Better living through chemistry

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Last night I dreamed I was a train engineer, responsible for getting Daffy Duck to Morocco on time for an important shoot. But dang if those midget mimes didn’t keep wandering on to the tracks, causing me to slow the train and wreaking havoc with the schedule.

Before that, I was riding a never-ending escalator into the sky with a ballerina who talked incessantly about pizza. And prior to that, I was at a carnival game where a hawker tried to entice people to try their luck and win a prize. But wait! I wasn’t one of the contestants hurling balls at unbreakable plates. I was one of the prizes!

It’s the drugs, you know. In particular, this hot new drug almost guaranteed to make giving up cigarettes as easy as taking the shoes off a dead man.

“I smoked four packs a day for 50 years,” goes the usual anecdote. “With Chantix, giving it up was as easy as taking the shoes off a dead man. These days, I laugh at cigarettes. Sometimes I buy a pack just so I can take them home and laugh at them.”

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Veteran smokers are chucking their butts after a lifetime of sucking up the carcinogens. I need both hands to count the people my own age who have used Chantix to quit. One day they’re out on the sidewalk with me choking and wheezing. The next, they’re riding by on a bicycle, all pink-lunged on the way to a triathlon.

It’s amazing, really. This tiny pill, about the size of your cuticle, is causing butt fiends to walk away from a habit said to be more addicting than heroin or cocaine. More addicting even than sex, booze or “Dancing with the Stars.”

Sure, side effects of Chantix may include the occasional urge to fling oneself off a bridge. But mostly it’s the crazy-ass dreams, a whole circus lineup of them.

Who cares, right? If dreams are the trade-off for giving up a habit that will shave years off your life, who isn’t going to be down with that?

Millions ignore side effects every day as they pop the latest drug for this or that affliction. It used to be that everybody who took prescribed medication for mental well-being took the same thing. They called them Happy Pills and smiled when doing so. I don’t know what they were, these Happy Pills – maybe Valium or just some lame vitamin – but everybody had a bottle far back in the medicine cabinet.

Cavemen. Today, there are five varieties of pill for every malady, be it anxiety, depression or a sad little soldier who won’t stand at attention, if you get my drift.

If you suffer from some form of the blues, the question isn’t whether there’s a pill for it. The question is which pill you should take. Teenagers are routinely put on antidepressants for what amounts to the angst that comes with acne, growth spurts and the discovery of hair where there was no hair before. What we called growing pains is now diagnosed as Adolescent Onset Hyperbummer, or some damn thing.

The prevailing opinion seems to be that if you don’t require a pharmaceutical mood adjuster, you are so dull you might be clinically dead. Somebody will be by later to steal your shoes.

Everyone seems to be on one panacea or another, is what I mean to say. If we keep experimenting and tweaking our emotions with meds, maybe one day we’ll all walk along the same emotional plateau, with no highs or lows. Nothing will make us sad or excited. We’ll all just wander and smile at our fellow inhabitants of Planet Stepford.

It makes you wonder what it would have been like if these drugs had been around all along and gut-wrenching emotion was never allowed to exist. Edgar Allan Poe would have accepted the deaths of his mother, his brother and his beloved Virginia with grace and composure, settling in as an advertising man instead of a writer. Van Gogh would have kept his ear on his head, perfectly content to paint houses instead of works of art.

But of course, in those times, attempts to modify mood included half-assed lobotomies or simply hacking holes in the skull to let the demons out. All told, we’re better off today because a person doesn’t have to exist with crippling depression or a flag that can only manage half-mast, if you get my second such drift.

And I’m happy for that because without Chantix, I might have to use old-fashioned will and inner strength to give up this god-awful smoking habit. Without Chantix, I might never have had the opportunity to meet Daffy Duck.

He’s really a likable sort when he’s not spitting on you.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can support his quit-smoking efforts and your own wacky dreams at mlaflamme@sunjournal.com.

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