A new kind of addiction has become appallingly evident of late in Canada. Whether it has similarly afflicted Americans, I don’t know. But from what traveling I’ve done in the U.S. I would say not.

In Canada, you see the victims of it in business meetings, on park benches, in transit buses, shopping malls, among people walking along the street, even in church – everywhere.

It’s an addiction to water – bottled water. I think of these unfortunate people as aquaholics. Some of my best friends have become aquaholics. It’s shocking, really, to see the effects of aquaholism.

For instance, take this lady I know who sings in our church. She keeps a bottle in her handbag not far from where she stands. As soon as there’s the slightest break in the singing, she jumps back, grabs the bottle, takes a swig, then rushes back ready for the next number.

It’s all very swift, even furtive, as though the bottle ought to be carried in a brown paper bag.

Other aquaholics are more open about it, even belligerent. One of them was talking the other day, bottle in hand, about the American government:

“You know what I think? … (swig) … I think this guy Bush isn’t conservative at all. … (swig) … I think he’s just another damned liberal opportunist. … (swig)… He’s taken all of us in. …(swig)…” It’s an obvious addiction.

Then again, I attended a meeting the other night. There were about eight people there. Three of them – get that, THREE of them – had water bottles. They reminded me of a Holstein herd on a hot day beside the trough. Slurp … slurp. It was very distracting.

Every convenience store now carries half a dozen different brands of water. How can they tell the difference? Is it like wine? Do they sip the water from this place and compare it with the water from that place? Are there good years and bad years? Is there a “Pepsi test” for water? I’m ready to believe anything.

And how do they prevent fraud? What prevents me, say, from buying a truck and a small bottling plant and shipping Edmonton tap water 200 miles south to Calgary as “Essence of the Great Parklands,” then bringing Calgary tap water back to Edmonton – “Nectar of the Canadian Rockies.”

One thing I know. I’m not going to drink any water imported from China, no matter what it’s the essence of.

Who would have thought 25 years ago the day would soon come when about one in every 10 people would be drinking water out of plastic bottles as they walked along the street, and paying up to two bucks a shot for it?

But I can imagine the guy who first thought of it, looking for investors: “I’ve got this great idea, you see, Charlie. I think there’s a product we could persuade hundreds of thousands, even millions of goon heads all over the country to pay a buck or more a bottle for.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“Water! Yes, I said water. You could actually sell bottled water, like a soft drink, and millions of idiots would buy it.”

“And how you gonna do that?”

“Simple. Tell ’em it prevents cancer. Tell ’em it protects against AIDS. Tell ’em it will improve their sex life. Tell ’em if they aren’t drinking five or six bottles of water a day, they’re taking their life in their hands. Tell ’em that every bottle of water they drink adds another day to their life. Tell ’em anything. They’ll believe it. Don’t you know? We’re the most scientifically knowledgeable generation in human history.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means we’ll believe anything.”

“Who’s going to tell ’em all this?”

“Doctors, of course. Medical experts. Informed opinion. You hire doctors to do studies. You tell ’em what the studies are supposed to discover, and they discover it. It’s technical information like this that makes us so knowledgeable.”

We Byfields have a family doctor – by which I mean a doctor in the family. My brother John is a radiologist in Bakersfield, Calif. He’s much more liberal than I, but he does not buy into this water hysteria. I asked him what’s all this about drinking a lot of water for health reasons. He told me that a lot of water is a lot of nonsense. “We doctors know,” he said, “that your body gives a certain signal when it needs water, and that’s the only time you need to drink it.”

“What is this signal?” I asked.

“The medical name for it is thirst,” he said. “That’s the way the body works.”

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