In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered America.
Of course, he didn’t really discover it at all, as the “new land” he stumbled on while lost in the Atlantic was already populated by a whole bunch of indigenous folks who were happily building civilizations, fighting wars and making babies. In fact, Columbus wasn’t even the first European to land here, as my viking forbearers made it some 500 years earlier. But Columbus had a better P.R. department and the rest is (kind of ) history.
But, my own life-changing revelation came some 500 years after Columbus, when I discovered Fresca.
Like the renowned Italian seafarer, my discovery wasn’t exactly new, either, but I’m claiming it all the same. What’s more, I didn’t even need to set in motion events that would ultimately destroy the culture and ecology of an entire continent to do it.
For those who aren’t yet in the know, Fresca is a citrusy, grapefruit-flavored soft drink marketed by Coca-Cola that is, in my opinion, quite tasty, and sugar-free, to boot. It’s been around since the 60’s, but never really seemed to catch on except as a minor joke in popular culture and in one world-famous office. President Lyndon Johnson was apparently such a Fresca fanatic that he, according to legend, had a special button installed in the oval office. Some say it actually dispensed the drink, while others insist it signaled some overworked underling to bring him another cold one. But in any case, it was his fave. It has shown up on tv shows like South Park, the West Wing, the King of Queens and The Simpsons, as well as in one of my all-time favorite movies, Caddyshack. But the appearance my non-Fresca-drinking sons most like to badger me with is the episode of Wings, when Antonio Scarpacci, the Tony Shaloub character, is going through a list of things he wants to experience before he dies.
“Try Fresca,” reads Antonio, then promptly spits it out.
But here’s the thing: Except for a few friends and family members who I’ve hooked on the stuff by having little else in the fridge, I never seem to find anyone else who admits to drinking it. Nonetheless, anytime I go to one of the several supermarkets we shop in, like as not, they’re out of it. It’s not that they don’t stock it, because, once in awhile, I happily stumble on stacks of the original citrus flavor (not the vile peach-flavored variety) right in the middle of the other Coke products and buy big so as not to run out.
So, obviously, someone else out there is purchasing it. But who are they?
I’ve been temped to stake out the beverage aisle, and I’ve even considered wearing an “I (heart) Fresca” t-shirt, just to see what would happen. But the former seems kinda creepy and the latter, just silly.
But I still wonder.
Speaking of t-shirts and other popular logo-wear, there’s something on my mind today as I prepare to do some last-ditch laundry in an effort to save an old friend. A friend with magical powers.
It’s a sweatshirt.
I’m not sure how it came into my possession, though I’m guessing some family member or other purchased it as an emergency wrap when the Windy City got suddenly windier--and colder--on a visit. On the front is one word: Chicago, along with some teeny graphics depicting Chicago landmarks.
It is, like me, well-worn and entirely out of style. So, of course, I like it. It’s magical because, unlike most garments that name a place or thing, it somehow convinces people that I, too, am from Chicago. Now, that’s kind of strange, since no one ever mistakes me for Ron Santo when I wear a Cubs shirt, nor have I ever been misidentified as Joe Montana or even an ND graduate when I don a shirt with the Notre Dame logo. But the Chicago sweatshirt is different:
Total stranger: “Oh, from Chicago, eh?”
Me: “No, I’m from Galva.”
TS: “What part of Chicago is that?”
Old friend: “Oh, I didn’t know you guys lived in Chicago. When was that?”
Me: “I don’t know, since I’ve seen you every day since we first met in third grade. ”
...and so on.
I was slipping into the sweatshirt on a recent cool evening as we were preparing to leave our Wisconsin campsite and head into a nearby town for dinner, when an ominous rumble appeared on my personal fashion horizon.
She: “What’s that stain on your sleeve?”
Me: “What stain? What sleeve?”
But she was right.
A bright yellow splotch of something stubborn, but undetermined had appeared on the arm of my beloved garment, threatening to downgrade it from something I polish the car in to something I polish the car with.
I quickly took it off and tucked it into my bag before the molehill could become a mountain. I just found it in a pile of my laundry and am prepared to do battle with all the clothes-cleaning knowledge I gathered when my sons played junior high football and parents were required to wash the uniform pants they wore for both practices and games .
Maybe I’ll be successful and the sweatshirt will remain an integral part of my haphazard wardrobe.
Or maybe not.
But if it is retired to that great rag pile in the sky, I know I’m gonna miss all the memories of my old hometown.
The Windy City.
That toddling town.