I was tightly wound when I was a teenager. I’d been a fat kid in early days, which kind of ruined my self-confidence back in the days when that wasn’t as common as it is these days, and I had a step-dad who had his own problems and wasn’t really a subscriber to the self-image boosting regimen. And I had acne that literally scared people, I think, at least until years later, when the docs put me on accutane and damn near killed me with the stuff.
But I was big and strong and well-put-together, smart and funny and creative, sociable and athletic and geeky all at once. I really should have gotten laid a lot more than I did, looking back on it.
But, like most teenagers, I had a crippling case of self-consciousness and a brain that worked overtime, and that self-reinforcing combination conspired at least part of the time to auger me into the dirt. Still, I came through OK, more or less, and look back on that time with much fondness.
One of the ways that being constantly stressed manifested itself, other than the facial irruptions, was nearly-constant low-level stomach pain. I think, though I can’t recall exactly, that the small-town doctors in the small-town hospital in my small town diagnosed me with stress-induced ulcers, at least incipient ones. After flipping a coin, which was the usual way of doing those things, unless there was a freshly killed chicken available. And not taking into account that they’d destroyed my digestive system with tetracycline for something like 4 years straight. This was also back in the stone age before there were any of the preventatives, palliatives, and treatments for proto-ulcers so easily found these days.
I think they sent me home with a hearty, bluff, South African ‘relax, you’ll get over it, son’ or something equally useless. And another scrip for antibiotics. You may get the impression I have some bitterness towards the medical profession. I think that would be a fair assessment.
So I self medicated. What I’d found was that Eno Fruit Salts, the Alka-seltzer-esque powder that people tended to take for indigestion or hangover queasiness, cooled the fires in my belly, at least temporarily. A tablespoonful in a tall glass of cold well water, wait until the fierce bubbling had reached its peak and then down it, breathing deeply through my nose to get that crisp waft of salty CO2, and I had a few hours of sweet surcease.
Of course, this was also back in the day when nobody really knew that salt was bad for you, or worried that each dose of this stuff carried a couple of grams of sodium with it as well.
I inevitably developed a taste for the stuff. Everyone else I knew hated the taste, drank it only in the deepest hungover despair in hopes of relief. I loved it. I started drinking it just because I liked the taste, even once I started to grow out of the awkwardness of my mid-teens, get lean, lose some of the worst of the rococo facial carbuncles, gain confidence, and leave behind the constant stomach pain. And by my late teens, I’d started boozing, and a nice tall glass of delicious Eno in the morning cut the worst of the cobwebs. I’d seen the old-timey ads that called it a ‘liver-tonic’, too, so I figured why not.
But like any addict eventually does, I started amping things up. My version of the speedball was Eno added to Club Soda. That glass would positively erupt with bubbles, and drinking it down was thrilling. Sweet, salty monkey on my back.
In later years, when I started travelling, I stopped drinking it except as a rare treat, wisely I suppose, because all that sodium just can’t be good for you. But in the last 10 years or so here in Korea, I’ve missed it, mostly because like anyone else, I miss most the things that I can’t get. And there ain’t no Eno in Korea.
A year or so ago, though, it was finally possible to buy soda water — sparkling mineral water is what people call it these days, I guess — here in Korea. A domestic brand, the first, I think, and the big Home Plus store they built a few years ago not far from our house stocked it. I was thrilled, because I don’t drink Coke or any of the other sugar waters, but I do love me some bubbles. But something was missing.
Fast forward to a month or two ago, and my wife, along with a bunch of other vitamins and supplements, ordered a container of pure, pharmaceutical grade Ascorbic acid — Vitamin C — because she hates taking pills.
I don’t know what struck me, but entirely by random one Saturday afternoon while feeling a little under the weather from my customary Friday-night-at-home beer adventure, I poured a glass of soda water and mixed in about half a teaspoon of the ascorbic acid.
Holy crap. It was like tasting home again. Thirty years since I drank the stuff daily, and a couple of years since the last of the bottle I’d brought back from my last visit to Canada had run out. It tasted almost exactly as I remembered Eno used to, right down to that certain added fierceness to the effervescence.
And the best part? No sodium, at all, so my borderline blood pressure doesn’t cross into the Old Man Danger Zone.
I am a simple man, and it takes very little to make me giddy with glee. I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you about this one thing that did.