An Introduction to a Different Sort of Addiction
I measure my days in Diet Cokes.
Semi-truck drivers: they live their lives one mile at a time, one rest area at a time, one weigh station at a time. Football players: they measure their lives in inches, in yards. For restaurant employees, days are broken apart days into cigarette breaks: thirty minutes of work, ten minutes at the dumpster with a cig. Some of my friends live for the weekends, invest all of their money and happiness into their careers as Weekend Warriors. Some people live for evenings at the gym, for prime time television, for football season.
In my life, of course, Diet Coke holds the pieces together.
It's a magnet, constantly pulling me back over and over again, no matter what I'm doing. Office work, school work, teaching, vacation, driving, working out...Diet Coke is there, always.
I create rules. Never any Diet Coke before lunch. So I stick with cup after cup of splenda-rich coffee, the caffeine keeping me above water for those tough pre-noon hours; I chew Trident for hours on end, until the taste has long faded, just so I can occupy my mouth; I eat bagels, apples, drink full Nalgene bottles of water, anything. Anything to abide by that first, critical rule: Never any Diet Coke before lunch.
After that, the rules get hazy, breakable. I used to hold myself to a single 44 ounce Super Big Gulp each day, just so I could rationalize that Diet Coke wasn't a real addiction (only $1.17 a day, compared to the ridiculous cost of a pack of cigarettes each day, which is...3 bucks? 4 bucks?). That way, also, I could keep track of exactly how much soda I drank...never more than 44 ounces!
But that rule was abandoned as soon as I took a job at the
I joke when I tell people that I drink 72 ounces each day.
You want to know why that's a joke? Cause I drink a hell of a lot more than that.
I measure my days in Diet Cokes. I look forward to the moments when I can leave my office hours and grab a Sbarro's refill, to the moments when I'm driving on the interstate and I can stop and drain my bladder and buy a new 44 ouncer, to the moments when I can leave family gatherings and take a quick drive to the gas station for a fountain drink.
A day without a Diet Coke is worse than a night without dinner, a morning without a sunrise. But, hey, at least it's not crack, right?
(Note: I've been writing these blogs for more than two years now, though they were originally posted elsewhere. If you're interested in reading, try starting from the very start...I seem more hopeless when you follow the progression of the addiction)
Saturday, August 8, 2009
High School Reunions (Part 2 of 3)
If I was disappointed that my own high school felt and looked nothing like Bayside High (we had no love-able "Screech"-like nerd, we had no local dining hang-out a la "The Max," and none of us--as far as I know--developed the ability to freeze time simply by saying "Time Out"), and if I was disappointed that my own 10-year reunion had not materialized as anything more than a night out at old-people-infested Gulf Coast eateries, what would I think about my wife's Vanguard Class of '99 reunion in Ocala, Florida? Obviously, I already hated Ocala, but I had no idea of what to expect as a spouse at a reunion.
You see, here's the thing for Millennial men: we have inflated expectations for some of our life's milestones (our bachelor parties must feel like "The Hang-Over," for instance), but we seem not to even consider many other milestones until the moment they are upon us. Most men (myself included) do not develop elaborate fantasies for our wedding ceremonies, while women (my wife, by contrast) had dreams about the Big Day from age four or five, when she was in St. Augustine and saw a bride and groom in a horse-drawn carriage. For Heather, everything at our wedding needed to be absolutely perfect so that she could see her dream fulfilled. For Nathan...well, cool, there's an open bar, a bunch of people I love, and a great dinner and a cake! And I get to go to Hawaii afterwards! I was much easier to please.
Perhaps the very fact that I was unable to develop expectations for the weekend would allow me to enjoy myself, rather than focusing on the devastating negatives about the city of Ocala and its Diet Coke deficiencies?
This approach served me well on the Friday that we arrived in Ocala, as the evening's events were to take place in the city's modest downtown square, where famously local establishments (Harry's) intermingled with Ocala's brand of fine dining (The Melting Pot), all around a central park and gazebo.
We headed to the trendiest venue, just off the square, a brick-oven pizza joint called "Pi on Broadway" (as you might imagine, the restaurant used the concept of "pi," 3.14 etc., in their menu and logo design), a place that tried really really hard to be trendy. In fact, there was a sense of desperation about the entire restaurant, from the servers to the bartenders to the decor, that--quite simply--we've got to be the trendiest bar/restaurant in Ocala, damn it! I ordered a beer called "Arrogant Bastard," not because I wanted to be super-clever and tell people all night that I was drinking "Arrogant Bastard!" but because--at $6.00--it was the cheapest IPA on tap. One Rogue microbrew, in fact, topped out at $26 a glass. Yes. In Ocala. Orlando bars don't even try that hard.
While Heather busied herself with her high school comrades, new clusters of 27-30 year-olds filing in through the restaurant's doorway every few minutes, I enjoyed my individual-sized pizza (it, too, was filled with trendy toppings, such as goat cheese or tzatsiki or blackened chicken or whatever...I'm convinced that pizzas are like burritos...just about any ingredient, save for dog shit, works pretty well). Occasionally, I'd hear Heather complaining about the size of the restaurant, how they misrepresented themselves when she made reservations, how our table was stuck under a plant, how we didn't have enough room, how the manager wasn't accommodating enough, how it was raining and so we couldn't go to the rooftop bar, how there were leaks in the ceiling and poor Suzanne was getting soaked, how there was no room for Melissa and Paul to sit at our table, and, yes, the leaks were annoying, and the place was crowded, but I was enjoying my pizza and beer, and this was better than Chili's, right? No expectations! That would be my motto, a fail-safe approach to enjoying the weekend!
Of course, even "no expectations" couldn't prepare me for my first bathroom trip. Apparently, Pi on Broadway not only had severe leaks in the middle of the dining room, but the men's room also felt like it had just survived the Battle of Britain, gigantic bomb-sized holes through which great streams of rainwater were flowing, then collecting on the filthy floor. So...um...I suppose I was unprepared for that.
But the rest of my Friday night in Downtown Ocala was similarly carefree, as we hopped next to a nondescript Irish pub that tried not to be trendy, but simply to be loud. And that's fine. So much better than the Orlando equivalent, which would be filled with novelty Bennigan's-like artifacts and decorations.
And then, after our night on the town, feeling pleasantly surprised by the first night of the reunion, Heather and I headed back to old Vanguard alum Suzanne Bradshaw's house (well, her parent's house), where we re-convened with a large crowd of old VHS '99 cronies. Awesome, I thought. A house party! It had been too long since I'd lived the thrill of a house party, sitting in someone else's living room, parents asleep on the other side of the wall (or out of town), framed family photos on the walls to remind you--as you drank beer or cheap vodka procured for you by someone's 21-year-old brother--that you were doing something ilicit, adventurous, fun. House parties!
Part of me (the devil on my shoulder, or the angel, I'm still not quite sure) whispered as we were driving back to the Bradshaw residence: Shouldn't you stop at a gas station for a Diet Coke? You are the driver, after all, and you might need something to occupy your time. You're no longer at a public bar, you're no longer ordering Arrogant Bastards and goat cheese pizzas...you sure you don't want a tall 44-ouncer to keep you company while the Vanguard alumni reminisce?
But I ignored the voice. House party, I thought. House party!
Ten minutes later, though, as there were maybe a dozen of us spread out in Suzanne's parents' living room, a box of old video tapes on the floor before us, Heather shaking up grape-vodka-and-Sprites, I came to the sudden realization of how wrong my own vision of this "house party" was going to be. On one side of the room, there was Nick making his "Vanguard Grill" face, and on the other side of the room, Suzanne was popping a TV production video tape into the VCR, and then everyone was laughing at old 1998-99 haircuts and clothes, and saying things like "Whatever happened to him?" and "Oh my God, do you remember when...?" and yes, we were watching a full video yearbook of morning announcements and outtakes and it was as if I'd wandered into Patty and Selma's home for a slide show from their latest vacation, and while everyone else laughed and high-fived and knee-slapped and nudge-nudged, I sat with a straight face for fifteen minutes (that's how long these home movies lasted, right?), wondering if Suzanne's parents perhaps had any Diet Coke two-liters in the fridge.
I checked. Nothing. Just some Sprite, some OJ, some milk, and a box of cereal on the counter.
"Suzanne, where are your parents?" I asked. "Do they not have any soda stashed anywhere?"
"Well," she said, likely annoyed that I was rummaging, but also too engrossed in watching old videos to really stop me, "they don't live here anymore, Nathan."
"They don't...live here?"
"They have a new house. This one's up for sale."
And suddenly it made sense. Horrible, horrible sense. When I'd walked to the bathroom earlier, the hallways and bedrooms had all seemed remarkably empty, and it was indeed strange that these people would only have an old-school TV and VCR (no cable, no DVD player), but who am I to judge? It was Ocala, after all. But now the pieces fit: empty for-sale house.
"So they don't keep, like, Diet Coke anywhere? Just in case they come back for an afternoon?" I asked.
"Let it go," Heather said. "Come watch the video."
House party, I thought. Sober. No Diet Coke. And I took my seat again, and the videos kept going, twenty minutes, thirty, certainly no high school video would last longer than half-an-hour?, then forty-five minutes, and by the time we neared the third hour of collected video footage, old pep rallies and Powder Puffs, and Melissa and Heather doing some sort of strange '90s dance together, and Reel Big Fish and Mighty Mighty Bosstones playing as a soundtrack, and Dating Tips for Valentine's Day! and institutionally lit high school hallways, and re-living memories that were not my own, and it was all too much, too much, and by the time we left at 2 AM or 3 AM or whenever, I knew that I could pitch to Dick Cheney a much better and more frightening option than water-boarding.
Expectations, expectations. At the start of the night, they'd kept me going. By the end of the night, they'd grounded me, made a horrorshow of what I was suddenly expecting to be an interesting experience. A spouse at his wife's 10-year reunion: and now I had the dreariest, most depressing expectations for the big night, the Saturday dinner and dance.