Of Big Macs, Beethoven and Fisherman’s Friends

Ten years is a long time.

Imagine something you love, or crave. Then imagine ten years without it.

Some cravings (indeed, most cravings, it might be argued) involve things like Big Macs or Coca Cola or candy that aren’t good for you and you don’t (or shouldn’t) miss once you jettison them from your wish list. Once you get them out of your system, they are like any bad relationship: you don’t miss them and wonder why it took you so long to move on. In the case of fast food and soft drinks, I went cold turkey on the former more than fifteen years ago and stopped drinking Coke back in college (still had a lingering fondness for Sprite until the mid-90s and only now will occasionally have the random ginger ale, particularly when I’m sick. Ginger ale, and old school Campbell’s Chicken with Stars, are the two things I still tend to require when I have a seriously sore throat). I don’t miss any of those old indulgences, and in fact, can’t believe I ever used to drink this junk (I say this without judgment, especially for my myriad Diet-Coke dependent friends, but just considering how much sugar is actually involved in creating this chemical swill remains revolting). I still have the ephemeral pangs (mostly sentimental, I’d imagine) for Big Macs; kind of the way an amputee will feel the phantom limb that is no longer there. In the case of the Big Mac it’s probably not all that complicated: they were good, then, and I associate the days I ate them with a much simpler time (for both myself and the planet).

I wouldn’t quite go so far as suggesting that Big Macs are for me what the madeleines were to Proust, but you get the picture. In any event, I don’t miss fast food burgers one bit. (I saw the light more than a decade before I encountered Eric Schlosser’s incredible and highly recommended Fast Food Nation but reading that book certainly obliterated any possibility that I may one day backslide.) Being human, however, I would never turn my nose up at some fast food french fries. I mention that just so you know I’m not insane.


However facile it may sound, I have always readily conceded my obessesion with books, movies and music. Especially music. Always music. That is readily apparent to anyone who knows me or has read my work at PopMatters, or just this blog. Aside from the financial implications of being hopelessly, unabashedly addicted to the appreciation and acquisition of art ones loves, it’s difficult to deny this is a very positive thing. It certainly has enriched me in far greater proportion than the filthy lucre I’ve coughed up in exchange for it.

Plus, I know Ludwig Van has my back:

As does infamous Beethoven lover Alex from A Clockwork Orange (as well as Anthony Burgess, not to mention Stanley Kubrick):


So, obviously, when it comes to compulsions there are two extremes (the ones that are inexorably bad for you, like fast food, and the ones that are almost entirely wholesome, like Art-with-a-capital-A). Where it gets a tad more interesting, or complicated, as usual, is when one considers that vast gray area. What about the things that are not necessarily good but not necessarily bad?

Exhibit A: Fisherman’s Friend. In case you are unfamiliar and need the history of these mysterious and alluring lozenges, they are not for the weak-willed, the unimaginative or the salubrious. In other words, not for normal people. But if, like Baudelaire, Rimbaud or Verlaine (just to name some of the famous Frenchmen), this world never quite sits right with you, there is eventually going to be a craving that you cannot contain. For these gentlemen it was Absinthe; for me it was Fisherman’s Friends.

At first it was only for those occasions when I was really sick; in the throes of bronchitis or some combination of extreme indulgence and reduced sleep resulting in a minor case of walking Bubonic Plague, common to the post-college/waiting tables finding oneself phase. When it hurt to breathe, or eat, or drink fluids, or to simply think, it was time to pop in a Fisherman’s Friend, that oddly licorice-like lozenge that (I fancied) did to my bacteria-laden esophagus what scrubbing bubbles did to the soap scum on my bathroom tile: it overwhelmed it. And so, at that time, they were only for special occasions.

You see where this is heading. Eventually, no doubt aided by the sheer regularity with which a young twenty-something with a young twenty-something’s habits tends to fall ill, a tolerance was built. And then the seeds of dependence were planted. Soon, it was a matter of course to step beyond the original flavor and experiment.

Who knew there were so many flavors?

I did. And I tried many of them. Some were interesting, like the Aniseed, some not so great, like the sugar free mint. But it always came back to the original, with its strangely soothing, menthol powers. Not unlike the occasional glass of wine or bummed cigarette becomes a bottle or pack a day, the lozenges ultimately wielded their odd influence. At first it was nice to “take the edge off” the morning coffee: post caffeine buzz and pre-tooth brushing, it was an elixir to ease one into the day. But eventually that little white box was following me to work and I was developing a pouch-a-day habit. I had no reason to suspect these posed any health risks but they were so…strong that I was never entirely certain what they contained–no matter what the ingredients listed on the back. That, and the aftertaste is sufficiently strong you have that heavy licorice-menthol taste on your tongue all day. Not a bad proposition if you are on the crew of the Pequod or the Edmund Fitzgerald or this guy.

If you are sitting in a cube all day, not so much. So I set out in search of a new addiction. Fortunately, as I eased myself off the FF about a decade ago, I came to discover the joys of Ricola. The original flavor is like a thinking man’s version of the original Fisherman’s Friend lozenge; a tad sweeter, a tad cleaner and doesn’t leave you wondering if your lungs are turning brown. But Ricola has really branched out in the last decade or so, dropping a ton of new varieties, all of which are recommended without reservation: Orange-Mint, Honey Lemon with Echinacea, Honey Herb and especially Lemon Verbena with White Tea. Healthier than Altoids, less intimidating than Fisherman’s Friends, and better than virtually anything people with oral fixations tend to stuff in their mouths, Ricola is where it’s at.

See you in ten years.



  1. i notice you fail to mention your most embarassing vice: the beef & bird entree at ruby tuesday’s.

  2. Sean Murphy says:

    Maybe that is because I STILL rock the beef & bird (just kidding). And don’t forget about “Elephant Ears”…

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