Diet Coke Revisited

As if it wasn't already a girly enough beverage, periodically they put hearts and pretty dresses on the can.

Those of you who’ve known me for awhile are well aware that I’ve been struggling with a Diet Coke habit for most of my life, and before we go any further let’s all stop and laugh at the fact that I actually used the word ‘struggle’ to describe my relationship with a soft drink. ‘Struggle’ probably isn’t the right word, given that at this very moment there are probably a few thousand people in Los Angeles prostituting themselves on Craigslist so they can buy meth – ‘dysfunctional relationship’ might be the best way to describe the situation between me and Diet Coke.

I covered a lot of this background in a blog entry almost a year and a half ago in which I claimed to be done with Diet Coke. Things have changed since then. Allow me to recap our relationship and recycle a lot of jokes from the earlier entry in hopes that you won’t notice:

I started drinking Diet Coke in 5th grade, when I’d come home from a rough day of the lasting psychological damage that only elementary school can provide and console myself with a frosty can from the old refrigerator in our garage. Now that I think about it, this was really great training for my adult life, where I frequently use liquid substances as cheap therapy.

"This is Ketel One and melted blue Otter Pop. Let me know what you think."

Point is, from an early age I got used to drinking a can of Diet Coke every day – it became a habit. I carried it on in middle and high school, because really, why the hell not? Given the fact that a lot of my high school classmates had a friendly relationship with another brand of coke, what I was doing was beyond harmless.

It became sort of my after school ritual, drinking a Diet Coke, and it didn’t take long for me to associate the taste with kicking back after a long day – a sentence that I’m sure gives Coca Cola shareholders a halfie. These were the salad days for Diet Coke and I, an uninhibited bliss the likes of which I know we’ll never see again.

In college, though, things went sour when a woman entered the picture – as usual, am I right, fellas? High five. Just… I’ll high five you next time I see you. Don’t let me forget.

'Scrubs', children, was a TV show that had approximately five brilliant seasons and like 15 horrible ones.

The Ex Girlfriend was a health nut, in addition to being just a garden variety nut, and as our relationship moved from the honeymoon stage to the ‘fight about literally everything’ stage, she went to work trying to break up me and my favorite soft drink, perhaps jealous that that relationship was far healthier than ours.

“Oh my God, Truman,” She whined for the umpteenth time one afternoon as I cracked open a Diet Coke to accompany my post-coital turkey sandwich. “You are, like, addicted to that stuff! It’s so bad for you!”

“Look, I acknowledge that it’s not good for me, but I don’t think it’s explicitly bad for me either when I’m only drinking one can of it a day. If I was drinking it nonstop, that’d be another matter.”

“So you admit that it isn’t good for you but you keep drinking it! Why do you do something that you know isn’t good for you!?”

“Because I enjoy it? Don’t talk to me about doing things that aren’t good for me – you drink alcohol.” (This was back when I was still on my moral high horse as a teetotaler, a horse I promptly dismounted and subsequently shot about six months after this conversation.)

And then this happened. I don't remember how; I was pretty drunk at the time.

“You drink Diet Coke every day. I don’t drink alcohol every day!”

“Yeah, but you drank enough alcohol in one day that a certain someone had to hold your hair back while you vomited red wine, corn chips, and tequila into a popcorn bowl. Diet Coke never made me do that in any quantity.”

“Jesus, Truman. You don’t even know what you’re talking about. Nevermind.”

Presently, in spite of my firm stance on not negotiating with terrorists, I gave into The Ex Girlfriend’s demands and started to curtail my Diet Coke consumption. Problem was, that left me with a void – I’d come to assume that there was a time in every day where I drank a tasty sweet beverage. Stupid as it sounded, it was something to look forward to in the middle of the day, my Special Cola Flavored Relaxation Time.

The Ex Girlfriend and I went our separate ways shortly thereafter, and in the emotionally trying couple of months that followed I hated women and Diet Coke in roughly equal measure. My beef with Diet Coke was really more of a self-loathing, though – I desperately wanted The Ex Girlfriend’s claims of my addiction to be as asinine and poorly informed as most of her other thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but the fact that I kept going back proved her right. So I drank my Diet Coke every day, but hated myself for it.

What I'm trying to say is, 'Breaking Bad' was going to be about me, but the suits ruined it with all that meth stuff.

Then came my trip to England, a rainy and prohibitively expensive country where everyone copes with the crappy weather and cost of living by drinking pretty much constantly. Diet Coke was so expensive in England that my own guilt about how much of my family’s money I was spending outweighed my desire for aspartame-sweetened syrup, and within a matter of days I’d broken my habit for the stuff. This was especially satisfying in light of the fact that The Ex Girlfriend was in my study abroad group.

“Would anybody like something to drink?” One of our professors asked our group one evening at a social function at the school. “Soda or something?”

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m fine.”

The Ex Girlfriend stared at me icily and addressed me in a cloying, flinty tone: “What – no Diet Coke?”

“Nah,” I said, triumphantly. “You know, that stuff’s apparently pretty bad for you.” I had rebuffed both of my destructive relationships in the same sentence.

“We’ve got some harder stuff too, if you’d like.” The professor continued. “Beer, cider…”

“Ooh!” I exclaimed. “I’d take a Strongbow, if you have one.”

Strongbow is a positively delicious English hard cider. It comes in 16-ounce cans and has an alcohol content of 5.3 percent. It’s sugary and sweet, and by the end of my time in England I was drinking at least one of them a day, which put my alcohol consumption at one of the lowest in the entire United Kingdom.

Scientists have determined that this is the proper amount of Strongbow for you to wake up in jail.

When I returned to the States, Strongbow wasn’t widely available but I was wary of going back to my old mistress Diet Coke, who I’d so decisively broken up with overseas. I resolved, then, to only drink Diet Coke when I was using it as a mixer, which was how I wound up drinking whiskey and Diet Coke five or more times a week during parts of my senior year of college.

After graduation I knew I had to cool it on the boozing, which was really no sweat once I put about a thousand miles between myself and the alcohol fueled shenanigans of the Oregon Marching Band. For the occasional drink on a weekend evening, I keep a handle of Jack Daniel’s in the house and a case of Diet Coke with which to mix – and that was just fine until, craving something sweet in the afternoons but not wanting to be the college graduate boozing by himself at 2:30, I’d just crack open a Diet Coke and leave Jack on the shelf.

Diet Coke fueled the late nights that led to the completion of my TV spec scripts and the third draft of my screenplay, but then I put my foot down – I’d fallen off the wagon, and I needed to get back on. Last week, at my internship, I made the conscious decision not to have a Diet Coke with my lunch in the employee kitchen. I did just fine without it – and, as a result, my sweet tooth ran wild and I wound up eating half the contents in the candy jar over the course of the rest of the afternoon.

And then, this happened.

A relative of mine used to be pretty fucked up with drugs and alcohol, but he’s been clean and sober for nine years now. One afternoon, I was watching him play Call of Duty: Black Ops - a 45 year old man absolutely dominating the server, demolishing legions of people one third his age.

“Shit, you’re good at this,” I said. “How do you find time to practice with your job and social life and everything?”

“I make time, Truman,” He replied, knifing an opponent in the back and prompting a slew of angry, racially charged profanity. “You don’t really get rid of an addiction. You just replace it with another one.” The round ended and he’d racked up enough points to earn a gold plated AK47, which, in Call of Duty, is apparently a good thing.

I’m not addicted to Diet Coke – I’m addicted to having something that tastes sweet at some point during the day. Compared to all the other sweet things I’ve tried, though, Diet Coke has the fewest total calories and least Surgeon General’s warnings. If I’m going to be an addict, I at least want to be healthy about it.

Truman Capps is desperately seeking out that corporate sponsorship.