No Doys Allowed: A 90s Odyssey Part One

The folk costume of my people is a pair of Zubaz, shoes that light up under the heel when you step down, and a No Fear t-shirt.

Taken moments before downing a bottle of Cherry Clearly Canadian, eating a bag of Keebler Pizzerias, listening to Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, watching President Clinton address the nation, taping Must See TV so I could watch it later, reflecting on my crush on Claire Danes on My So-Called Life, and making an Austin Powers reference. And wishing my pants didn't look like I stole them from the closet of Jared from Subway.

Taken moments before downing a bottle of Cherry Clearly Canadian, eating a bag of Keebler Pizzerias, listening to Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, watching President Clinton address the nation, taping Must See TV so I could watch it later, reflecting on my crush on Claire Danes on My So-Called Life, making an Austin Powers reference, checking my Rider Strong hair in the mirror, and wishing my pants didn’t look like I stole them from the closet of Jared from Subway before he went on the diet. 

We are the 90s people, and we seem to be just now coming into our Springtime. We were forcibly removed from the old country right around the year 2000, and for a time it was forbidden to use our native language in the open—words like duh (and its regional variant doy), cowabunga, psych!, NOT!!, and all that and a bag of chips. But in the last few years you might have heard snatches of our beautiful tongue on street corners, on memes, in darkened bar rooms or in the part of your town that has come to be known as Little 90s, the only place in the whole city you can get a decent Hot Pocket and pack of Gushers. If you close you eyes and take a bite, it almost feels like you’re back at the mall shopping for Bart Simpson slap bracelets at Spencer’s. It feels like home.

While my nostalgia usually takes a little while to kick in, my longing for the 90s swallowed me whole the minute they were over. Mine isn’t the only generation to feel they grew up in a time when things were simpler but superior. But I mean, we had to, like, wait for our modems to connect to the Internet. Uphill. And we were thankful. Because we had to meet strangers in the America Online People Connection chat room, and that’s just always worth the effort. It was a rich time, often doofy but usually well-meaning. When both you and an entire decade can be described using all the same adjectives, I think it’s safe to say that you have discovered your personal golden age.

Am I gushing? I’m gushing. Like I said, I know almost everyone looks back and is glad they were born when they were born, but every other generation was extremely confused. What they thought was the best food ever, the best entertainment ever, the best music ever, and the best childhood ever were actually very grey, lifeless experiences. Because next to a neon tracksuit and matching orange rollerblades, everything looks grey and lifeless.

I loved the 90s so much that I threw my first 90s Theme Party in January of 2003. Theme parties will probably crop up again a time or two during this year-long blog journey, because let’s face it, there’s nothing to not love about them. For this particular soiree, I told everybody to come dressed up and that we’d spin all our old favorite hits and maybe eat some Bagel Bites, because when pizza’s on a bagel you can eat pizza any time.

But they were like…”we don’t really look any different. That was only, like, three years ago. Uhhhhhhhh.”

But it was my birthday, they were good sports, the party happened, and it meant a whole lot to me. For a few hours I got to feel a little of the spirit of those simpler times, when Batman movies were for comedy and the kinds of tragedies now so common were still mostly reserved for fiction.

For this week’s quality time with something I love, I revisited my habit of revisiting the glorious past. I started by spending a ridiculous amount of money on a case of pop.

Many of my middle school and high school years were spent conferring, conversing and otherwise hobnobbing with my brother wizards in a magical fantasy game invented by me and my friend Dan. It was sort of like Dungeon’s and Dragons, except we hated reading instruction manuals and remembering technicalities so we just played a version that mostly revolved around us creating characters that were idealized, magicalized versions of ourselves. And this kind of imaginative heavy-lifting made a fellow thirsty. And the games often lasted for many, many, many, many, many hours. So we needed a way to catch second, third, and ninth winds. Enter: Surge.

SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU (deep breath)UUUUUUUUUUUURGE!

SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU (deep breath)UUUUUUUUUUUURGE!

I think humanity can pretty much agree on a few things: a mouthful of something cold that can almost instantly dissolve all of your teeth is probably the most refreshing beverage on a hot day there ever was. Or on a room temperature day. Or on one of those days when the news shows that certain places in Minnesota are (with wind chill) colder than the surface of Mars. It didn’t really matter. Surge was the perfect drink—a nectar so exquisite that there was no ambrosia to pair with it that could keep up. Its perfect companion was in fact just another can of Surge. And three is the magic number, so it seems only right to have one more. And some of us have OCD and can’t stand odd numbers so we need to drink a fourth one just so we can sleep better at night. Except now we’ve had so much caffeine and maltodextrin that we have vibrated off this plane of existence and have transcended the need for sleep, and while we’re astrally projecting ourselves all over the galaxy later that night, you better believe we’re stopping by the fridge to grab one more as a midnight snack.

I’m gushing again. But that’s what happens when they suddenly pull my most beloved drink from shelves right around the early 2000s—a legit and acute carbonated appetite for something mixes with the syrup of nostalgia, and I am forced to pine longingly for the stuff in my dreams, which were something I had to get used to again after I stopped vibrating through astral planes and was reintroduced to sleep, having come down from my Surge high for what I thought was the rest of time.

During the height of its power, Surge projected itself into another astral plane of awesomeness by including in a large 24 pack of cans a mix CD of hand-picked small musical acts that hadn’t really made it big enough to garner an album worth buying. I played that limited edition Surge CD often, but for the life of me I can’t remember the bands that were on it. I think maybe one of them was Prodigy, who liked to sing songs about starting fires. I swear that Five for Fighting might have been on there, too, but who knows. Definitely not me. And if you think I’m going to Google something while I’m in full 90s mode, you are sorely mistaken. So I will just have to wonder, like we used to. Uphill. Both ways.

The 90s People wanted their national drink back. They started petitions to the Coca-Cola company. They started forums and chatrooms and I played my part by including a scene about it in a play in the Chicago Fringe Festival. They begged, they pleaded, they wept, they had sit-ins and walk-outs and finally, finally last September the people won and Surge was brought back from the dead. By Amazon. For, like, a million dollars a pop. But we do what me must, no?

I shelled out my million, and in exchange they sent me a dozen 16 oz cans. I had them delivered to my office, where I tore open the box and stared down the can I had been longing to see for over ten years. It…it might have been what Odysseus felt the first time he laid his eyes on Penelope after his hullabaloo. I felt a little more complete. I felt flooded by memories of our old times together. I felt remorse for all the times I had been unfaithfully bedded by the witchy mays of Mello Yello, but those days were done now.

Surge hadn’t aged a day. In fact, it maybe had grown more beautiful. It certainly had, well, grown—they somehow defied science and doctor’s recommendations and crammed an extra four ounces into each can, because this is 2015 and they could. This self-described fully-loaded citrus soda with carbos hit my lips at last, and let it be said that the taste of nostalgia has nothing on the taste of something real.

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