Friday, July 29, 2011

Have Another Drink!

After waxing nostalgic last week... alright, I told stories of a long-forgotten era like an old man, about refreshing beverages. But since that time, my memory banks have been overflowing with all the drinks of yesterday and today that have graced my refrigerator and my cupboards in days gone by.

In the cupboard was that jar of Tang. You remember, it was what the astronauts drank! Well, eventually the astronauts drank it. At first the stuff mostly sat on grocery shelves until it got packed into John Glenn's space capsule. I'm not sure how Glenn mixed the little freeze-dried orange granules with water to make an imitation orange juice drink, but apparently he did. Then anyone in the 1960s who wanted to be hip or groovy or whatever we were back then would drink Tang for breakfast. Fewer people remember Tang's less-popular family member -- grape flavored Tang. To be honest, I like the grape hundreds of times better than the orange. And just to reveal how odd I was, my favorite way to drink Tang was not ice cold, but hot. Dad could drink his hot coffee while I would drink hot grape Tang. And, no, I didn't take cream or sugar.

I did drink a lot of soft drinks when I was young, and being a chubby, young boy, I was required to drink “diet” soft drinks. My drink of choice, because it was a lot cheaper, was Diet Rite Cola. Diet Rite was the no-calorie version of RC Cola. We bought them in the 8-pack of 16 ounce returnable bottles. That was back when bottle recycling was enforced with a nickel or dime deposit for each bottle. If you paid a nickel a bottle, or 40 cents a pack, the bottles usually made it back for recycling (which may have just been running them through a car wash and refilling them, I really don't remember.) But anyway, Diet Rite is still around as Diet Rite Pure Zero and it comes in flavors as appetizing as Green Apple Splatter, which sounds more like a summertime apple-throwing fight at the orchard than a refreshing beverage.

The other popular diet drink was Tab (or TaB as it appeared on the can). Tab was Coca-Cola's answer to Diet Rite, and eventually when the FDA decided which artificial sweeteners wouldn't kill you as quickly, Tab gave way to Diet Coke. Tab's ugly cousin was Fresca, but aside from a line in the movie “Caddyshack” when Ted Knight offers the kid a Fresca, I really can't remember anything about the stuff. I think it was supposed to be lemon-lime or something. Plenty of lemon-lime all over the market then, too, with 7-Up and Sprite and Mountain Dew. I wonder who was the person who first mixed the lemon and the lime? Probably some Polynesian who never got credit, I'm guessing.

The obscure soft drink I used to love in the early 80s was called Rondo. It was a lemony-limey-citrusy soda too, but it didn't have as much carbonation. That meant you could drink it faster, and presumably, burp less. The commercials were of a guy grass-skiing, which is pretty much what you think it is -- a guy skiing with no snow and no water, just a hill with long grass. My friends and I drank a few hundred gallons of this in college before it disappeared. Come to think of it, I haven't seen anyone grass skiing lately either.

When I think about all the beverages over the years, my head starts to spin. I drank Crystal Pepsi. Remember that clear Pepsi that no one drank because it tasted like Pepsi but didn't look right? I also tried the Pepsi Blue, but it reminded me too much of Ty-D-Bol. I've drank my Ovaltine and my Quik, but always opted for liquid chocolate for my milk whenever possible. There has been Hi-C and “How 'bout a nice Hawaiian Punch,” and about three ka-jillion other drinks. But the king of them all was the worst of them all. Jolt Cola was said to have “all the sugar and twice the caffeine,” so this morning radio DJ who couldn't stand waking up in the morning became quickly dependent upon his morning bottle of Jolt.

Now, certainly I could have been drinking water all this time instead of these artificially-made chemical concoctions, but what kind of memories would I have then?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How about a cool drink?

I don't need to remind you that it's still hot outside. It's summer. It's supposed to be hot, although not quite this hot yet. But it's not unusual to see triple-digit temperatures in the summer, and because of that we've learned the best ways to cool off. Besides looking for an air-conditioner or a swimming pool, most of those ways revolved around finding something cold to drink.

Water is the typical choice these days. Stay hydrated. We drank water back a few decades ago, but we didn't pay a buck and a half for a small bottle of it. For fun, try to imagine your grandfather being asked to pay any amount of money for a bottle of water. Go ahead. Is your grandfather slamming his hands on the counter and yelling words we can't print too? Yeah, kind of funny, isn't it? Anyway, if you're going to pay money for something cool to drink, why not try something with flavor? Lemonade? Iced tea?

Personally, I still have a soft spot for Kool-Aid. Even the "off-brand" versions made for some good cool refreshment. I will note that the best Kool-Aid flavor is black cherry. Sure most of the other flavors are good (except for blue stuff), but black cherry is the Cadillac of Kool-Aid flavors.
In spite of common wisdom, I drink a lot of carbonated sodas ('pop' to us real Americans). But these things supposedly make you more thirsty. So you can look for some alternative. When I was a kid, I remember sometimes getting a cold bottle of Choc-ola from the vending machine. If you are unfamiliar with Choc-ola (or it's cousin Yoo-hoo), it is an imitation of chocolate milk. It was fantastic to seven-year-old tastebuds. And I wasn't the only one who thought so. All us kids were into Choc-ola for cool refreshment. Years later, as high school students, two friends and I were on a trip with our baseball team somewhere around Cincinnati. We stopped at a gas station that sold Choc-ola! We were ecstatic! It had been close to a decade (half our lives) since we had downed a cold Choc-ola! The three of us each purchased a frosty bottle and took it outside. Once they were open, we stood facing each other, gripping our glass bottles of nostalgic goodness. At the nod of a head, we all tipped back our heads and took a gulp. Approximately 1.5 seconds later, all three of us turned away from each other and spit the mouthful on the asphalt parking lot! It was not the chocolately good drink of our childhood. It was some imitation milk product with chocolate flavoring. So not every option is a good option.

My kids have grown up with sports drinks like Gatorade. Playing sports almost requires commitment to Gatorade. For years, my boys would emerge from the dugout between innings, look my direction, and tip an imaginary drink to his lips twice. This of course is the international sign for "I'm very thirsty, Father. Please go purchase a sports beverage for me so that my thirst might be quenched. Oh, and make it the blue kind."

Ice cream drinks are good for cooling off. Even the ones with coffee in them. However, coffee should never be truly classified as a drink consumed while cold, so I'm taking them right out of the discussion. Still shakes and sodas and root beer floats and the like can really hit the hot spot on a sweltering day. But the best coolant and thirst quencher is a slush. A Hawaiian ice is pretty much in the same category -- you're drinking ice! You can test me on this one. A slush will cool you faster than any other drink. But drink it slowly or you'll be holding your head in pain for about an hour, and that's no better than simply sweating through the heat.

So best of luck cooling off this weekend. And remember my advice: Don't pay for water, black cherry is the best Kool-Aid, Choc-ola is not as good as you remember, and don't down your slush too quickly. Now drink responsibly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hair I am again

“Give me a head with hair. Long beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen...” - The Cowsills

Let me preface this my saying that I am in the post-follicular stage of my life. Yes, I am bald. In a world where hair turns heads, I am left on the sideline. Now of course, it does have it's advantages. I don't spend a lot of time and money trying to make it look good with combs, sprays, dyes and various appliances. It is an easier way to go about things.

Back in 1964, the traditional world gasped when four mop-topped men from Liverpool, England invaded this country making it fashionable to grow hair longer. (Look at the pictures of the Beatles today and you wonder what all the fuss was about.) When the Cowsills and company tried to push for hair that made grown men look like Cousin Itt from the Addams Family, fashion gladly opened its arms to the trend. Since that time, men’s hair has been shorter, longer... whatever. But only a few brave pioneers went without. Yul Brynner brought bald to the movies. Telly Savalas brought bald (and lollipops for grown-ups) to television. But after that, the list of hairless heroes is really pretty sparse.

For women, the trend goes the other way. Rebellion for men was to grow hair longer, while women wanting to protest their oppressed lifestyle began to cut their hair shorter. Soon we were faced with females with crew cuts, and eventually Sinead O'Connor, the Irish singer-songwriter, who found she could get more attention for herself by shaving her head (and by ripping up pictures of the Pope on live television). But the point is, the world is attracted, enthralled, and overstimulated by hair.

As a boy, my hair was blond. That color lasted until kindergarten when for unknown reasons my hair darkened to a dark brown. And it was thick. Very thick. The barber always had to “thin” my hair to get it to lay down correctly. Oh what I wouldn't give to have some of those thinnings back now! In high school, I began to experiment with facial hair. Except for baseball season, I had a full beard throughout my senior year. And hair down to my collar. It was that way through college and into the work world. I shaved my beard for the first time after high school about six years after graduation. Then I started growing it longer. I can remember fashioning a crude ponytail for it one morning when it was particularly unruly.

Then something happened shortly after I got married. (Not that it's my wife's fault. I'm sure it's just coincidence.) My hair started to thin even when I wasn't in a barber's chair. After a few years of trying every hairstyle imaginable to make me look a little hairier, I gave up and got it all cut short. Then gradually over the course of time, what hair remained got shorter and shorter until one day while shaving my face, I decided not to stop at the top of the ears. By that time, a ka-jillion other guys with the same situation decided to do the same thing too -- shave the head and grow a goatee. So now, ironically, I look like a ka-jillion other guys (only infinitely more handsome). The crowd of people with long hair has become the crowd of people with shiny heads. It's like the circle of life for hair.

I will also add that I have rejected the school of thought to “grow what you can” or to trim hair down so there is a semi-circle around my dome. Bless you, sir, if that's you. I just have too many memories snickering at people wearing toupees, or having the “toilet seat” haircut, or the long locks in the back with nothing on top a la Hulk Hogan. And don't get me started on the comb-over. But in the end, it's all superficial anyway. True beauty is not found in a do like Fabio or a cut like Farrah or Jennifer or whoever-is-in-style-today. Hair is window dressing. True beauty is in one's character. But hair does keep you warmer in the winter. And for now, I'm glad it's summer.