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The Real Thing

May 29, 2014 | by

The Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Melizabethi123, via Wikimedia Commons

The Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Melizabethi123, via Wikimedia Commons

On this day in 1886, Georgia pharmacist John Pemberton placed his first advertisement for Coca-Cola, in The Atlanta Journal. The rest, as we say, is history. Painful history, in my case.

I don’t think my parents had anything special against Coke; we didn’t have it in the house, but then, we didn’t tend to have junk food around. We snacked on carrot sticks and yogurt; maple candy was a major treat. But I remember my dad drinking Coke on especially hot days, and I know “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was part of his repertoire. For her part, my mom would reminisce about trying her first Coke—while, thrillingly, listening to Freddy “Boom-Boom” Cannon sing “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans”—when her paternal grandmother came for a visit from Arkansas. Coke still felt like freedom for her, the taste of the forbidden.

But for me, Coke for some reason became the enemy. I had always received positive reinforcement for being “unconventional” and hoeing my own row—what could be a better bugbear (I imagine my thinking went) than a soda that was not merely an agent of tooth decay, but an opiate of the masses. In my mind, Coke was somehow tied up with everything I had dutifully internalized as “bad”: Sesame Street (which utilized advertising-style camera techniques and allegedly shortened attention spans), Amelia Bedelia (unchallenging), Cabbage Patch dolls (hideous), and sticker books (middlebrow). I wanted so badly to please.

Coke became my issue. What my parents had probably intended as merely a sop to oral hygiene quickly became, in my eager little hands, a self-righteous moral crusade. I shunned Coca-Cola with the zeal of a nineteenth century temperance advocate, and my sense of superiority was inviolate. Read More »

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