Remember When There Weren’t a Million Types of Water Bottles?

When I was a kid the only water bottles were simple white plastic with a ribbed bendy-straw that came out like the proboscis of a giant insect.  And the only people who used these water bottles were the other kindergartners who were also forced to play soccer, and needed something to wash down the orange slices and cracker jacks.  These water bottles—more cylindrical containers than bottles—beared the emblem of our soccer club, were not airtight, and most definitely were not brought to school, where things that made students more likely to need to go to the restroom were not welcomed.

The other night I was in the supermarket, and while looking for the most up-to-date version of the Oreo cookie, I came upon the water bottle aisle.  Water bottles have their own aisle now.  The bottles were in many different colors, and showed a history of technological innovation.  Adjustable nozzles.  Rubber grips.  Filters in case the bottled water that gets poured into the water bottle has too much—I don’t know—water in it.

And no longer is the basic white plastic of my soccer-playing youth the only choice.  In fact, it’s probably not a choice at all.  Today’s water bottles come in stainless steel, aluminum, high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and something called “copolyester,” which I had thought went out with the 1970s.  If this seems as clear as polypropylene, below is a bottle comparison chart that I pulled, for your convenience, showing the different water bottles that are sold by a company named REI so that you can tailor your purchase decision to your plastic-resistance preferences.  A 5-star rating means that the material offers the greatest resistance.

Bottle Material

Impact Resistance

Odor Resistance

Visual Clarity

Bottle Feel

Resin Code

Tritan copolyester

 ***  ****




Polyethylene (HDPE)

 ****  ***




Polyethylene (LDPE)

 ****  ***





 ****  ***




Stainless steel

 ****  *****





 **  *****




As you can see from the table above, all of the plastic bottles come with a resin code.  I don’t know the resin code for the water bottle I used back when I was standing out on a soccer field and pretending to care where the ball was kicked.  I’m sure it was chock-full of the dreaded bisphenol A (BPA), something equaled in terror by only the bubonic plague.

But selecting a material with the perfect opacity and resistance is barely half the work!  Now you must settle on a design for the mouth opening.  Here are your choices: wide mouth, narrow mouth, push-pull valve, and bite valve.  And if anyone wants my opinion, I think there should be a “fountain valve” that looks just like the spouts on the metal water fountains we all remember from school, one that you have to hunch over and really press so that your back is left vulnerable to attacks from bears or kick-me signs.

As I stood in the aisle, I thought about the kind of water bottle I would choose.  Was I a polyethylene person or more of a stainless steel person?  Did I like a water bottle that dented easily or not so easily?  What were my thoughts on resin?  Did I even know what resin was?  The Existentialists thought that free will and the purpose of life were the most difficult questions and the ones most worthy of extended study.  They would have been surprised to learn that choosing a water bottle requires far more introspection.

But if choosing a water bottle requires more work, it is because the water bottle delivers more meaning to our lives.  Our bodies are roughly 60% water—or, if you’re like me, 40% water and 20% hazelnut creamer.  And if the body is indeed a temple, then it needs a proper chalice—a chalice made of stainless steel.  Or aluminum.  Or low-density polyethylene.

Remember When Sugar Wasn’t the New Cocaine?

Last week Sixty Minutes aired a segment titled “Is Sugar Toxic?” that reported scientific evidence that the added sugar in various foods causes a variety of ailments such as heart disease, cancer, and looking like a whale.  One neuroscientist, Eric Stice, stated that his studies show that the effects of sugar on the brain are similar to the effects of cocaine.  I pictured frenzied people tapping out Domino packets onto pocket mirrors and snorting lines with plastic coffee stirrers.

When did sugar get to be so dangerous?  Was it really that bad?  I remembered summer camp when a fellow camper put 19 packets of sugar into her tea and spent the rest of the day in a spin-art machine.

Years ago, when I was a young and impressionable smart-aleck, Nancy Reagan told me to “Just Say No” to drugs.  “It stands to reason,” I said to myself after the Sixty Minutes segment ended and segued into a commercial for Keebler fudge cookies, “that if they were still printing those green t-shirts with the ‘Just Say No’ printed with the line across it, sugar would be included in the campaign.”  I decided that I was going to clean myself up for good, and eliminate sugar from my diet.

That night I created a “Quitting Sugar” event on Facebook and announced to my friends and family that I was quitting sugar, and that under no circumstances were they to give me any, even if I asked them pretty please with sugar on top.  I had one last sugar blow out in my kitchen, feasting on Kit-Kats and Pixie Stix and the candy corn left my basement by the previous owners of the house.

The next morning I grabbed a giant garbage bag and went around collecting oatmeal creme pies and Yodels and pretty much anything that came individually enclosed in a little clear plastic wrapper.  I took the giant bag out to the garage, recited a farewell sonnet to Little Debbie, and then spent the next hour trying to figure out if the products should be placed in a landfill.

The first few days without sugar were not that bad.  I have an armchair that is really good for gripping, and there is a clinic nearby that dispenses free doses of Equal, no questions asked.  But the addict does not die so quickly.

I started inventing reasons so that I could just “so happen” to have to put sugar in my food.  “Isn’t tilapia supposed to be eaten with maple syrup?” I asked my wife over dinner.  “I’m pretty sure I saw that on Rachel Ray.  I don’t make the rules.”  I would suggest an office ice cream party as a team-building exercise, and then resign myself to eating ice cream since there is no “diet” in team.  I said that I just ate sugar at parties, and then crashed the birthday party that my neighbors were throwing for their 4-year-old son, attacking the cake in the kitchen while he was opening his presents.

Yesterday I came home to an intervention.  My family members each read pieces they had written about how my sugar addiction had torn me away from them and made it hard to fit my entire body in the viewfinder of their cameras.  There was a professional counseler in the room, who patted me down for sucking candies and then explained how my family was sending me to rehab where I could get the help I needed.

And that is where I am right now.  I just finished picking at the plate of broccoli they slid under the door, and in a few minutes I’m going to a group session where I and the other residents will talk about the nightmares and shakes and disgusting taste of plain water.  I know I can’t expect instant results.  But as long I never enter a supermarket or restaurant again, I know my future’s looking bright.

Remember When There Weren’t All These Fitness Devices?

It seems like every time I have to move my belt out another notch there is another fitness device being marketed.

My first introduction to exercise devices was watching my grandfather use the stairs.  He was the original stairmaster.  Whenever he and my grandmother came to visit us for Mother’s Day or Rosh Hashanah, my grandfather would spend time each evening going up and down the short staircase from our foyer to the living room, climbing up the three steps and then immediately climbing down in reverse, over and over again, until my grandmother told him to knock it off and sit down for their evening dose of gin rummy.

In my twenties, when I was single, I decided that the only obstacle to true love was that I did not have those six-pack abdominals.  So I invested $19.95 plus tax and shipping in a device called the Ab Wheel.  The Ab Wheel consisted of two small wheels pressed together, maybe ten inches in diameter, with a small axle running between and handles on either end of the axle so that you could grip it with both hands.

The starting position was flat on you stomach, gripping the axle with your hands.  Then you pulled the Ab Wheel, rolling it towards your midsection, while keeping your toes in the same spot so that you simultaneously bent at the waist and stuck your rear end in the air ever so briefly before going back to start and repeating the exercise.  It was like imitating a folding table, and would have been the perfect device if I’d been able to do more than one repetition before collapsing on the floor.

Then I saw an infomercial for something called the EMS-7500 Muscle Stimulator.  It consisted of four electrodes connected to wires that ran into a small computerized console.  You stuck the electrodes on to your stomach, turned on the computer, and without your doing anything, electrical impulses would be sent to your abdominals at regular intervals, causing the muscles to twitch and in so doing burn off the fat that was hiding millions of sexy stomachs across America.  I could see that the advantages of the Muscle Stimulator were that you did not have to leave your chair or bar stool, and you could pretend to be the subject of a scientific experiment.

For a few moments I considered getting one.  Then I realized I would be paying to electrocute myself.  If I was going to get in shape, I was obviously going to have to work at it, day after day, in good weather and bad.  That’s when I decided to go to law school.

Just the other day I saw an advertisement for a new weight-loss device.  Except it’s not a device at all.  It is a powder that you sprinkle on any food, and it magically reduces the caloric value.  The commercial showed some very in-shape people prancing around a breach and sprinkling this product on hamburgers, pizza, and ice cream.

This must be the greatest invention of all time.  No gym, no running, no electrocution.  It is as if finding the right device came down to simply finding something that would help a person lose weight without requiring any effort.  No more lifting weights.  No more crunches on those giant beach balls.  No more trying to figure out what to do with your keys and wallet.

Of course, it is only a matter of time before someone decides that there is a market for a device that doesn’t require any sprinkling.  The infomercial will show a black and white video of someone sprinkling the magic diet powder on their fudge sundae, and the voice-over will say, “Tired of all that pesky sprinkling?” as the black and white image is crossed with a giant red X.  “Well, now you don’t have to.  Try the ‘Being Comfortable With Your Body 9000’ and you’ll never have to sprinkle again.”

There will be testimonials from people who have tried the Being Comfortable With Your Body 9000, and they will all say how it transformed their lives.  They will also all have the bodies of Olympians.  But the customers at home won’t care about that.  All they will care about is the smiles, and that the product doesn’t require any effort, or electricity, or ingestion, but only a positive attitude and three easy payments of $19.95.

Remember When Cough Syrup Wasn’t a Controlled Substance?

In my home there is a bottle of cough syrup from a leading brand.  On one side of the box there is a warning:  “PARENTS:  Learn more about teen medicine abuse” with a website that teens can visit just in case they don’t know what they are missing.

When I was a kid my parents had to practically hypnotize me in order to get me to take cough syrup.  To this day, the phrase “down the hatch” makes my stomach churn and heart beat faster.  I could not stand the taste of cough syrup.  It was like the folks at Tylenol or Robitussin went out of their way to make the taste as bad as possible.  Living with a cough was a far, far better alternative than drinking that vile potion.

My father’s technique was to pour the medicine in a spoon without me knowing, and then approach me from the side, and say, “Open up Mark!” and the spoon would be in my mouth before I knew what was happening.  It was a like a sucker punch, but with cough syrup.  The stuff was still gross but I have to admit the technique worked a lot better than my mother’s, which was to try to persuade me about how much better I was going to feel after taking the medicine.

Never in a million years would I have thought that kids would one day be spending their allowances on cough syrup when they didn’t even have a cough.  I lived through Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.  I co-wrote and starred in an anti-drug video in the fifth grade that was filmed in the high school’s A/V room, for which I was awarded a Golden Globe and a bright green t-shirt with the famous slogan on the front.  So I know all about drugs.  At least, I thought I did.

How did they discover that drinking cough syrup got you high?  Someone must have had one wicked cough.  I can just see it now – a boy lays in bed, and coughs.

“Wow, honey,” his mother says from the next room, “it sounds like your cough is much better.  None of that deep chunky coughing you had going on earlier.  A shallow cough, almost as if you were coughing on purpose.  Can you imag—”

“Hey lady, just get me more cough syrup quick!  Gyah!  Uh-huh uh-huh!”

But even if it got you high, the taste is still there.  That horrible, horrible taste.  I suppose you could mix it in with something sweet, like orange soda.  Which was exactly what I did with some friends in college.

Yes, at some point a cappella groups and ultimate frisbee ran out of entertainment value, and we needed to intensify our liberal arts education.  Someone had heard that if you drank a whole bottle of Robitussin, you would hallucinate.  And somehow the promise of hallucinations motivated me as an adult in a way that the promise of no more coughing had failed to do as a child.

We bought our bottles at the local store, with cash, and retreated to the fraternity house, where there was an unlimited quantity of orange soda and an unlimited tolerance for stupidity.  We each took four plastic cups of orange soda, and divided the bottle among those four cups, so that each cup was five parts orange soda and one part disgusting Robitussin cough syrup.

Still I was afraid to try it.  I had caught a whiff of the syrup when making my concoction and my stomach put up its “no vacancy” sign, the product of years of conditioning.  So one of my friends employed the basest kind of peer pressure there is: he picked up one of my cups, approached me from the side, said “Hey Mark open up!” and poured it down my throat before I knew what was happening.

For a second I thought I was going to make it.  But the stomach wasn’t fooled by the orange soda, and I was running for the bathroom like it was a pre-requisite for my major.  The throes of nausea came in waves, and the only hallucinating I did that night was in thinking that I was seeing the toilet for the last time before sunrise.  From that moment on I swore off cough syrup for good; not for medicinal purposes, and not for recreational purposes.  I have been clean ever since.

But apparently there are teenagers who have a greater tolerance for the flavor of cough syrup.  I guess they want to hallucinate so badly that they can will their taste buds and stomachs to cooperate.  No wonder it’s a national epidemic.  With something as readily available and reasonably inexpensive as cough syrup, it’s easy to see how teenagers would be hallucinating a lot more.

On the other hand, I’m sure they cough a lot less.

Remember When Drinking Was a Novelty?

Remember when drinking was a novelty?

I do.

For every person who has decided to let alcohol be a part of their lives, there was that magical time when drinking was a new experience. Maybe it was when they chugged a beer in twenty seconds at a New Year’s Eve party and basked in the accolades until upstaged by a Naval recruit who did it in eight.  Maybe it was when they pilfered wine coolers at a family event and drank them behind a tree while their parents had the police looking for them.  Maybe it was when they went out on their 21st birthday and drank so much they had to do their senior year of college from the couch. No matter what the specific details were, those early bouts with drink are usually swathed in a combination of wonder, adventure, and projectile vomiting.

As the years pass and the empty cans and bottles form a larger and larger share of the recycling bin, the novelty of drinking wears off. It goes from being something to celebrate special occasions to something to cope with the stress of putting the dishes away. But once in a while we are reminded of what those early days were like. I was so reminded this past weekend while riding the Long Island Rail Road.

The Long Island Rail Road is a commuter train that during the week shuttles people between their jobs in New York and their homes on Long Island, and during the weekend shuttles their young adult children between the bars in New York and their parents’ homes on Long Island. It runs fairly regularly during waking hours, but its late-night schedule can be stroke-inducing. For the line that I take when I’m visiting the Big Apple, there is a gap between 1:16 a.m. and 2:53 a.m. And if you do not make that 1:16, you are in for a very, very long night.

I failed to make the 1:16 this past weekend. The 2:53 train is occupied almost entirely by people who are college-aged or just beyond it, dressed to the nines and doing figure-eights in the narrow aisle. Among a single-file of four people walking by, the third person is not so much walking as being shuffled along like a scene from Weekend at Bernie’s. People are shouting to each other about how “wasted” they are and are discussing economic policy without supporting data. Young women show little compunction about walking barefoot while still inside the borough of Manhattan.

Early on in our trek east someone warns of a low wave of water flowing along the floor and I pick up my feet just in time. Evidently something in the rest room had overflowed. The waves keep coming during the ride. When the train stops at a station, the water flows east. When the train leaves a station, the water flows west. It is like the tide coming in and going out. I’m about to take out my fishing pole. But the fish do not look appetizing.

I am getting a good workout from keeping my feet elevated. The next exercise gadget should be a device that sends commuter train toilet water rushing under your feet for an hour. Not even squats yield that kind of burn. I start to wonder what could make this ride any worse. And then I get my answer.

Two stops before my destination, we hear on the intercom that “a passenger needs medical assistance” and that our train is “being held until emergency personnel can arrive.” I wonder what the EMS code is for “screaming they are going to die when they are really just drunk.” It takes half an hour for the emergency personnel to arrive, and during that half an hour I hear “FML” – in both short and long form – being said into cell phones and across the aisle.

It is well past 4 a.m. when I disembark at my stop, and I know that even brunch is out of the question. As I swing from the luggage racks like monkey bars to avoid the river of dreams, I take one last look around me. I see the red eyes, the bloated food-smeared faces, the stained jackets, the chia pets, the bare feet…and I marvel at the modern world’s only rite of passage.

Thanks to the merry passengers of car no. 7163 for the topic.