How Now, Brown Cow


The other day I had a very grown-up lunch with a very grown-up friend where I ate lovely grown-up food and enjoyed decidedly grown-up conversation, but for some reason I found myself ordering up a decidedly un-grown-up beverage: chocolate milk.

There must be some 30-year-old association that’s burned into my psyche which connects counter stools, fried food, or perhaps even the offer of breakfast at any time of day with this great American classic. When I found the chocolate milk order coming out of my mouth, I immediately qualified, “I always have chocolate milk at diners,” as if somehow it’s a mandatory thing, like mashed potatoes with gravy, the BLT, or the three egg omelet.

That’s right. Adam and Eve on a raft, and wreck ’em. Plus one brown cow for the old broad in the booth.

This is one of the culinary preferences that I kind of can’t stand about myself. I still like cotton candy. I could eat pizza three times a week. Necco wafers still amuse me. Give me a school lunch and a half-pint carton of chocolate milk and I’m a really happy person.

Maybe for me chocolate milk is about more than just taste; maybe it’s about nostalgia. When I was a kid I barely walked 30 feet to the bus stop, and I certainly never led a cow to market, but, let me tell you, to this day I’m astonished that a school cafeteria-sized carton of chocolate milk used to cost 7 cents. White milk was just a penny less—and that was in the ’70’s. What do you think the kids did back in 1950—gnaw a penny in half to pay for their milk? Barter a handful of oats? Turn in a sugar cube every time they forgot to pack?

No, silly, everyone knows that back in the ’50’s kids rolled home for lunch on their handcrafted roller skates, carried their books with makeshift belt straps, stopped to skip rocks on the ponds that inevitably popped up along the route home, and greeted their beaming, beautiful, incredibly well-dressed stay-at-home mothers with a polite, “Hello, mother, are there any chores you’d like me to do before I go back to school?”

I must admit, though, that while I liked chocolate milk, I never really understood strawberry milk. On that rare occasion that our school actually had it, it was the rare kid who actually drank it. But you know what? I kind of wanted to be that kid, darn it, because, in my opinion, that kid really had it going on. He dared to be different. He liked what he liked and, man, he didn’t care who knew it.

I mean, I wasn’t going out on any kind of limb with my chocolate milk pick. For goodness sake, every kid who ever lived (except my kids, of course) is into chocolate milk, so I was just going along with the crowd—me and my proletariat preferences. But that kid? He was on the crest of the post-chocolate wave, like he was a really big man because he was hip enough to know that chocolate milk is so, I don’t know, nursery school.

But look at me now. I’m 39 and still ordering chocolate milk, and now the shoe’s on the other foot, isn’t it? I’ll bet it took that strawberry milk kid about 5 hot seconds to jump on the conformity express when he got out of college. Yeah, he may have had that brief stint in the Progressive Students Alliance (no doubt because of some girl), but sometimes all you’ve got to do is show a person the money, and they’ll leave the strawberry milk in the dust. Strawberry boy’s probably all grown up now, spending most of his time and all of his energy mopping up after his 1990’s day-trading gaffs and feeding a 15 can a day caffeine free Coke Zero habit. Meanwhile I’m drowning my sorrows in a nice tall glass of chocolate milk, enjoying lunch with my friends on a regular basis, and writing for this cushy blogging gig.

Now that I think of it, next time I’m out for lunch I’m going to get me a PB & J—that’s how confident I am in my 39-year-old skin.

But, waitress, cut off the crusts, will you? I’m driving.