Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Nothing is Dangerous or Sexy When You Drink it in a Denim Jumper

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Yes, Dr. M(mmm), there is a connection between the first half of my last post, about Tab, and the second half, about reconnecting with some friends from my undergrad days at BYU this weekend. College Roommate and I drank a lot of diet coke when we were friends. I'm not sure what it's like now, but when I was up to the "Y" we drank diet coke constantly. Not the caffeine-free stuff they sold on campus, but the real stuff, which you could get anywhere off campus, at mind-bogglingly cheap prices, in dangerously copious amounts.

Really, drinking diet coke was about all my friends and I did my first year of college (remember, we couldn't/didn't drink alcohol), beating out apparently less-compelling activities such as reading, studying, going to class. Our favorite place to buy it was Hart's, a convenience store across from our freshman dorm, and later, a quick walk from the humanities building, where I spent all of my time my last few years in Provo. Hart's had the best diet coke by far--way better than Circle K, whose fountain was so syrupy that it tasted more like root beer than diet coke. People drink soda compulsively in Provo; the entire back wall of Hart's was a soda fountain. You could get anything, even red cream soda. And of the two diet coke fountains at Hart's, the one on the left was much better than the one on the right. But you couldn't just dispense it: you had to pump the spout, so that you'd get an even distribution of soda water and syrup. We used refillable mugs, like the one pictured above, which cost about a quarter to refill, and we went about three times a day. That means we were drinking 96 oz of diet coke per day. Which meant we knew all the best gas station bathrooms up and down I-15, Utah's main highway. It's kind of weird to think that we built our lives around diet coke. Weird and embarassing, because I almost flunked out of college my first two years.

So did my friend. She took a year off between sophomore and junior year, the same as me. Only she worked in an Ann Taylor in San Francisco, and I worked for my dad's pneumatics and hydraulics business.

First I was the receptionist. "Hello, P & H. How may I help you?"

Then I was a secretary. Then I was a secretary and accounts payable. And payroll. And accounts billable. And benefits. And then receptionist, too. What I didn't know when I went to work for my dad for a year, was that his company was going bankrupt and he was involved in a bunch of lawsuits. As he laid people off, I had to take over their jobs. That sucked, but not as much as it did when his employees still worked there. They HATED him, and they didn't trust me because I was his daughter. But because I was his daughter, my dad showed me no mercy--no favorites in his office, you know. He hated everyone equally.

It was the worst year of my life. I got a second job at a gym and spent the evenings I wasn't working there, working out there. I taught myself how to lift weights using those big, glossy Joe Weider books, with Gladys Portuguese or Joyce Vedral. I used my refill mug at the WaWa around the corner from work. I lied and said I was going to Philadelphia for church, where they had a special parish for "young adults" (how else are you going to mate the ones who didn't go to BYU?). Really, I was exploring the city.

My friend's year wasn't much better. I'm not sure when she went back to school, but when she did she didn't go back to BYU.

The weekend spent with CR and family was perfect. We had perfect weather, the city was filled with music from the Gospel Fest, and as we walked through gardens and around fountains, and under bridges, and yes, drank big, ice-filled glasses of diet coke with lemon, we fell in and out of conversations easily and naturally. As gf reported on her blog, their daughters were smart, sassy, and completely wonderful to be around. I loved them instantly, even though being with them made me a little sad, because they reminded me of other brilliant and amazing children I've loved and lost contact with in my peripatetic life.

In the comments on my last post bw described Tab as dangerous and sexy. I love that. It's saucy and so, so queer. But Diet Coke is just sad and personality-sucking, gender normativity posing as transgression.

My friends told me that while Hart's is still a Utah chain, the one across from the dorms is gone. RIP, Hart's Food and Gas, University Avenue, Provo, Utah.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how Tab is a coming out for you as an ex-Mormon and ex-Diet Coke fiend. I remember in the 70s that Tab was always paired with a svelte women with long, smooth legs (kind of like Fresca was a perky blonde getting lemons squirted at her in a summer rain way). Diet Coke seemed disembodied and round, like a coke bottle. So maybe coming out of the Diet Coke fiend closet is getting to have a body, too.

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Diet Coke is just sad and personality-sucking, gender normativity posing as transgression."

My mother used to drink a six pack of Diet Coke per day, and I feel like this a fairly apt desciption of her politics.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...sorry. that was me.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous bw said...

about three lines into this post i had a memory of you as a master's student TA for an undergrad course in modernism. the first day of class you told us all that if we wanted to suck up we could bring you diet coke from the hart's over yonder. you gave us careful instructions on the proper fountain to use and how to pump it. i thought it was hilarious to see you repeat those instructions again, that beautiful little religious ritual. i don't think i ever kissed up with a keg of DC, but i do remember how awesome it felt to get a response paper back from you that said (instead of just plain "A") "FUCKIN' A."

now *that*, considering our context, was dangerous and sexy.

diet coke isn't so bad, except the new kind with splenda that actually tastes like pepsi.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Adriana Velez said...

That's funny -- one of my best friends in college was a Harts addict, too. And she was just telling me she still drinks about four cans of diet coke a day. And she's still a church-going Mormon, though I suspect she wants out. But don't most Mormons, deep in their hearts, really want to leave the church? Isn't that why they're killing themselves slowly with sugar and saccharine?

12:12 AM  
Blogger DarkMirror said...

Oh God, I love TAB! I drank the stuff like it was forbidden nectar when I was a pre-teen. Fresca later. Still love love love both of them. Diet Coke is a little gross. I can see dispensing favors for a caffinated fizzy drink.

We seldom got Coke of any sort unless we were sick or for some special treat so I grew up - can't imagine what kind of fizzy addict I would have been if I had NEVER been allowed to have it.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Holly said...

I was a junior in college at the University of Arizona when diet coke was invented, and I thought it was the best thing ever: Tab was way too sweet, and reeked faintly of disco. (Which I understand is part of its current appeal.) My roommate and I built a pyramid of empty DC cans in our dorm room window, the way some guys built pyarmids of empty beer cans.

I never went to BYU, but my sister did, and in the summer of 1989 I went to visit her for a week or two. We went to Hart's first thing and I purchased one of those giant insulated mugs, which I refilled twice daily while I was there. I still have it, actually. It has a slight crack from being dropped, but it doesn't leak. I even use it from time to time, though I feel slightly dirty when I do.

10:47 AM  

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