I commute to work using public transportation. In the Washington, D.C. area, that means riding the Metro with hundreds of thousands of other people. Each business day, I spend about 40 to 50 minutes on the Metro one way, or nearly two hours total. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. The time adds up.
Spend enough time doing something and you accumulate experiences. You see things; you hear things; you learn how things go.
Recently while I was riding the Metro, I saw a guy inhaling from one of those compressed air cans that you get for blowing dust off your computer equipment. No one was sitting next to him, and I discovered why.
He released the gas from the canister into his lungs. Within a few seconds, he began to twitch and lean to one side. His eyes were closed and he seemed to lose consciousness for a few moments. He dropped the canister.
Before long, he would fumble around for the canister, reaching around on the floor under his seat. He’d find it and begin the process again. “Squeeeeeee” went the can as he put it to his lips.
Whatever he was getting out of this little ritual did not last long. It was a quick fix. It was a series of brief trips into a chemical-induced stupor. The chemistry that produces the canister of gas is an industrial process. There is no art or craft involved. It can be purchased relatively cheaply. It’s effects, while perhaps momentarily pleasurable, are dangerous with continued use.
I can’t say I understand what brought him to this place, where he was riding the Metro while gassing his lungs over and over again. There must have been desperation there. To turn not to alcohol or marijuana or some other natural substance for altering the brain, but to reach for a can of gas, he must have been seeking to flee some heavy stuff.
Moreover, he was not demonstrating any long-range thinking. He was all about the moment of that high from inhaling the gas. Whatever was to come after was not part of his planning.
Eventually, the can would be empty and the pleasurable effects will wear off. He’d be left with some type of hangover at best, or something worse like brain damage or damage to major organs. Cans of this stuff are pretty clear about the dangers: inhalation of contents may cause heart irregularities, unconsciousness, or death. In fact, deaths from the abuse of difluoroethane are unfortunately common.
All for a quick fix.
It was not beautiful to watch this guy huffing his can while I rode the Metro train. It was ugly and it was sad.