Just My Luck

Do you remember all those commercials they used to show on TV? Maybe you don't, you're a lot younger than me. Hell, you could be twenty years older for all I know, everyone looks younger than I do these days. I don't think I look bad for 50, but in a world where no one apparently ages past 30 little kids point at me and call me 'old man'. It does have a few advantages; people sometimes find me, well, interesting maybe, because I'm different.

Anyway, the commercials. You couldn't watch a half-hour sit-com without seeing at least one ad for some kind of medicine. Magic pills that would cure what ails you, and I'm talking legitimate pharmaceuticals. Half the time they'd tell you way more than you'd ever want to know about menstrual cramps, though I guess the ladies probably weren't too thrilled to hear all about jock itch, either. The other half of the time you had to guess exactly why you might want to ask your doctor if this pill was right for you. What if some broad insisted her doc prescribe it for her and it turned out to treat prostate problems?

The snake-oil ads were at least amusing. The ones that touted 'male enhancement' were cleverly worded so the kiddies didn't get that the nostrum was supposed to make your dick bigger. And that tea stuff that helped you lose weight and make your fingernails grow longer, how could it do both? Then there were those Oriental pads that sucked the toxins out through the soles of your feet – always figured that one played off the idea that the Japanese like to walk around barefoot in their houses so clean feet must be good, right?

I wouldn't have thought it at the time, but I kinda miss seeing those commercials. I mean, you could always feel relieved that you didn't have that problem, if only due to your age or sex. In a strange way they reassured you, made you feel like there was a cure for every problem. My Aunt Ethyl loved 'em. She'd bitch about how the drugs this one plugged hadn't worked, but was always on the lookout for a new one that promised yet another miracle cure.

What's that? Yeah, thanks, I'd love another drink. Looks like I'm a few behind. No, it's not "Long Island", just tea. I prefer it unleaded, but you can't hardly get that anymore. Sorry, old joke, I meant decaffeinated.

Then at the end of the commercials the announcer would always rattle off a list of possible side-effects so fast you couldn't understand what he'd said. It's not bad enough you've got arthritis, now you gotta deal with diarrhea too? What a trade-off! I guess having the shits but being able to walk to the can is better than being stuck in a chair most of the time. But I think you'd have to be in some real pain to be willing to take something that's been known to cause fatal complications. They'd tell you that right in the ad! Always wondered why they were even allowed to sell that stuff. We're talking dead people here, not cute little white mice.

I guess those ads worked, I knew people who said they took the stuff they saw advertised. They said it worked for them, yeah, it was great, I should try it. One little pill a day changed their lives; they were not only healthy, but happy to boot. Side-effects? Nah, no nausea or swollen tongue, no problems. You look a little red in the face, they'd tell me. You might want to take the latest advancement in blood pressure tablets. If you're really worried about stroking out, try the kind that lowers cholesterol too. It'll give you peace of mind.

Say, I don't mean to be rude but before you light up that cigarette do you mind if we go sit on the patio? Not that the air outside's especially clear today, but it's getting pretty hazy in here. Thanks, I really appreciate that. I quit a long time ago.

So yeah, peace of mind – but at what cost? The newest meds, which of course were supposed to be light-years ahead of the older ones, cost you a good hunnerd bucks a month. No, that was a lot back then. I'm no financial genius, but I'm thinking that'd be about 500 in today's dollars. One 'scrip wasn't so bad, but the docs were never satisfied with just one. They didn't like giving you the ol' tried-but-true drugs, either. I think it's because they didn't get a kickback on 'em, myself.

You were supposed to have medical insurance, but that was a rip. By the time you paid the monthly premiums you didn't have any money left to pay the docs, much less buy the pills. It got so bad they made it illegal not to have insurance. So young people – I was young back then – paid a small fortune out of their meager entrance-level salaries so the old farts could get relief from their gout. Which they wouldn't have got in the first place if they hadn't eaten so damn many greasy cheeseburgers.

Speaking of what? Oh, cheeseburgers. It is dinner time, isn't it? Lemme just take a look at the menu, haven't been here before. How about the baked tilapia, mixed veggies on the side, and a house salad, no dressing. Tell 'em to go light on the salt. What're you having? Fried chicken, fried okra, mashed potatoes with gravy, and biscuits with sausage gravy; I'm not that hungry tonight.

Now, I don't want you to think I was in bad shape back then! I was young, in good health, no real problems. Broke my arm in high school, during the homecoming game no less. Warmed the bench the rest of the season. It was a freak accident; football was a sissy's game then, with pads and rules so you didn't get hurt very often. I gotta say, today's games are a lot more exciting.

I had my share of colds, and caught the swine flu the year it went around. No, it wasn't always fatal, that's just a myth. Trust me, I was sick as a dog and wished I'd die before it was over. At the time it seemed preferable to living with the symptoms long enough to get well, but I did. The pills didn't even help with the flu, you just had to tough it out.

The thing is, for all their big talk there wasn't anything the docs could do about colds and flu. They could give you things to help with the runny nose and cough, but only time would cure it. Those syrups and remedies didn't seem to help me one bit. My body chemistry seems to be weird, it doesn't play well with meds.

To be fair, I think some of 'em might've worked, if I could've taken 'em long enough. But when you're already sick and the damned drugs keep you wide awake for 24 hours, it ain't fun. And how are you supposed to eat chicken soup, when your gut's tied up in knots with nausea? If the warning label said it might cause dizziness, an hour later the room would be spinning so bad all I could do was lie in the middle of the floor and hope I didn't puke. Hell, might as well have just gotten drunk, it would've been more fun. You don't want to know about the skin rashes, that was miserable.

No thanks, I think I'll skip dessert tonight. Don't have much of a sweet tooth anymore. Oh, you're getting the Quintuple Ultra Chocolate Decadent Delight, with extra fudge sauce? If it's OK with you, I might just take a tiny nibble. I'll use my own fork.

Hey, I couldn't even take an aspirin for a headache without it tearing up my stomach. Those were just the side-effects! Not everything had 'em, but it seemed like those that didn't, didn't work for me. The docs would increase the dosage, but it didn't help. Sometimes they'd try a drug that should've had the opposite effect, but that didn't work either. They even reluctantly stooped to trying the older meds, which were at least cheaper since you could buy generic. No joy there either. They'd shake their heads and tell me they couldn't help me, but damn sure they'd charge me for the office visit.

Like I said, I was young, thought I was bulletproof. Thought I'd never have to deal with diabetes or ED, and I couldn't imagine reaching the ripe old age of 50 and turning gray. Trouble was, I wasn't taking as good care of myself as I should've. I'd gained a few pounds and had gotten out of the habit of exercising. Had a desk job, I was too busy trying to support my family to worry about health. What the heck; the little woman married me for my great personality, not my good looks. No, I'm afraid she left me many years ago. It seemed that looks mattered after all.

Yes, of course I was excited when the aliens showed up! Who wasn't? Man, they were great, weren't they? They looked like something right out of Star Trek, only more so. The weird heads and all those arms, you'd have thought they were CG'd by some geek on crack. And their names, full of clicks and whistles; I can't say 'em right even now. What a surprise it was to learn they spoke perfect English, though they still have a little lisp after all this time. Guess it's that funky tongue they've got.

Oh right, I forgot. They spoke Russian, French, Chinese, Italian – Hell, wherever they landed they knew the lingo. That surprised me, guess they learned from our radio and TV broadcasts. I figured they musta missed the late-late showing of The Day the Earth Stood Still or they would of landed on the White House lawn. Then I decided maybe they didn't know the difference between it and the Mayo Clinic, they're both big white buildings.

Yes Ma'am, please join us! Can I get you something to drink? Me? I know it doesn't look like it, but I work at a gym. I suppose I do look a little tired, I'd just finished a 5K run when I decided to stop in here tonight. Why, thank you very much, I'm glad you like unusual men, I'm flattered. Oops! Allow me. Here you go, it was your key-card you accidentally dropped. I see you're staying at the Sheraton, are you in town on business? Well, thanks all the same but I'd rather not. OK, bye then.

No, I didn't think she was especially pretty. Well then, you should've picked up her key. No, you're right, it probably wouldn't have worked, it was me she was flirting with. Let's just say I'm an old-fashioned guy, I happen to believe one-night stands are risky behavior.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the aliens. Remember how surprised we were they'd deliberately landed at medical facilities around the world? And how no one really believed them at first. Then the news started reporting the cures: cancer, AIDS, heart problems, MS, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis. People on their deathbeds got up and walked out of the hospitals. It wasn't just the killer diseases, either. They fixed Alzheimer's, hernias, broken bones, addictions of all kinds, and acid reflux. One of the most popular here was obesity – course it took awhile for some of the real fatties to drop the weight, it didn't happen overnight. Then we realized that aging was a thing of the past when the old folks started reversing the process. They even cured the common cold! Though of course we're still mortal in the end, they couldn't change that even for themselves.

Within six months every doctor's office and pharmacy was shut down. Pharmaceutical labs went out of business when no one bought their pills. They stockpiled what was left, just in case, but they're all out-of-date and worthless now. Anyway, remember how we all thought that would be a problem, how would society absorb all those out-of-work people, what would they do? But with everyone healthy and full of energy businesses of all kinds boomed. Farms, restaurants, sports arenas, breweries, tourist traps, art museums, theaters and all kinds of schools were more in demand than ever. You'd have thought gyms wouldn't be popular, but it turns out there's a difference between being in good shape and looking like Mr. Universe and besides, you have to use up all that energy somehow.

Do I think mankind's wasted the gift? Absolutely not! People can eat the most delicious food without worrying about cholesterol or even heartburn. They don't have to feel cheated because hereditary defects kept them from leading a full life. They no longer have to miss out on fun activities for fear of getting sick. Hell, within reason they don't even have to be careful anymore. They're free to pursue a much more positive life, without worrying about their aches and pains.

I got to talk to 'em, you know. The aliens, I mean. Once they showed us what they could do with the first million cases it was pretty much automated and us humans were running the show. You remember, you went through the process. You went in and were tested, got knocked out and all your problems fixed, all without ever laying eyes on an alien. But when it was my turn the nurses helped me out of that test apparatus and took me straight to the ETs.

That's what I've been trying to tell you. Whatever it was about my body that kept the pills from working, the space invaders' magic wouldn't work for me either. When they showed up I thought I had it made in the shade, I'd never again have to suffer the side-effects of another pill, or have to tough it out because the damn things didn't work for me. I'd never have to worry about getting something serious that couldn't be cured. Except in my case it didn't work out that way.

Ah-choo! Excuse me, I think I'm catching a cold, think I'd better go home and rest. What I'd give for just one of those pills…