Monday, September 10, 2012

Diet Coke

I've worked in theatre my entire adult life, as an actor, a playwright, a stage director, a critic and as an actor.  I love it; always have.  My Dad's an opera singer, so I kinda grew up with it.  I love the smell of makeup, the sight of costume racks, floors littered with lighting gels.

And the taste of Diet Coke.

Theatre means late night rehearsals, maintaining maximum alertness even when--especially when--you're just dog tired.  You have to focus, though, you have to stay on top of things.  We all have our own coping mechanisms; for most of us, it means lots of Diet Coke.

But.  See.  I'm a Mormon, and Mormons don't drink Diet Coke.  And that was sort of strange, honestly, because it wasn't really official policy.  I seem vaguely to remember a directive in a Priesthood manual suggesting we might want to stay away from caffeinated beverages, and I also remember a talk by--gosh, I'm not sure, I want to say Vaughn J. Featherstone--saying something like 'well, if you have to be commanded in all things, doesn't that make you a slothful servant?  Isn't it better just to steer clear of caffeine without actually having it be a commandment?'  I probably should look all that up, but I'm honestly much much too lazy.  Still, it was understood.  Mormons who drank caffeinated beverages were. . .  doing something questionable.  Not quite sinful, but not entirely cool either. I remember taking a trip to California to meet The Girlfriend's Parents, and figured I'd ingratiate myself with her little brother by offering to take him with us to a baseball game--a Giants' game, obviously.  And the three of us were at the game, and I ordered a Diet Coke, and the little brother--now my wonderful brother-in-law--looked at me, horrified, and said to my then-girlfriend-now-wife, "but. . . . isn't he a Mormon?"

I was.  I was a Diet Coke drinking Mormon.  Which meant a not-very-good Mormon, in some peoples' minds.  It became a cultural marker, the difference between liberal Mormons and conservative Mormons.  We Mormon liberals watched R-rated movies and drank Diet Coke, and voted Democrat and generally weren't people who could entirely be trusted.

And I did 'em all.  The movies, the voting, the beverage choice.  Three for three.

Still do.  But the way I looked at it, there were reasonable exceptions to that non-rule rule about caffeine.  For one thing, there was caffeine in chocolate too.  We Mormons didn't drink coffee, but if it was because of the caffeine, hot chocolate had it too.  As did Hershey bars.  Plus, I was in theatre.  I didn't need that Diet Coke--it wasn't like I was addicted to the stuff--but it was. . .  helpful.  Late nights during tech week, it was more than helpful.  Plus theatre people are supposed to be kind of rebellious and unconventional and epater la bourgeoisie.  We were supposed to dress flamboyantly and swear a lot. 

Irrelevant aside: I love it when you go to the theatre, and massive technical difficulties occur.  My favorite was during the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when the Olympic flame lighting part failed.  There were these huge fire tube things, and they were supposed to move smoothly into place at the same time.  But one of them didn't work right.  I just kept imagining all those assistant stage managers on their headsets, and just how many F-bombs were being dropped out of earshot of the cameras.  I've been on headsets during shows when things went wrong, and I assure you, the F word expletive comes in handy.  You need to vent a bit, let that fly rail know exactly what you think of it.  Swearing helps.  End irrelevant aside.

I spent twenty years teaching and doing theatre at BYU, and you couldn't buy a Diet Coke at BYU.  Oh, you could get the wimpy non-caffeinated kind.  But why would you bother?  Not that this handicapped BYU Theatre people much.  There's always 7-11, always the Big Gulp. 

As faculty, I had an office, and I had a fridge in that office, and that fridge was always well stocked with the nectar of the Gods.  I was only living up to an old family tradition.  My grandmother also taught at BYU, and she also had a love of Diet Coke, and a fridge in her office.  She was partial to Coke in the glass bottles, which I admit is really the best way to drink the stuff. Some years ago, I went to Monroe Louisiana, and visited the Biedernharn Coca-Cola and Rare Bible Museum.  It's a museum celebrating Coca-Cola, rare Bibles, and the opera career of Emy-lou Biedenharn; it's as eccentric as it sounds.  And they had those old green bottles of frosty cold Diet Coke for sale for a nickel. Sat on a bench in these beautiful gardens and sipped a cold one.  It was a great day.

Anyway, my Grandmother loved Coke in bottles, and kept some in her fridge, and she'd give me one when I was a BYU freshman and stopped by her office.  Then some officious BYU administrator caught her and threw it all out.  So she printed up a bunch of labels, captioned 'Family Home Evening Homemade Root Beer' and pasted them on.  I come from a family of Coke rebels.

Except now.  The Church has now officially 'clarified' it's position.  Late August, the Church put on its website a statement declaring it 'does not prohibit the use of caffeine.'  A day later, they clarified the clarification, saying "the church revelation spelling out health practices ... does not mention the use of caffeine."  I'm not a rebel anymore.  I got nothing to rebel against.

I mean, BYU might even sell Diet Coke on campus.  It really is the End of Days.

Of course, the Church's clarification is entirely true.  The Word of Wisdom says 'strong drinks,' which we understand to mean booze, and 'hot drinks,' which we understand to mean coffee and tea.  I had a mission companion who took the 'hot drinks' part literally--he carried around a thermometer and would take the temperature of, like, soup.  Hotter than 98.6, and he wouldn't drink it. 

But now, to rebel, I'd have to drink coffee.  There's a family tradition there too--my wonderful Grandmother loved her tea, and she was a temple worker for thirty five years.  The bishop would ask her about Word of Wisdom, and she'd say, "well, I do drink my tea every morning.'' And he'd sigh and sign the form.  But I don't want to drink coffee.  Can't even stand the smell of it. 

I won't drink Diet Pepsi either.  Some people can't tell the difference.  I don't have much difficulty.  See Diet Coke tastes like ambrosia, the beverage of the Olympian Gods.  Diet Pepsi tastes like goat drool.  Not at all the same thing. 

So I'll stick with Diet Coke.  Not every day.  Just at rehearsals, and sometimes at restaurants, and watching baseball games.  And family dinners on Sundays.  And after particularly grueling doctors' appointments.  And sometimes, to celebrate. And just for fun.  I promise, I'm not addicted.  I can quit any time.  I have quit, in fact. Just cut out Diet Coke entirely.  Cold turkey.  I have.  Often. 


  1. Eric... I don't drink much soda either... but when I do, it is Dr. Pepper. I have also come to enjoy Diet Coke with Lime (flavoring). I was unaware that the church had clarified it's clarification on caffeine... will check it out. But go liberal, democrat, caffeinated, soda-drinking Mormons! Love your blog!!! Carol

  2. I have a Diet Coke daughter and a Diet Dr. Pepper daughter. They each drink their choice in prodigious amounts. They are welcome to them without censure. Anyone who can down a diet drink has been punished enough.

  3. Diet Coke is naaaasty. Regular coke is passable, but only in a pinch. Dr. Pepper, now... THAT'S the nectar of the gods.

  4. DYING over your literal companion.

  5. I can't believe this is a conversation at all. The paranoia over Coke seems to be mostly a Utah thing. Outside of Utah people really don't stress about it. I can't imaging judging someone because of it.

    These comments aren't really directed at you. Just directed at this whole topic. I think the less we focus on this the better.

  6. You can rebel the way I do: grow a beard and attend church in sandals and a colored shirt. Or you can, in good conscience, sip your diet Coke and, every now and then, toss out an "F" bomb.

  7. Hello, Eric! You might not remember me at all (which is fine), but I followed the link to this post from facebook. I couldn't resist commenting because I've had to rethink my use of caffeine (chocolate, etc.) on a strongly worded directive from my cardiologist. I have heart arythmias now (and am going on 8 years with a pacemaker). I read in the side bar that you are dealing with illness. Now, who knows whether we contributed to our situations by having enjoyed too many 7/11 runs because, personally, they were good years! I miss the colas. But I wanted to say 'good luck' with your health challenges and encourage you to be careful. I'm not a rebel. But it seems rather moot if you can't be around to put up a fight. Yes?

    1. Hey, Tayva! Of course I remember you! And we still have many many friends in common.
      I'm sorry to hear of your health woes! And you make a valid point: sodas are not good for us. In my case, my doctors don't think my Diet Coke addiction have anything to do with my illness, but they don't think they're good for me either. I really do need to quit, and I have cut back considerably. I just thought the Church rethinking its position was hilarious.

  8. I have been a Diet Coke guzzling Mormon for some time. I do not feel that I am in violation of the Word of Wisdom. I live in the south. Let me tell y'all something, if one in the south doesn't drink Pepsi, Coke, Mountain Dew etc. You may be looked at like a alien!