Read an Excerpt
The Evening News Is Bad for Your Health
Last year, I stopped watching the evening news when it dawned on me that it was virtually a medicine cabinet sponsored by pharmaceuticals with their eyes on the aging viewers. Woven around Brian, Diane, and Scott were identical commercials promoting cures for a conglomerate of human ills, ranging from erectile dysfunction to overactive bladders. Night after night, a self-propelled gurney follows a healthy-looking individual who is unaware that, as shown in a graphic insert, his veins are stockpiling corpuscles that spell doom. And then there’s the guy in a ballpark, watching a game with his buddies, who has to dash for the lavatory, thereby missing the walk-off home run in the last of the ninth. The next newscast, he’s in a rowboat fishing with those buddies when the selfsame urge to go overwhelms him and they have to go to shore to accommodate him. If only he had taken the sponsor’s pill, we are told, his friendly-induced bladder would not have interrupted the fishing. His other option, of course, would have been to simply piss over the side.
I have no idea what defines “erectile dysfunction.” Totally inoperative? Half willing? Only operative under specific conditions? Popping off too soon? Takes forever? Only functions once a month? One thing is sure: There is fierce competition on the evening news for control of the American penis. Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra are the competitors, with Cialis outspending its rivals with a saturation of dramas that illustrate its slogan, intoned by a mellifluous male voice: You can be ready! This readiness is a daily Cialis or the thirty-six-hour jumbo that can put out an untold number of female sexual fires during that period. The only sobering caveat is that if any erection lasts longer than four hours, the erectionee should immediately seek help from his doctor (presumably the M.D. who prescribed it in the first place) or from the emergency room. Of course, in the waiting room vestiges of his erection will be on display, which may be embarrassing or prideful depending on the bearer’s personality.
To illustrate its You Can Be Ready alert (variously pronounced You Can Be Ready and You Can Be Ready), Cialis presents a series of unlikely events: a couple handling a load of wash, the basket of dirty clothes between them, their eyes lock, music soars, a waterfall inundates the laundry room, the walls collapse morphing into a super-lush garden, running stream, and the couple, instantly rid of their clothes basket, are mooning on the bank, the “event” presumably consummated outside our view. Another Cialis moment occurs in a kitchen where the man is bringing a bowl filled with red peppers to a woman who is standing at the sink. As he hands her the bowl of peppers, she gets a dreamy look, his eyes widen, and quicker than you can say “Call the plumber!” water overflows from the sink, cascading onto the floor, creating a flood that washes the couple out the door and into a rendezvous nook somewhere in the tropics, where they are seated at an elegant table overlooking the sea while they hold hands and enjoy their post-copulated state.
Another of these priceless Cialis moments puts a woman on a ladder, painting a living room wall, a man on the carpet below her. The woman comes down the ladder, hands him her paintbrush, the man takes one look at her, discards the paintbrush, and they start politely dancing as the room overflows with a torrent of watery paint that gushes them into a lush, tropical garden where they cozy up on a fern-laden bank while that mellifluous voice sings Cialis’s praises. Each of these universal moments ends with the man and woman naked, occupying adjoining bathtubs on an ocean’s shore, looking out to sea, their backs to us. Makes one wonder why they are not in just one tub if Cialis really hit the mark.
Given the average age of the evening news’ core audience, I don’t think a basket of dirty clothes or a bucket of peppers or a woman exuding Eau de Turpentine resonates, but then again Cialis might ignite the imagination of a seventy-year-old to believe that he could stud some of the more desirable assisted-living ladies over a thirty-six-hour spree. Realistically, gentlemen of the “mature” group could possibly wind up in the emergency room or in the morgue suffering from the aftereffects of frivolous fornication.
Of course, if the Cialis guy in the kitchen with the peppers was a Viagra man, he would have had to sit around in the kitchen, with his woman panting, and wait an hour “before the event” for the Viagra to run up his sail. On the other hand, how many men encounter sexual combustion over a bucket of peppers? Also, how many men wind up in the emergency ward? The same couple that lit such a sexual bonfire over their encounter in front of that Maytag conclude their idyllic escapade by looking straight at the camera and warning everyone of all the dire reactions they may have if they take the Cialis they have just taken, everything from falling arches to going deaf, dumb, and blind.
At the rate Cialis is spending for commercials across the television spectrum virtually every night, to justify such a hefty expenditure it would suggest that half the men in America have penises that are as dysfunctional as the stock market.
It is of note that both Cialis and Viagra urge their viewers to “see our ad in Golf Digest,” thereby identifying golfers as prime targets for the erectile dysfunction business. Makes one wonder if a steady diet of thirty-six-hour Cialis may have contributed to Tiger Woods’s undoing.
Furthermore, since all these penis enhancers require a doctor’s prescription, it looks like erectile dysfunction may be the only medical condition for which a doctor will write a prescription without an examination. Tell your doctor you’ve got a bad cough and you’d like a prescription for penicillin, you won’t get it unless he examines you. Same applies to your request for digitalis for your palpitations, or insulin because you suspect you have diabetes. But what examination does a doctor conduct to determine if a patient, requesting Cialis or Viagra, has erectile dysfunction?
I asked my doctor about that and he acknowledged that in writing prescriptions for erectile dysfunction he simply had to take his patient’s word for it—if he was physically qualified for such sexual activity. “But I do impose one restraint. When I first wrote these prescriptions, I was bombarded with phone calls from my patients’ outraged wives who blamed me for the preposterous increase in their husbands’ sexual desires. Now when I write these prescriptions, I make my patients promise not to tell their wives about the prescriptions I wrote for them.”
One more thing about Cialis: Since it provides continual hours of instant fornication, what has happened to foreplay? Seniors’ extended foreplay was an ingredient of their sex lives, but now? Without giving a thought to his unprepared partner, the Cialis male can hop right to it (You can be ready!), carefree except for the ominous warning that after four hours of Cialising he has to be deerectionized probably by the physician who wrote the prescription that got him into this pickle.
Many of the supplicant drug companies on the evening news broadcast similar caveats about the possible calamitous effects of their products. Chantix, for example, a prescription medicine designed to help smokers stop, warns users that if they are obsessing about committing suicide or making actual attempts to commit suicide, or fall into deep depressions, suffer from panic attacks, turn angry and violent, have hallucinations, paranoia or dangerous impulses, they should immediately get to their doctor. Of course, if they are about to commit suicide, or battling paranoia, they are not about to drop everything and give doc a call. I can’t picture this distraught person putting aside his gun or closing the fifteenth-story window he has been standing in front of, itching to jump, or capping the bottle of sleeping pills in his hand and waiting patiently for his doctor to call him back with some encouraging words.
Other prescription elixirs also warn of possible side effects, likely on advice of their lawyers: sudden hair loss, teetering teeth, bleeding bowels, loss of vision, suffocating neck pressure, severe diarrhea, bloody urine, unbearable cramps, acute chest pains, loss of hearing, to name a few.
Most of the fake doctors who write these fake prescriptions for fake patients come from casting agencies. It is an exception when a bona fide physician appears in one of the medical sketches. Probably because it’s not easy finding authentic M.D.s who are camera ready, able to memorize lines, and willing to sully their reputations by getting paid to playact their profession. Perhaps medical schools could include a course in acting, run by the Actors Studio, so that needy doctors could augment their incomes. That would entice agents to look for photogenic docs who could hit camera marks, act dignified, and speak in an authoritative manner. None of the doctors I know come readily to mind.
Getting back to that self-propelled gurney that is in ominous motion night after night on the trail of a variety of potential victims—a golfer, a night watchman, a businessman—each episode with a happy ending: The potential victim goes straight to his doctor as the gurney peals off at the doctor’s door. The distinguished doctor, replete with white jacket and a stethoscope coiled around his neck, receives the night watchman in his office. In very small letters at the bottom of the screen there appears: “Doctor and patient dramatization.” This actor-cum-doctor, unwinds the stethoscope from his neck and tepidly aims it at the watchman’s chest that is fully clothed; the doc nods knowingly and goes to his desk to write a prescription that will assuredly unblock the patient’s arteries. Over the years I have had countless encounters with doctors stethoscoping my chest and back, but not once without being required to bare my chest and submit to multiple pokes of the stethoscope. This bogus nightly news doctor now writes a prescription with the medication’s name, PLAVIX, in large block letters that he underlines. I have never received a prescription that was even remotely legible nor was the commercial name of the product. If this legibility keeps up, doctors’ universal reputation for undecipherable prescriptions is going to be given a good name.
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If you are as susceptible to autosuggestion as I am, then you, too, have been victimized by the knavery of the evening news’ repetitions. For example Flomax, which sponsored the guy who rushes to the pissoir in the last of the ninth, capped that drama with a nightly pissing menu: Difficulty starting the flow? Going too often? Embarrassing leaks? Starting and stopping? Weak stream? Difficulty emptying? I realized how brain-washed I had become when I was at a urinal one evening during a Philharmonic intermission, and I suddenly became aware of the intensity of the stream flowing into the urinal next to me, clearly several decibels louder than my stream. There flashed across my eyes: WEAK STREAM. Although we had unzipped our flows at the same time, my neighbor topped off way before I did. It would have never occurred to me that I had a weak stream had Flomax not posted it on its menu. But then, I brooded, what constitutes “weak”? Perhaps urinals could have built-in radars like those used to measure the velocity of baseballs. Along with the automatic flush, the urinal would display a number, 1–10, 1 being the weakest. That way you’d know where your stream stood—a solid 8, say, might make you feel pretty macho. Friend calls, says how’s it going? I’d say, oh, I hit 7 yesterday. How about you? I was a solid 9 this morning. Taking Flomax? Yeah.
It was at that point last year, I stopped watching the evening news.
Copyright © 2013 by A. E. Hotchner