Maybe I lack imagination. When I wander into an office supply store, I don't see sinful six-packs crouched among the array of products meant to blow crud and dust from a computer keyboard. At the grocery store, I can't spot good times in cans of non-stick cooking spray or oven cleaner.
Hairspray makes me think of gum-snapping girls with giant bird's nests on their heads and whipped cream evokes memories of ice cream.
But to some — to many, really — all of these things represent high times of the brain-popping variety. To the huffers, the computer-supply section is a fast and cheap alternative to the liquor store or downtown drug dealer. A four-pack of dusting air is a two-day party for one. Squeeze the trigger, suck in that gaseous air and here it comes, a burst of euphoria that will leave the user buzzed and numb if it doesn't drop them in their tracks.
Most of them can't wait to get home. They will rip open packages of duster or oven cleaner right there in the parking lot and blast off. Sprayed into a handkerchief or sucked right from the can, the blinding buzz is immediate and off they go into the world.
In Auburn a few weeks ago, a man under the influence of Easy Off crashed his car into a fire hydrant and an SUV as he drove away from Wal-Mart in a haze of fumes. In Lewiston, one young lady has been found a half-dozen times asleep or nearly so behind the wheel of her car. Each time she is discovered in this semi-delirious state, the rattle of empty duster cans tattle on her habits from beneath a seat.
They call it "dusting." Cops find bizarre-acting teenagers, near hallucinating, with no booze on their breath and no illegal drugs to be found.
Drug agents who try to concentrate on crack, heroin and meth now find themselves investigating incidents and accidents involving chemicals that can be bought cheaply and easily just about anywhere.
Sober people keeping a wary eye out for drunks and crackheads on the road have no clue that the danger barreling toward them is high on a product you and I use to blow Doritos crumbs out of our computer keyboards.
Huffing is nothing new. Way back when, the cheap alternative to street drugs was the glue used to slap together model airplanes. In Lewiston, one man was so addicted, a condition of his probation was that he possess no glue of any kind.
Spray-paint is huffed so often in some areas that you will find dazed people wandering the streets with their faces spangled in metallic gold, red or blue.
But now, the products being sucked down are even more ubiquitous and outwardly innocuous. What parent among you has thought to check for signs of abuse in the cupboard where you keep household cleaners? Who is routinely checking the levels of canned air on little Jimmy's desk in the living room?
You are trained to sniff the breath for hints of alcohol or search for baggies of herbage in an underwear drawer. You know what a crack pipe looks like and a syringe would set off screaming alarms in your head.
But a product so simple and helpful that it comes with a neat red straw to reach those hard places? You use it to tease your cat or blow a loving stream of air onto the neck of your honey. Your kids may use it to get freaky.
It's not really compressed air, you know. Cans of "dusting air" actually contain a variety of inert gases that expand and cool rapidly upon being sprayed.
So widespread is the huffing of these products, makers have taken to adding bitter flavor to discourage abuse. But a person seeking a trip outside his or her brain will drink warm Old Milwaukee's Best to get into the blissful fog. He or she will gobble tiny white pills, slightly smeared with palm sweat, bought from strangers on the street.
What is a little bitterness on the tongue when a blast into the lungs can bring about such sweet good times?
The fast effects are these: slurred speech, loss of coordination, nausea headache, disorientation.
Huffing can cause hearing loss, limb spasms, death by suffocation. In Cleveland, a 14-year-old boy named Kyle became the unwitting poster boy for dusting when he was found dead in his bed, a can of dusting air next to his face.
Do I need to tell you that if it doesn't kill you, huffing can cause obvious brain damage over time? You aren't getting those brain cells back, brothers and sisters of the can.
And that's one more thing for you to worry about as you ponder the safety and well-being of your loved ones and yourself. In addition to lighting up and shooting up, a good chunk of the thrill-seeking population has now come to sucking up.
Another perilous habit that might blow you away.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.