One Thing Logo FINAL

By Mark McNease

It’s always One Thing or Another … a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.

It’s early morning (or late night, take your pick, Big Pharma never sleeps). You’re distracted by a text message from your third best friend on her vacation in Florida. You’re thinking through an especially clever but short reply suitable for tweeting, when suddenly you hear music that demands you get up and dance! You’re still in bed. The morning news plays in the background, something about a salmonella outbreak in Des Moines, when they cut to commercial and that irresistible music begins. Your feet start twitching, first barely, then with a pronounced rhythm in sync with the song you’re hearing. You look up at the TV. You realize it’s not a song after all, but a jingle, those can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head hooks designed for the sole purpose of getting you to buy something just to make it stop.

Do they still call them jingles? You don’t know, but you know this one is for the treatment of end stage plaque psoriasis, and damned if it isn’t the catchiest tune since that COPD commercial. And look at those cool retro graphics that make you think of Charlie’s Angels or Pam Greer in her Foxy Brown days. Diamond in the back! Purple pill! Digging the scene with the senior lean, uh-huh. There’s just something about old people dancing that gives cute toddlers in camouflage diapers a run for their advertising money.

I saw one the other day in which a man with a potentially life threatening illness took a pill, broke into song and ran for the nearest lawn mower. Back and forth, back and forth, kicking his heels and shaking his middle-aged booty while he cut the grass. All that activity distracts us from a list of side effects so severe they can’t be listed in polite company, which is probably the point. Don’t pay attention to all that “sometimes fatal” nonsense, just keep dancing!

There was a time when drug companies left the appropriateness of their products for patients to those patients’ physicians. You and me. Alone in just our underwear while a doctor we’ve known and trusted since he birthed us suggests we take a medication with a name thought up in committee. Viagra! Sounds like Niagara, and vital, too! Or maybe two Excitocals by mouth every six hours, with a Serenatine chaser for a good night’s sleep.

Now the drug companies offer us a pharmacopeia complete with smiling receptionists, spectacular sound effects and visual stimulation as good as any movie trailer you’ll see this year. If you have an ailment, they have a pill, and in such youthful colors. Each and every one of those pills makes you want to dance and sing, or hold a baby and coo “Tomorrow” from Annie. So you’ve only got a few tomorrows left, so what? They’ve got a product to sell, shareholders to please, and nothing says quarterly dividend like an old man and a baby in the same ad. Eureka!

I’m a lifelong skeptic. Maybe because my mother obediently took every pill ever offered her by a physician, which was far too many for far too long. Or maybe because I worry that once I start down that pill path I’ll end up with a dozen bottles on the shelf, filling my little pill boxes with the big letters on them for each day of the week. Or maybe because I, too, had a fondness for pills in my wilder youth, especially speed and any nearby sedatives. But now, as I see 60 poking its head around the corner and grinning at me, the last thing I want in my mouth is a pill. Maybe some ice cream, maybe some lobster mac ‘n cheese, definitely bacon, but no pill of any size or potency. I really want to make it further on this journey without hooking my health wagon to a prescription or three (full disclosure: I use eye drops for glaucoma and always will, but the buzz is negligible).

I still can’t get that drug ad out of my head, but I won’t dance to it. I’m not interested in the illusions of well-being it offers me with bright lights and a disco beat. And if I ever waiver, thinking maybe this one will make me feel better, maybe this one will get me running for the hedge trimmer, I just listen to all those side effects and assume I’ll be that one in 10,000 whose heart stops in the drug store parking lot or who doesn’t make it home before the fatal flatulence hits me. No thanks. I’ll march to my own drum on this one.

colormeMark McNease is the Editor of lgbtSr, a website “where age is embraced and life is celebrated.” He’s the author of the Kyle Callahan Mysteries, co-editor and publisher of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist), and the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors