Life-giving water rains from the skies, cleansing our polluted air as it falls. It percolates through the soil and makes its way to the reservoir, bringing sustenance to the fish and fowl who breed and splash and die in it.
And I’m supposed to drink this stuff? I don’t think so.
I’ve never been much of a water drinker. As a kid growing up in Miami, my parents weren’t forward-thinking enough to allow us store-bought soft drinks. It was either an old mayonnaise jar of water with your name taped to it in the refrigerator, or refreshment straight from the yard hose. To this day, I fondly remember the taste of rubber hosing, and eagerly await its discovery by modern flavor-makers in the candy and fragrance industries.
As soon as I was old enough, I migrated to the popular cola drinks. Even as I took up running and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, I retained a fondness for the juvenile joy of gulping down a high-fructose carbonated drink, eagerly waiting for those bubbles to repeat the flavor of cola back from my gullet, popping over my tastebuds and into my sinuses. Running a marathon in my 30s, I turned down the offerings at the water stations and saved up a ravishing thirst that I enjoyably nursed for days with Pepsi after delicious Crystal Pepsi.
When I took several business trips to India a few years ago, I made it a point to drink a fair amount bottled water, primarily to combat the dehydration of jet lag and ward off that certain looseness one tends to encounter about the third day on the Subcontinent. I tried the Coke product offered at my hotel in Tamil Nadu but, like almost everything else in that southern region, it seemed to be sweetened with coconut. The local beer was only average, losing much of its zing after you finished boiling it. The orange juice turned out to be watermelon juice, and the coffee turned out to be tea. Bottled water was about the only choice I had.
A few years later, some of the coworkers I had trained in Chennai made a visit to the U.S. to continue their work at learning how to take my job. My wife and I met them at the airport, then drove them to their hotel and helped them settle in. They wanted us to call the front desk to ask where their bottled water was, and were surprised to discover that the tap was considered as safe a source as any. This didn’t make sense to their foreign ways.
“Why would you go to the trouble of making the water you use in your garden and your laundry clean enough to drink?” Sudhir asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier to sterilize just the small amounts required for drinking?”
Silly Indians. They didn’t realize that in America, we don’t do things that way. We have cars and trucks and giant SUVs to wash, and are willing to spend millions of tax dollars on filtration plants just in case a few drops accidentally bounce off the windshield and into our maws. I still remember the monumental inconvenience of having to keep my mouth closed while showering at the Taj Connemara hotel, for fear that I’d get dysentery along with my refreshing bath.
Now, I’m older and wiser, and find myself putting on weight that I can’t explain. How could I spend twenty minutes a day on a treadmill, live mostly on turkey sandwiches and bran breakfast bars and yet still find myself ballooning over 200 pounds? It couldn’t be the 300-calories-per-serving soft drinks, could it?
So my New Year’s resolution this January was to cut back on the sodas. I got off to a good start, but began feeling pretty thirsty by about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and realized you couldn’t just stop drinking pop. You had to replace it with something.
For a while, I considered trying to absorb moisture directly from the ambient air. It seemed to work well enough for plants, as a fern assured me it would. The problem was the hour or so a day I was spending in the musty YMCA; plenty of humidity was being generated in the cramped wellness center, though I didn’t exactly relish getting it inside me.
Finally, I realized I’d have to start drinking water. I began forcing fluids every opportunity I could, my enjoyable libation of the past now being replaced by an obligatory dosing that seemed more like medicine than refreshment. I put a bottle in my car, and tried to make it a habit to grab a swig every time I stopped at a red light. (I had to quit that practice when I found myself running the yellows just to avoid the bland liquid). I started to understand why so many dogs turn up their noses at the bowls of fresh water filled with such dedication by their masters, and instead head for the toilet to get a drink. At least the commode gives it some semblance of taste.
I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. I still treat myself to maybe 15 or 20 ounces of Pepsi a day, but even that I dilute with seltzer. I’m drinking more coffee and more juice, and I’m realizing at last there are more productive uses for water than as a frame for the eighteenth green at Hilton Head or as the source of the glistening sheen on the slender limbs of a wet T-shirt contestant. It can provide my aging cells with the lubrication and health they need to keep me going into my golden years.
I’m still going to miss those complex carbohydrates, that intricate structure of the cola molecule that so succulently combines up to half the elements in the periodic table. (My personal favorite: polonium). Water is so plain and dull. There are only three homely atoms in H20, and two of these are hydrogen. What am I, the Hindenburg zeppelin?
Don’t answer that.