Tic Tac Crack

The clock, it taunts me, “tic tac tic tac tic tac…”

Orange tic tacs recently entered my life, with profound consequence: a breath mint habit akin to crack addiction. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But I pass on this tale of tasty woe with the hope that others may recognize in themselves the potential monster before it’s too late. This, friends, is the story of orange tic tacs and the breath mint beast which they unleashed.

For the record, I do not have bad breath.

I stood, innocently enough, on line at the grocery store, waiting to pay for my food and be on my way. The old hunched-over hag ahead of me was drawing out her transaction with an interminable submersion into her change purse. “A dime… that’s 12… what was it-$22.88? Here’s a nickel… 17…Oh, heeeere’s that coupon for the Kleenex! Scan that for me, dear.”

In anticipation of a reduced total, her wrinkly-knuckled little fingers dropped a flurry of coins back into the purse. Besieged by horrid, violent, unspeakable thoughts, I sought distraction.

Little did I know that two of my better traits–impulsiveness and an addictive personality–were about to merge over a tiny clear plastic container into an unholy union of dependency.

A case of orange tic tac breath mints.

Understand, I’m generally uninterested in all things gum, mint, or sucking candy. I tried, as a younger man, to find a gum with lasting flavor. There isn’t one. Ads proclaiming otherwise are malicious lies. A piece of gum may be briefly delicious, but the unending wan and tasteless wad with which you are quickly left ruins the experience.

I was inexplicably drawn to those tic tacs. They beckoned to me, bright baby orange beacons piercing through the maddening brain sizzle induced by that demon of a frozen- and paper-goods consumer. You might say she was the serpent tempting me toward the forbidden tic tacs of Knowledge. Well, maybe not forbidden. And not exactly knowledge. Okay, poor metaphor. Nevertheless, partaking of their minty goodness would bring me delight, but a delight whose price was no less than the forlorn and forsaken depths of damnation.

When my turn at the register arrived, an unassuming case of orange tic tacs stood stoically between a bag of vine-ripe tomatoes and three stacked cans of albacore tuna. The bloops of items scanning started up rhythmically. Until the wedge of pepperjack cheese. The bloops accelerated as the cashier swiped it back and forth over the scanner, yet brought up nothing on the register. A wrinkled bar code. I was aching to get out of the store. The perpetual obstacles. The squat, dirty yellow “Warning: Wet Floor” sign slouched against the wall. The sickly tint and subtle eternal buzz of the fluorescent lights above. At last the cashier manually entered the cheese’s code and proceeded to ring me up.

The cashier bagged my items as she scanned them. But something unexpected transpired after she rang up my orange tic tacs: rather than drop them into a bag, she broke her repetitive motions to hand me the tic tac box. She pressed it into my hand as if to say, “Here, you’ll want these. Take them.” I looked for confirmation in her face, but was met only with that special vacant stare of the lost souls working eight-hour shifts of mind-numbingly dull, minimum wage work.

The automatic door slid open before me, ushering me onto the sidewalk, where I noted the frantically gathering storm clouds. And my umbrellalessness.

I felt the tic tac box in my hand, and the stale remnants of refrigerated supermarket air in my throat.

Maneuvering the plastic bag handles over my wrists, I popped open the case and shook an orange breath mint out. It looked refreshing, but so diminutive nestled in the line across my palm. I shook out two more tic tacs and tossed all three orange mints into my mouth. Pellet met palate. Simultaneously soothing and invigorating.

With zigzag flashes and a mighty crackboom of thunder, the rain began to plummet to the earth.

It was a few days before three tic tac mints at once weren’t enough. I was soon popping five, six, even seven at a time. After a while, you just stop counting. Let the tic tacs fall as they may. I was eating them like candy, constantly grappling with whether that was disgusting, as they are not candy, per se, but breath mints. Then I’d remind myself that they are, technically, a confection. Why split hairs?

As my addiction progressed, enjoying the breath mints in the comfort of my home no longer sufficed. When out, my mouth would dry out and I’d get antsy for a tic tac. Or, as I later came to identify it–a tic fix–for the shaky-handed tac attack.

I started carrying around a case or two of orange tic tacs. If you’ve ever walked with a pack of tic tacs, you’re familiar with the trouble I encountered: the constant, infamous, maddening kerchunk kerchunk kerchunk.

The sound, both obnoxious and embarrassing, quickly became more problematic as it contorted itself into aural hallucinations. It marched through my ears, reformulating itself into a call. A veritable eat-me plea emanating from the dark and linty recesses of my pocket. “Kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk, come on, come on, come on, consume, consume, consume…”

With what seemed at the time no less than divine inspiration, the solution came to me one morning. I’d just taken the latest dose to inject itself into my daily routine, the mouthful after I get up. The tic-me-up I need to face the world.

Carry them in a small plastic baggie. Dime bags were perfect. I could carry my tic tacs around without a sound.

I drew some odd looks from passers-by, taking out my little bag of orange pills–er, rocks–I mean, mints. I could feel them judging me. Like they were so much better. Try as I did to return their scorn with determined eyes, pangs of shame shot through me. I took to huddling in a corner, slipping onto a desolate sidestreet, ducking into a shadowy alleyway to sneak my tic tac doses.

What was once a gentle tap to encourage a few tic tacs through the tiny hole mutated into something ugly. It became a shake, growing ever more vigorous and anxious. Sometimes, presumably from moisture, the last of a box’s contents stick to the sides. Impaled with impatience, rubbing my face roughly with both hands, I would turn the case over and smack its bottom repeatedly with my middle and forefinger, like a junkie looking for a vein, until the elusive tic tacs tumbled out.

Not long ago, I was attending a formal event and was resisting my urge for the breath mints. Given the atmosphere, a mouthful of orange tic tacs seemed juvenile and inappropriate. Gradually, my voice began to quaver and my palms became clammy. An unending procession of people floated around, bowtied flesh balloons, their voices drifting further away, even as some stepped toward me to shake my sweaty hand. My breath grew short. I headed to the bathroom, fidgeting clumsily to loosen my tie.

I burst into the restroom. Fuzzy and frenzied. An elderly gentleman was assiduously rubbing his hands in a pearly sink. “Out! Get out of here!” Flinging a stall door open, I fell to the floor. It was the first time I bypassed my hand, throwing back my head and shaking the tic tacs directly into my gaping maw. A sigh escaped my lips and I slumped back against the toilet.

Desperately hushing the internal voice, “Look. Look at yourself.”

If your expectations are those of the average reader, you’re looking now for the traditional happy ending. While some of the preceding situational details may have been exaggerated, I won’t lie to you; I am not writing from the surer perch of recovery and abstinence.

No, the orange tic tac habit is still a part of my life. I have, however, learned to be a functioning tic tacoholic. I can claim only a partial, but nevertheless adequate rebound after hitting rock bottom. Though there’s no denying the occasional slip-up, I’ve managed to muster up bouts of self-control the likes of which I’ve never exercised before.

There are times, tipping the case over, tapping it softly, and watching a few tic tacs fall out, that I envision myself pouring the breath mint contents directly into my mouth. With a pithy shake of the head, I reassure myself that I’m stronger than those twinges of tic tac temptation threatening to yank me over the threshold, back into the brutally mintish abyss.

With only a pack-a-day breath mint habit, the tic tac grip that once threatened to choke me has loosened sufficiently. The typical outlook would be that not having gone straight, entirely tic tac-free, I linger in the addiction. But is it not a sign of greater strength to be able to enjoy my minty mistress responsibly than to abandon her completely?

Orange tic tacs and I have reached an understanding: I can consume you if you don’t consume me. It’s my own private happy ending.

But sometimes, late at night, as the dark pins me to the bed with slumber, the clock on the wall whispers devilishly, slithering into my dreams, “tic tac tic tac tic tac…”

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