Out There: Coca-Cola withdrawal

Smoking makes me cough, drinking makes me tired, gambling makes me nervous, and I don’t womanize. I do, however, like Coca-Cola. A lot.

Painting by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Painting by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Smoking makes me cough, drinking makes me tired, gambling makes me nervous, and I don’t womanize.
I do, however, like Coca-Cola. A lot.
Yeah, yeah, I know that it can clean corroded car batteries, kill mice, and that if you soak a tooth in it for about seven years, the tooth will rot. But still, I like it. A lot.
I like it so much that I’ve visited the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta not once, but twice.
I like it so much that I have that catchy song from the classic 1971 Coke television advertisement – “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” – on my playlist. I like it so much that I cringe whenever I hear the famous line from that iconic John Belushi Saturday Night Live skit: “No Coke. Pepsi.”
And I like it so much that when the kids were small, and The Wife insisted on healthy eating for the whole family, I used to have to sneak my daily gulp in the pantry, feeling a bit like a heroin addict stealthily making his way to the bathroom for a fix.
“What are you doing?” my father once bellowed on a visit, spying me taking a can from the fridge and hiding it under my shirt. “Goodness, son, you’re a grown man now, there is no need to sneak around like a criminal to drink a Coke.”
But he was wrong. I did need to sneak around to drink Coke, because The Wife and I – especially The Wife – didn’t want the kids to develop the habit. So I tried to hide it.
She was right, of course; at least in theory.
Her philosophy when the kids were small was that they wouldn’t want or demand what they didn’t know. If they didn’t know about Coke, if they didn’t see it, they wouldn’t want it. Therefore we shouldn’t have it around, or if we did, we should hide its consumption.
So I consumed in secret. I was a Coke Marrano.
The problem was that not everyone else drank their Coke on the sly, and the kids discovered the joys of the soft drink elsewhere. If the drink’s refreshing taste wasn’t enough to charm them, turning it into a forbidden fruit only further enhanced its appeal.
FAST-FORWARD some 20 years, and the tables have turned. Now it’s the kids whispering around the refrigerator, stuffing cans under their shirts, and coughing at weird interludes to muffle the sound of their opening a bottle.
Now they are hiding the ice-cold sunshine from me.
No vice goes unpaid, and after my conspicuous consumption of Coca-Cola for all these years, I have – upon the doctor’s suggestion – begun to cut down.
So now whenever the urge hits – like on a real hot day, or a real cold day, or many times on the airplane, or watching television, or writing, or reading, or breathing, or with a plate of French fries, or even with a bowl of brown rice and tofu – instead of reaching for the pause that refreshes, I reach for some tap water over ice and a wedge of lemon.
Oh what joy.
Turns out that Coke has a great deal of sugar, and sugar in excessive amounts is not good for you. Though my teeth remain intact, I now have a high dose of glucose in my blood. So if you want to cut down on your sugar intake, I’m told, the best place to start is to cut out the cola. The various diet varieties, by the way, are not an option – I only like the real thing.
“No more Coke, soft drinks or sweet fruit drinks for you,” a little voice now constantly goes off in my head whenever I’m thirsty, internalizing the doctor’s recommendation. “Except on Shabbat.”
AH, HOW I love those last three words – “except on Shabbat.”
I well remember those words as a kid. My father would start a diet every once in a while and say he was going to cut out all nosh during the week, and eat cake, candy and cookies only on Shabbat.
My Coke-on-Shabbat rule is the same idea. Abstain during the week, indulge on Shabbat, because on Shabbat it’s customary to partake of all those things you most enjoy.
But that concept – on further contemplation – is problematic, because it sends the message that you should do what is good for you during the week, and only on the Sabbath enjoy those things that can hurt you.
I know folks who are vegetarian all week long, and eat meat only on Shabbat. Huh? During the week eat all the healthy foods – the broccolis, the cauliflowers and the whole grains – and only on Shabbat eat the chopped liver and brisket that will clog your arteries? This practice turns Shabbat into less a day of rest, and more a day when you are free to enjoy all those things that will eventually kill you.
EXCEPT FOR sleep, something obviously encouraged on the Sabbath but which is good for you – or at least I thought.
At this stage of my life, I’m not from the big sleepers. I used to be one – like my sons are now – but presently manage on a relatively small amount of slumber each night. Until Shabbat comes.
Shabbat comes – especially the long Shabbatot of the summer – and I can take hours-long naps during the day.
But this too, it turns out, is unhealthy.
It’s not good, I recently read, to be sleep-deprived during the week, only to think you can make up for the loss – fill the body’s depleted sleep battery – one day a week. So seen through that lens, saying “I’ll catch up on my sleep on Shabbat” is also unhealthy, another activity that turns the Sabbath into the least healthy day of the week.
Now, with Rosh Hashana some two weeks away, this would be a good time to say that I will change my patterns, vow to drink and eat and sleep in an unhealthy fashion on another day – say a Tuesday – and turn Shabbat into the calendar’s most healthy day.
But I won’t make that vow, because I’ll never live up to it. Especially since Rosh Hashana is much like Shabbat, and in just a short time it will afford me two days – not just one – of wonderfully sanctioned and permitted Coke consumption.
A collection of the writer’s ‘Out There’ columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com, www.amazon.com and www.bookdepository.com.