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20161015_183448The young runner’s eyes were clearly beginning to roll into the back of his head as he made his way toward the finish line, the last 100 yards ricocheting from one side of the chute to the other like a slow rolling bowling ball on a bumpered lane making its way to the pins. Once he crossed the line, he collapsed into the arms of one of the parents and was led to a clearing where he vomited. He wasn’t the only one. Two or three more kids crossed the finish line and more or less collapsed. One young girl was crying as she was carried away by two people and laid out on a picnic table.

This was my first visit to one of my oldest son’s cross country meets, and all I could think while I watched this pay-to-play sport was, I gave the school money to perpetuate such childhood suffering? I feel sort of dirty.

My son does pretty well in it, but far too many others looked as though they were doing something they’d rather not. And I know this is true because before the race, there was one team that gathered together in a huddle and pretty much shouted it. With their coach leading the charge, they shouted, “The faster you run, the sooner you’re done!” For me, that sort of translates into: “I know you guys don’t want to be here, so if you want to get this over with so that you can go home, just run as fast as you can. I’ll be waiting at the finish line with some Gatorade and a puke bucket.”

Really motivating, huh?

But I suppose we subject ourselves to plenty of things that we don’t necessarily enjoy. Some of us will even pay to play with other such dreadfulnesses. This time around, the purchased pain is epitomized by the Old Weller Antique Original 107.

“This stuff is pretty popular,” the salesman said. This side of the experience, my thoughts: You’re kidding, right?

I twisted the cap and went in for a quick sniff. Vegetal. And tomato paste. And mild salsa. I thought I was about to drink a Mexican salad. And then I took a sip. Forget the veggies. Cherry flavored Robitussin. Absolutely. No doubt about it. I have four kids. I feed enough of that crap into them during cold and flu season to know. Cherry flavored Robitussin all the way.

Eyes rolling into the back of my head while ricocheting between despair and regret, I made my way through to the medium finish line lapping my tongue against the roof of my mouth like a dog fighting a glob of peanut butter, except there was nothing nutty about this ruby-red elixir. It had become a viscous goo of syrupy flavoring—about as artificial as it gets—and it was leaving me to wonder if the cough medicine I’d noticed on the palate had somehow gelled and attached itself to the lining of my mouth.

But there is a light at the end of this cross country chute, and while there is most likely a puddle of puke glistening in that light, there’s also the reality that 750mL of this potion is 10 times cheaper than 750mL of Robitussin, which equals eight of the 100mL bottles you can buy at Walmart or the local drug store. Figuring they’re pretty much made from the same chemistry formulations, why the mark-up on the whiskey you’re essentially feeding to sick kids, Pfizer?

I’m on to you. You know parents will pay to play.