Recent times and my move to New York have me examining my actions, my desires, and my habits pretty hard. I'm trying to support myself doing things I like, trying to take good care of myself.
I arrived with $1,200 dollars and I only work part time. I'm stretching that money far to focus on writing and art. I have a lucky living situation for a bit, I'm slow and steady learning to cook, not shopping, and, you know, deferring my loans. Eating more rice than ever before. Haven't purchased an item over $20 in months. Trimming my own bangs. That kind of thing.
The one monkey wrench in my cheapskating? The one hook that is noticeably, embarrassingly, making a scratch on the numbers?
Beverages. My Diet Coke habit. If I'm feeling up for a change: mineral water, kombucha, coconut water, iced coffee. Daily clutching cold plastic bottles or clear cups and a straw; no sooner finishing one than wanting another. Sometimes I go a day with just a can or a little coffee, a buck or two, but at least once my beverage tally reached $16, about 10.6 % of my weekly take home right now. I notice my daily is usually $2.50- 6.00, averaging a weekly $30. That's 3,000 pieces of penny candy.
Drinking this much Diet Coke is one of those practices that doesn’t serve me, makes no real sense. It's nutritionally obsolete, if not harmful, costing me, bad for the environment and fists in the air, the damn company is corrupt. I try to 86 the issue and cleanly cut Diet Coke out.
Cold turkey works until it doesn't.
I walk down the street, passing deli after market after slow-motion pop drinker and get the craving. New York is an endless fairground in the summer and city heat makes a person weak, grasping for anything to revitalize. The humidity is outright humiliating. I'm always moist, thirsty and filled with a constant nervous slowness.
So what's one beverage? What's the one or two bottles I'm buying day after day? Insignificant, and with this weather, hardly my fault. "Plus, I'm aware of it," I think, popping a straw into one of those gas station biggies, iceless for maximum capacity. "So that's good."
I keep telling myself a few things; that it doesn't matter, it could be worse, more expensive, more environmentally damaging than the mini hills of plastic bottles I produce. I could collect SUVs or still be drinking booze.
(Which makes this extremely bad news.)
I think about what concocts my delectable dark nothing, in hopes it will clog the desire. Sucking down that last half inch, lukewarm and a bit bitter flat, I wonder, “Would I shower in it? Brush my teeth with it? Give it to my cat?”
Of course not, I have no cat.
One afternoon, I walk out of a 16 Handles after a liberal 6 samples of the new salted caramel and notice an overflowing trash bin of barely used cardboard bowls and sturdy pink plastic spoons. Precariously balanced atop each other and spilling onto the sidewalk like soldiers left on a field. I shake my head, thinking, "This is only one afternoon."
On the subway, I take a Diet Coke out of my bag and as they do when they've been shaken a bit, it explodes down my front and all around me. The train stops and as people file in, the longhaired guy across from me remarks with casual hate, "You just took up two seats."
I'm not alone here. I know we're all whirlwinding around each other buying our own beverages, collecting essential oils or Hermes neckties or Chapstick tubes. Diet Coke itself is the second most popular soft drink the US. 927 million cases sold in a year.
Trying to curtail my intake, I become conscious that the attachment is deep, a little bizarre in fact. I feel like I'm doing something when I drink it, participating in something on the smallest level that quiets me somehow, fills me up. I'm comforted and un-alone, accompanied by a childhood friend whose graphic I find pleasing and whose taste bodes well. Andy Warhol thought of Coke as an equalizer, available to paupers and Elizabeth Taylors alike. It's out to eat, it's movie theaters, car trips, and for me, a delightful change from water, which gets boring and tastes like mouth.
A Saturday, after 6 hours of writing in a hot room, I buy two Diet Cokes while waiting for a train. I down them both in under 10 minutes, as if in defiance of my own attempts. When an immediate hot shot of trapped gas erupts, I panic that this is it. I've developed a fatal allergic reaction, my body is staging a revolt. I’ve heard about this before. At the very least, I’ll pass out and roll onto the tracks.
I try and let go of my concern and give myself a pass, knowing there are greater issues to tackle than a measly habit, but when I purchase one I’m internally nagged. I see some of that anti-Coke propaganda too, and think, riled up, that I should make Muhtar Kent stop sign T-shirts and rally anti-corporate.
I don't do that, and instead realize, to my failure or not, that what I feel most connected to is what I do in a day. Just about the only thing I hope or want to control. How I act, react, how I live, how I spend my money, my energy, my time. I notice there is this space between impulse and action, between wanting something and continuing to go through with the decision to get it.
I notice, when cracking open another can, and vacuous force I am, finishing in a flash, that I'm still thirsty.