of Sparks, sucrose, and malt liquor was the only fuel moving their tortured bodies through the hours. We were eating at Than Brothers’ Pho* restaurant, another first for me. The film majors were all packing cans of the drink in the pockets of the lab coats they were still wearing from shooting the final scene of their movie. Because of the innocent appearance of the containers we cracked them open with only a twinge of self-consciousness in the restaurant, where a bottle of the less-alcoholic Henry’s private reserve would have been wholly inappropriate. Perhaps it was the laughter around the table, the heady aroma of boiled beef, or the late hour, but something possessed me to accept an invitation to drink a can. It worked – a half hour later I was bouncing off the walls and pleasantly buzzed.

I paid for the energy later. I slept in spurts of an hour and a half at most last night, and my heart has been pounding erratically all day. It’s as if my heartbeat has been replaced by the bass line to a techno song – it will chug along evenly for a period, then inexplicably hang for agonizing seconds before starting again at double tempo. It’s more than a little disconcerting. Admittedly, I drank more alcohol than just that last night, but I’ve had a hangover before and this isn’t it. You’ve been warned.

*I realize that Pho is pronounced “fuh”, not “foh”, but I refuse to accept this. I mean no disrespect to the Vietnamese people, but I already gave them Ngyuen, and I draw the line at Pho, because phonics ought to count for something. Besides, as my friend Bizarro Tyler once pointed out, more stuff rhymes with “foh”: “Hey my friend Joe / what say we go / eat some Pho / on the corner, you know? Pho sho'”.

Posted in Musings.

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