Each Thursday that the crew of Ladder Truck 2-B is on duty, we train with the Hazardous Materials Team down at chinese-rocket-fuel4Fire Station #12. This training lasts most of the day, and while there is always the threat of learning new and valuable techniques for dealing with spills, releases and the mayhem that makes up the world of HazMat, my capability to stay focused is pushed to its limits within moments of each class. I would wager that I have the attention span of a fly.

This week, our class topic was thus: Evidence Collection Techniques for Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents. I even yawned while typing that last sentence. I can’t fault our instructors; both were well versed on the topic, comedic at times and tried their level best to make a terminally boring subject somewhat interesting.  And I coped in the only way I know how: liberal application of caffeine at every opportunity.

This usually entails a pot or two of coffee before the day really gets going and some more later on, just for good measure.  Combining the coffee with a distinct lack of sleep, I was already dancing close to a fit when all the caffeine came on board, three minutes into class. Despite the mad jitters that allow my mind to wander all over the map and think of new ways to make a subject entertaining, it wasn’t long before the need hit…….I had to ramp this rush up even further if I was to make it to lunch.

Enter my new nemesis: Chinese Rocket Fuel energy drink, chock full of enough really bad ingredients to gag a hyped up hyena. From what research I’ve done (read: very little), this drink may well have been either banned or the company has gone out of business. This would explain why you can buy, like, six for a dollar. And, firemen being the cheapsters they are, have figured out a way to hawk this junk out of their stations for a profit. They just lie in wait till some jonesing fool like me needs a fix to make it through training days.

The results were predictably awful.

One of the side effects of 278% of your RDA of Vitamin B6 is NOT an ability to focus, despite my attempts to shoot Clint Eastwood-style squints at the projected data stream. As we age, I am realizing the ability to multi-task is truly the realm of teenagers and vigilant lesser mammals who are constantly under the threat of predation. This is precisely why I can’t text for speed…..I actually spell out all of the words out of respect for the institution of spelling (see previous essay on said subject). But I digress.

I began to detect unique new powers as the effects of the Chinese Rocket Fuel began to take hold of my physical being. For one thing I could distinctly feel one eye wandering in a different direction, thereby allowing me to observe my comatose classmates while simultaneously keeping an eye on a slide show about handling rogue FBI CSI-types. This proved distracting, to say the least. My eyeballs actually began to hurt. I would need to approach this new talent with caution. As the lecture droned on, I also noticed that I had a new ability to tap my foot several thousand times without interruption. A twitch began to erupt from one side of my face and it took a moment of deep breathing to convince myself that, no, I wasn’t having a stroke; this is merely one of many “benefits” of loading up on this new elixir. I began shouting out answers to quiet questions and then affirming my correct response with a “HELL YES, I’M RIGHT!!” The instructors decided to break early for lunch, no doubt to begin planning an assault on my new-found HazMat brilliance. Paranoia may also be a side effect.

There is a very good reason (beyond legal boundaries) why I stay away from addictive mind-altering substances and this reason was highlighted with clarity as my eyebrows began to shoot off in different directions with each jarring turn my mind made. Some folks cannot handle the ride. I’m fine with that particular part; it’s the crash that tears me into a million pieces. That, and physically I can’t handle the train wreck I become as I get older. Only a select few, like Keith Richards, can actually survive killing themselves. What Chinese Rocket Fuel doesn’t tell you on the can is that while it may launch you into outer space for a short time, it most certainly does NOT come with a parachute for re-entry. And I dropped from orbit like a stone. Hours later I pulled myself out of the station by my fingers with no recollection of any events that may or may not have occurred during the previous span of time.

Moral of the story? It truly sucks getting older. That, and stay away from banned, retina-rattling energy drinks unless you happen to be Keith Richards.