Fizzy Fuzzy Memories

So I’ve relived my experience with Coke II and it really made me remember one of the things I love about writing this blog–digging up those odd, random things in the culture that I remember and poking around to see if I can find out anything else about them.  I will, of course, confess that the only time I ever remember seeing Coke II other than the can I had back in 2005 was at random on the shelf of Grand Union while accompanying my dad on a quick grocery run back in the day.  But soda as a part of my childhood–or maybe even as a not-part of my childhood (if such a term exists)–sticks out in my mind and as I reread my old blog post, I started thinking about how well I remember some of the more off-brand or random varieties of soft drinks rather than say the countless gallons of Coke or Pepsi products that I’ve gulped down in my lifetime.  On the occasions where soda would make its way into the house–at parties, for instance–I distinctly remember labels beyond Coke and Pepsi.  And when we went somewhere, there was a whole different world of beverage.  Looking at my list, it wasn’t EPCOT’s “Club Cool” per se, but I still think it’s a decent assortment.

Mets RC Can

A 1986 Mets World Championship RC Cola can.  (Image Source:  eBay)

RC Cola:  I’ll start with a soda brand that is actually pretty old and still well known.  RC has been around since 1905 and should be up there with Coke or Pepsi, but I’ve always put it in a distant third place behind the other two despite its place in cola history–for example, RC was the first company to put soda in a can (and later in aluminum cans) and in 1958 would introduce the first-ever diet cola, Diet Rite.

And yet, I will always associate RC Cola with the Mets, who sold RC and Diet Rite at Shea Stadium in the 1980s.  I can picture ice-less cola full to the brim that was guaranteed to spill at least a little when you bought it from the guy walking up and down the steps of the upper deck.  Which, by the way, was a feat in itself because those steps were so steep that you practically needed a Sherpa to make it up to the top of the stadium.

In the years since, the Mets have changed their main cola–for a while it was Pepsi and I think now it’s Coca-Cola, but it’s been so many years since I have been to a Mets game that I’m not entirely sure if that’s true.  I’m honestly not sure I’ve had it since the 1980s or 1990s, even though the brand is still around and is currently owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple company, which touts it as a “favorite of cola drinkers throughout America.”

Fanta:  This is neither an obscure or random soda–in fact, Fanta’s various fruit flavors are still around and popular and the brand had a pretty visible ad campaign featuring a group of singing, dancing spokeswomen called The Fantanas in the early 2000s.


The history of the Fanta cola flavor is actually fascinating, as it was created in Germany in World War II to be used as a cola substitute since the Coca-Cola plants in Germany were largely cut off from America and therefore couldn’t get shipments of materials they needed to make the beverage.  This, of course, is information I discovered when writing this blog post and had no bearing on my various encounters with Fanta over the years.  My personal association with Fanta goes back to the 1980s and its orange soda and root beer flavors.  The orange soda, I recall, was one of those sodas that might have been on tap at a restaurant in place of Sunkist or Crush and since orange wasn’t my go-to flavor, I never paid much attention to it.

Fanta can

A 1980s-era can of Fanta, which I admit I never actually saw (Image source: eBay).

Root beer, however, was my primary concern whenever I was allowed to get soda at a restaurant.  I’d, of course, get a Coke if I had to, but whenever root beer was on the menu, I was there.  And very often, it was Fanta, especially if the establishment sold Coke products.  Sayville Pizza was one such place and I remember its brown, white, and blue logo being on the soda machine behind the main counter whenever my friends and I would ride our bikes up there to get two slices and a soda for lunch during the summer.   It wasn’t a particularly memorable flavor of root beer, and the Coca-Cola company would replace it with the more distinguishable Barq’s in the late 1990s, but I always think of this soda more than other root beers like A&W or Ramblin’ Root Beer (remember that?) because what it did was set the “default” taste for root beer in my mind (which probably explains why I don’t like Barq’s very much.

Hires Root BeerHires Root Beer:  Speaking of root beer, a brand that I drank a lot of when I was younger but I have specific memories of is Hires Root Beer.  This, like RC Cola and Fanta, has a much longer history than I expected and is, in fact, the second-longest produced soft drink in the United States.  It was originally created in Philadelphia but I actually always associate it with New England; specifically, I place it in New Hampshire and the years my family spent vacationing on Kezar Lake in North Sutton.  And while I am sure that my time at the lake and time visiting Weirs Beach and Lake Winnepesaukee is a blog post and podcast episode to rival Rob Kelly’s “Mountain Comics,” I will say that Hires was a pretty popular brand of root beer up there and I think that we had at least one or two pieces of merchandise–trinkets, magnets, pencil holders–with the logo on it because we had cashed in a billion arcade tickets from playing hours upon hours of skee-ball.

I don’t have much to say about the taste of Hires, except that I drank a lot of it whenever I went up there, probably because it tasted like Fanta or whatever I expected root beer to taste like.  But those weeks in the summer spent pumping quarters into arcade machines new and old and walking up to the local general store to buy baseball cards or Mad Magazines are always going to be associated with this one logo or can of soda.  It’s all another story for another time, but at least worth a mention here.


Photo by Paxton Holley (via Flickr)

7-Up Gold:  Now we’re getting into something that really no longer exists.  7-Up Gold was an attempt by the “Uncola” to actually create a cola and it was a massive flop.  Only available in 1987 and 1988, the company, which had previously had success with Cherry 7-Up (a soda that I could have also put on this list), decided to completely go against what it bragged about in its ad campaigns from the early 1980s (not a cola, never had caffeine) and basically tried to clone Coke and Pepsi.  In a 1989 New York Times article, then 7-Up president Roger Easley said that “The product was misunderstood by the consumer.  People have a clear view of what 7-Up products should be — clear and crisp and clean, and no caffeine.  7-Up Gold is darker and does have caffeine, so it doesn’t fit the 7-Up image.”

The cola is described in the article as having actually come from the Dr. Pepper Company, which had merged with 7-Up in the previous year, as having a “reddish caramel hue” and a flavor that doesn’t necessarily taste like cola but “tastes something like ginger ale with a cinnamon-apple overtone and a caffeine kick.”  I honestly barely remember that, but I do remember being lured in by commercials like this:

For me, who was so uncool in 1988 that I thought this was cool, I was sold and wanted to try some.  I remember that my parents did cave at one point at bought at least one bottle of it for my birthday party in 1988 and I actually bragged to my friends that we had 7-Up Gold.  It’s no wonder I went straight to the bottom of the social ladder over the next few years.

Schweppes Raspberry Ginger Ale:  As I mentioned, soda was not something you got in my house when I was a kid, but my parents did sometimes grab ginger ale off of the shelf and that would be the drink of choice for my sister and I after we had finished our chocolate milk at dinner.  Yeah, nothing says dessert at my house in the 1980s more than Sealtest Ice Milk washed down with Raspberry Schweppes.

Now, Schweppes still makes the raspberry ginger ale, although John Cleese is no longer used in its advertisements.  I don’t really drink ginger ale at all, unless I’ve spent the day vomiting.  So this is one of those that definitely is left in the past and is probably key in why I went buck wild with drinking soda my freshman year of college.

C&C Cola:  Finally, there’s C&C Cola.  Headquartered in New Jersey and still in production today, C&C is one of those near-generic “off brand” sodas that makes its way onto store shelves next to store brand such as Master Choice and other off-brand colas like Cott and Shasta.  C&C, however, was one of those off-brand sodas that actually made a small dent in the northeast.  No, it couldn’t exactly compete with Coke or Pepsi, but it made enough of an effort to gain what it could in the 1980s with a wide variety of flavors as well as commercials:

For my parents, C&C was the soda you got when you were having big family parties.  My dad would drive up to Thrifty Beverage, which was our local beer and soda “distributor” (i.e., a huge warehouse of beer and soda that also had a retail space) and buy several flats of C&C in various flavors.  And by various, I mean various:  cola, diet cola, ginger ale, root beer, cream soda, lemon-line, black cherry, grape, and orange.  These were packaged very basically, with each flavor getting a different-colored can (i.e., lime green for lemon-lime, brown for root beer, orange for orange, tan for cream soda, grape for purple).  I think that over the course of that party, my sister and I would try to drink one of every single flavor; then, we’d try to stretch out the leftovers for days.

C&C is still around and still independently owned and operated out of New Jersey.  I don’t recall seeing any of the soda down here in Virginia (although my local blood bank has plenty of Shasta on hand), but a look at its website shows that it’s still making all of the flavors that I enjoyed when I was younger as well as several novelty flavors like cotton candy.

At present, my main soda of choice is Coke Zero and Brett isn’t much of a soda kid–he likes orange soda and a few other things but will usually go for HI-C or lemonade whenever we’re at a restaurant.  We also now live in a world where I can actually order a number of these sodas online–I don’t know if I would or if it would even be worth it, but I can.  Still, who knows random liquid my local grocery store will serve up in the future?



Looking for the Real Thing


The full can of Coke II I purchased on eBay in 2005.

A quick note: this first appeared on my old blog, Inane Crap, back in 2005.

Soda has always fascinated me. I think it’s mainly because when I was a kid, I didn’t get to drink it very often. Aside from the occasional bottle of Schweppes raspberry ginger ale, all of the dinnertime drinks at my house consisted of chocolate milk and Tetley instant iced tea. Of course, that’s not as healthy as you think — it was whole milk, and Tetley iced tea mix is essentially brown-colored sugar water. That doesn’t mean that I completely missed out on drinking soda (I wasn’t raised by one of those nuts). It was, according to my parents “a treat” to have a bottle of Coke in the fridge, so whenever there was one present, my sister and I usually went to town.

My lack of carbonated elixir during my elementary school years meant that I kind of went hog wild drinking it in college, but it also meant that I more or less missed out on one of the most infamous screw ups of the 1980s. That is, I’m hard pressed to remember New Coke. I knew of it, of course, but being that I was eight years old when it debuted in 1985, I cannot recall how it tasted, even though it’s pretty likely that I had it at a family party or some other function. I’ve always been curious about its taste — after all, it was only on the market as Coke for a short time because the backlash upon its introduction was so negative, it made an anti-abortion rally look like an episode of Barney & Friends. Coke rescinded, rebranded, and reintroduced its original soda as Coca-Cola Classic in 1986 and New Coke became Coke II. It was available nationwide until the mid-1990s before being phased out in all but a few Midwestern states.

As I tend to be with most things that involve random foodstuffs, I’ve been wanting to try this cola for a very long time. I looked for it wherever I could, and even had a scout in Chicago try to track it down. Alas, that was all to no avail, and a few weeks ago, I discovered why. Coke has a 1-800 number that you can call with weird queries such as this, and one day while bored at work, I decided to give them a call and ask about Coke II. My operator was a very nice woman who seemed genuinely interested, and amused by my question. She put me on hold and a few minutes later, told me that unfortunately, Coke II was no longer manufactured. I thanked her and hung up, then turned to the Internet, where I quickly found a full can for purchase. $5.00 and a week later, a full can of Coke II that had expired in November 1996 was sitting on a shelf in my refrigerator, waiting for me to formulate a plan for drinking it.

Okay, I know how to drink a can of soda. But as I examined this artifact, with its red-white-and-blue design, lack of a “big mouth,” and bold italic “Coke II” logo, I realized that I had an important choice to make. I could crack open the can and go for it, or drag it out in some elaborate and unnecessary way.


C2, which was discontinued in 2007. (image via Wikipedia)

Naturally, I went for the latter and decided to conduct an experiment — more specifically, a taste test. Armed with a couple of dollars, I went to a local convenience store and bought three bottles of soda. The first was Coca-Cola, which was an obvious choice, since it was the original cola formula (some Coke aficionados claim it’s not. I don’t care). The second was Pepsi. This was important because it’s the raison d’être for New Coke because back in the early 1980s, Coke lost to Pepsi in a nationwide taste test. Lastly, I purchased a bottle of C2, which had been introduced as a “low carb” cola during last year’s Atkins-induced societal meat sweats. It’s essentially the halfway point between Coke and Tab (which is a lab accident all its own), but since it apes the Coke II name, it kind of made sense to give it a try.

The first thing I evaluated was the sodas’ color and aroma. I would have gone with the packaging, but since Coke II was not available in a bottle back then, I felt that it was at a slight disadvantage. I opened each soda and poured a glass, sampling and smelling. Coke had a musky scent, kind of like Old Spice; and it had a color to match. What was interesting is that Coke also had the most violent bubbling out of all four. Pepsi’s color was brighter and the smell was sweeter. C2 and Coke II were very similar to their inspirations — C2 looked like Coke, while Coke II actually held its own as a Pepsi impersonator.

I did two distinct taste tests for each soda. The first was a straight sip. Like one does when he samples wine, I took in the bouquet of each glass and then sipped the soda, swirling it in my mouth before swallowing, and then cleared my palate with water. Coke tastes much like its scent. It’s heavy, thick and biting in a way that’s actually a bit indescribable, but I guess “licorice” would come pretty close. Similarly, C2 was heavy and lived up to its hype. In other words, it had the heavy, sugary taste and texture of Coke. But it also had a distinct aftertaste, which you’d probably associate more with Diet Coke. I don’t think they’re going to be replacing the much-beloved “silver bullet of cola” anytime soon, though.

When it came to Pepsi, I pretty much knew what to expect. It has a much sweeter taste and usually isn’t as heavy as Coke. However, there are few things in the world that are worse than warm Pepsi, especially when it goes flat and takes on the taste of orthodontic cement. I thankfully got my Pepsi down the hatch in time for it to be both cold and popping. It’s not my favorite cola at all, but it did serve as a nice prelude to what would be the ultimate taste test and the whole reason I got involved in this endeavor.

I cleansed my palate and took a nice-sized sip of Coke II. It was kind of thick and went down like maple syrup. It tasted like musty Pepsi, and I found myself making several faces of disgust.

But that wasn’t the end. After all, what is soda without a snack? I grabbed a box of reduced fat Cheez-Its and decided to test each soda’s snack food interaction abilities. To make this a not at all scientific process, I grabbed a handful of crackers and shoved them into my pie hole in a very Blutarsky-like fashion. After chewing for a few moments, I had a nice-sized bolus going and decided that was the moment at which to wash the Cheez-Its down. Coke added phlegm and didn’t help with swallowing. Pepsi was once again too sweet, but did break the bolus up quite nicely. C2 was exactly like coke and the aftertaste made me twitch, which can’t be a good sign. Finally, the Coke II was a great swallowing aid, but the musty taste made the crackers taste kind of aged. You know, like exposure to nine-year-old soda instantly made them stale or something.

Next was the chemistry portion of the test. When I was a little kid, I had this secret soda formula that I’d use whenever I was at Burger King. I’d start with a base of Coke and add Sprite, then orange soda. Every once in a while, I’d add a splash of root beer for some bite. Yeah, it was disgusting, but when you’re a kid, you’ll eat dirt. In the spirit of those grand experiments of my youth, I mixed all four sodas in one pint glass. The amounts were relatively equal. I mean, I didn’t measure or anything, but I did briefly count to three before I finished pouring. The color stayed the same, obviously, and the aroma was more Coke than Pepsi. Being that I was uncertain of how the various sugar compositions would blend and/or settle, I stirred the concoction with a spoon. Said spoon neither tarnished nor corroded, so I took that as a good sign. I let the fizz settle and then took a mighty swig.

Now, I don’t usually soak my dirty socks in water and then wring them out into a glass, but I’m sure that by mixing these sodas, I captured that particular taste better than anyone ever has. At first, all I could taste was Coke, and it was okay, but upon my second sip, I was instantly transported back to my high-school gym locker room, with my once-was-white-but-now-is-gray-because-I-never-washed-it T-shirt and obliterated Chuck Taylors. It was a strange kind of nostalgia that started pleasantly but ended in horror and me pouring the rest of the crap down the sink. Thankfully, I can still see clearly.

My final test was the most important, and that was endurance. No, I wasn’t going to leave all four sodas out in the hot sun for hours and see how they decomposed or anything like that. I was going to chug. This was the experiment that had the most human error associated with it, especially considering I’m not the best at chugging any sort of beverage. But I did my best and went to town on all four. Coke lasted 5 seconds and was followed up with a concise but loud belch, which was disappointing. Usually, Diet Coke makes me sound like Booger, and I was hoping for that from at least one of these sodas. The Pepsi was a second less and had a more baritone belch, but it was just as short. The closest I got to a Diet Coke belch was with the C2, which, after a 7-second chug, had me let fly with three voluminous notes that would make any pro proud.

I was able to chug Coke II the longest, for 8 seconds, and when I didn’t feel a belch, I went back for more, finishing the can a few moments later. No belch came after that, either, as I wanted to vomit so badly that all I could do was gag for about thirty seconds before crushing the can and then downing about a liter of water so I could taste something that wasn’t noxious.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 85: Victory or Death!

Episode 85 Website Cover.jpgGreetings, listener. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada!  That’s right, it’s time to brush up on your video game skills and fly into my coverage of the 1984 sci-fi flick, The Last Starfighter.  Over the course of this episode, I recap the movie and give it my review; plus, I take a look at the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, the comics adaptation from Marvel, the aborted toy line, and several attempts at video game adaptations.  I also talk about sequel and reboot rumors.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

As mentioned in the episode, here are some extras …

The storybook …

Last Starfighter Storybook

Plaid Stallions’ post on the aborted toy line (I mentioned another site in the show but then realized that they had swiped all of their pictures from Plaid Stallions, so I went to the source):  Galoob Last Starfighter

Video Game Attempts …

The Wikipedia pages for … Solaris and Star Raiders II

Atari Protos looks at what could have been the video game version of The Last Starfighter

The NES Version …

Last Starfighter NES

Rogue Synapse’s “Starfighter” Game:  The Last Starfighter Starfighter Resources Page

Last Starfighter Poster


In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 80

IC 80 Website CoverDon Lomax begins his tenure as the regular writer on The ‘Nam with part one of a three-part story called “Operation: Chicken Lips.”  This also sees the return of Ed Marks as one of our key characters and puts us in March 1972, which is the subject of our historical context section.  Plus, I have a clip of my conversation with Michael Golden, original ‘Nam artist, from the 2017 Baltimore Comic-Con.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

In Country iTunes feed

In Country Episode 80 direct link

Nam 70


The Object of Poetry

A quick note:  this post originally appeared on an old blog of mine.  Hearing the song that it is about made me want to re-post it.  -Tom

Michael Stipe & Natalie Merchant / Night Garden Music ©1993
I found this photograph
underneath broken picture glass
tender face of black & white
beautiful, a haunting sight
looked into an angel’s smile
captivated all the while
from her hair and clothes she wore
I’d have placed her in between the wars

Was she willing when she sat
and posed a pretty photograph
to save her flowering and fair
for days to come
for days to share
a big smile for the camera
how did she know
the moment could be lost forever
forever more

I found this photograph
in stacks between the old joist walls
in a place where time is lost
lost behind where all things fall
broken books and calendars,

Letters script in careful hand,
the music to a standard tune by
some forgotten big brass band

From the thresh hold what’s to see
of our brave new century
television’s just a dream
of radio and silver screen
a big smile for the camera
how did she know
the moment could be lost forever
forever more

Was her childhood filled with rhyme
or stolen books of passion crimes?
was she innocent or blind to the
cruelty of her time?
was she fearful in her day?
was she hopeful? did she pray?
were there skeletons inside
family secrets sworn to hide?
did she feel the heat that stirs
the fall from grace of wayward girls?
was she tempted to pretend
in love and laughter until the end?

Born to Choose cover

The cover of the “Born to Choose” compilation, the CD released to benefit NARAL upon which “Photograph” appeared.

Over spring break, I was talking about R.E.M. with a friend of mine for a future episode of his podcast, and over the course of our conversation, this song that the band recorded with Natalie Merchant in 1993 (which is around the time the band was riding the success of Automatic for the People and Merchant was nearing the end of her tenure as the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs) was mentioned and while we didn’t spend too much time analyzing it, we both agreed that the song is excellent

After the conversation, I wound up listening to “Photograph” again, and while there are a lot of times when R.E.M.’s lyrics border on the indecipherable, the lyrics here are actually more clear even if they are pretty complex. My first thought, upon first hearing it, was to compare it to the Jackson Browne song “Fountain of Sorrow,” but giving it another listen, I realized that the beauty in this particular song is that neither Merchant nor Michael Stipe know who the person in the photograph is.

It all reminds me of the early 2000s when I would waste time at work by looking at things posted to Found Magazine, which was devoted to trying to tell the story of objects that users had found. Many times, they related the circumstances that led to finding and keeping the object; other times, they were more about trying to tell that object’s story, in the same way that the lyrics are doing here.

The English teacher side of me loves this song, as does the writer side, because it lends itself to such a great multifaceted writing exercise. Of course, there’s the idea that I could take the time to tell the story of the photograph and answer the questions that they’re asking, similar to how I have often used Ted Kooser’s “Abandoned Farmhouse” as a springboard for a writing assignment. There’s also the possibility of describing the photograph based on the questions–as in, what about that photograph would lead someone to ask those questions?

And then there’s the objects that we own or don’t own that have stories behind them. Granted, you don’t need to study this song in order to create that assignment, but this would serve as a great model for any student looking to write the story of an object. If it’s something a student already owns, there is description and there is reflection; if it’s something the student doesn’t own (i.e., I gave them a photograph of people they didn’t know without any context), there is indulgence of curiosity and creativity, and also perhaps some self-reflection of the way that we judge people based on what we see.

I think poetry as a genre works really well, especially in this case, because it forces a person to stretch themselves. I could provide a prompt with a journal response, but that’s too simple and might result in some sort of bland description. This song, “Photograph,” and other poetry about the objects in our lives, goes deeper than that, asking questions that may not have answers and providing answers because it’s in our nature to want to do that.


Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 84: Jumping the Shark

Episode 84 Website CoverSpecial guest stars keep appearing. A new kid is added to the cast. A major cast member leaves. Two characters hook up. They cast Ted McGinley. The setting changes. There’s yet another very special episode. The Fonz straps on some water skis and JUMPS THE SHARK. Any way you see it, this is the moment when you realize that a show has gone completely downhill. Join me as I take a look back at the late, lamented early 2000s website “Jump the Shark” and use some of its criteria to pinpoint moments of decline in a number of shows, especially 1980s and 1990s sitcoms. Will I jump the shark? Listen to find out!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Here’s a couple of extras …

The Wayback Machine’s archive of the old Jump the Shark website

A snapshot of the site from February of 2003

The archive of the comments page for Davey and Goliath

And, naturally, here’s the infamous scene of Fonzie jumping the shark:



In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 79

IC 79 Website Cover.jpgIn Country is back and about to head into its last 20 episodes with a look at yet another Vietnam War-themed movie. This time around, it is the Robin Williams classic Good Morning Vietnam, which tells the story of Army discjockey Adrian Cronauer. I summarize and review the film as well as take a look at the real-life Adrian Cronauer.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

In Country iTunes feed

In Country Episode 79 direct link