August 19, 2011
[Last week as an experiment I drank a little bit of the liquid from the bottom of a jar of olives that had an expiration date from when Love Boat was still on the air. Six hours later I regained normal consciousness with nothing to show for it but a security tape of me arguing with a Frischs Big Boy statue, and I still dont know where my pants are. I also found Id written an article that made even less sense than usual. With apologies heres what I meant to write.]
On my way home from work I drove past a billboard for a gas station that said, "We have the best tasting fountain in town." So if you see me in a local gas station licking the beverage dispenser it’s not because I’ve lost my mind, it’s because I’m checking to see if it really is the best tasting one. And notice that I call it a "beverage dispenser", even though the billboard called it a "fountain". I would say I hate to quibble over terminology, but the truth is I love to quibble over terminology. Have you ever noticed that whenever people start by saying, "I hate to argue, but…" you get the idea that they really love to argue but just don’t want to admit it? It’s sort of like when someone says, "I don’t mean to offend, but…" and then proceeds to tell you they think all people of your race, religion, sexual orientation, political leaning, or hair color should be thrown into a giant meat grinder and served to prison inmates, but that’s another story.
To get back to the gas station, it’s not a fountain. It’s a beverage dispenser. You can’t call an automated device that you use to fill your ninety-nine cent half gallon Big Glut a "fountain", even if what you call the carbonated sugar water you’re filling your Big Glut with varies depending on where in the United States you’re from. If you’re from New England you call it soda, in the Midwest you call it pop, and if you’re in the South you call it Coke even if it’s Pepsi, unless you’re really from the South in which case it’s co’cola. Calling those automated beverage dispensers fountains is an insult to fountains everywhere, even if real drink fountains, the kind where you could get a handmade ice cream float or malted milk have gone the way of straw hats and men wearing garters on their sleeves. Remember those? Me neither. That was bit before my time. Actually I think it was before my parents’ time, and it may even have been before the time my grandparents sat around drinking co’cola on the porch in the summers. I would say those were the days, but I really wouldn’t know. Besides, does anyone want to drink what comes out of the beverage dispenser at the gas station? That’s what the bottled drinks in the drink cases are for, where you can find a wide array of "energy drinks". Or you can go to the front counter and get those tiny one-shot bottles of super-powered energy drinks, the ones that have a warning that takes up the entire label and says, "Stop drinking if you experience redness of the skin, a rash, swelling of the lymph nodes, seizures, depression, or spontaneous decapitation." That’s not a useful warning for something you drink in a single swallow. And energy drinks aren’t really a new phenomenon. When Coca-Cola was first invented it was made with the kola nut, so drinkers could get a little boost from the caffeine, and cocaine, so drinkers could get a major boost and sit around the soda fountain talking about Clara Barton for four days straight. Those were the days when there were no drug regulations, so you could go to the drugstore everything from wheezer’s elbow to micturition of the adenoids and the pharmacist would whip up a concoction of opium and arsenic, which is very different from today when pharmacists scoop pills into little orange bottles then make you sit there in the little waiting area between the blood pressure machine and the condoms because they’re too busy talking to each other about last night’s episode of The Office to notice that your prescription is for arthritis which makes opening a child-proof cap impossible, but that’s another story.
In the old days while you were waiting for your prescription you could at least have the soda jerk make you anything from a lemon phosphate to a sarsaparilla. They were called soda jerks because they had to jerk the handle of the soda dispenser, but how that translated into the modern day jerk, which is a polite term for someone who’s an asshole, is beyond me. I can at least say I’ve tried sarsaparilla. I found a bottle of it in a drink case in a gas station outside of Indiana, and although it probably had an expiration date that predated Orson Welles’s War Of The Worlds broadcast, or possibly even the publication of H.G. Wells’s War Of The Worlds, I drank it anyway. I’ve always associated sarsaparilla with the Old West and men who shot each other over poker games or for snoring too loud. I was disappointed to find that it tasted just like root beer and didn’t make me want to shoot anybody, although now that I think about it I should have been disappointed that root beer tasted like sarsaparilla. I hate to quibble over terminology but at least sarsaparilla has an exotic name that kind of goes with that impossible to describe flavor, while root beer tastes neither of beer nor of roots. Once after digging up a sassafras tree I discovered that the roots smelled like root beer, but to my disappointment they just tasted like roots. To get back to energy drinks, though, I honestly wonder about the popularity of them, especially when they’re marketed as a great way to make it through the workday or through your workout. If you can’t make it through the workday maybe you need more sleep, or maybe just a little time talking with your cubicle neighbor about last night’s episode of The Office, and if you can’t make it through your workout maybe your body is trying to tell you that you don’t need to spend five hours running on the treadmill. I also recently heard that the popularity of energy drinks has created a counter-trend of non-alcoholic relaxing drinks, so if you’re too hopped up on caffeine, niacin, guarana, ginseng, acai, creatine, or cocaine, you can rush down to the gas station and buy a bottle of something with melatonin, chamomile, valerian, or opium. One thing that hasn’t changed after all these years is that the people who make and sell these drinks are still jerks.