I couldn’t tell whether the stranger was mocking me or we were on the verge of bonding over my breakfast beverage of choice.
“You don’t see many grown men who feel secure enough to order one of those in a crowded diner,” he said.
We were sitting at the counter in the Youngstown Grille, just up the street from the Tin Lizzy and the best breakfast place in Westmoreland County — and I’m not saying that just because they put posters of me and my books up on the walls (although that doesn’t hurt in the rankings).
So what was I drinking that was so childish it startled the stranger?
Apple & Eve juice box?
Pedialyte with a twist?
No, it was chocolate milk.
And although I can’t be certain, I think it had just two ingredients, chocolate and milk. So it isn’t being cunning or trying to conceal its composition. It’s the Gin & Tonic of breakfast libations.
When did it become a dietary object of ridicule?
I looked at my place setting. There was nothing else there that, to me, would draw mockery. There was no sippy cup. No loopty-loop straw popular with the 4 year olds. I stopped using those when I turned 50 and decided it might be time to try to at least appear mature.
In fact, there was no straw at all. There never is. The efficient and pleasant Youngstown Grille staff all know not to ever bring me a straw because they’re trained to understand this bedrock characteristic of my conduct.
No straws. I don’t suck.
I should have known ordering chocolate milk would one day become controversial the day my wife felt compelled to share her nutritional insights in ways befitting a supportive spouse.
“I can’t believe you still drink chocolate milk,” she encouraged.
It was like the day she busted me removing from the freezer what would qualify as a sunrise staple in my college days — and that’s higher edoocation!
“That’s your breakfast?”
That was Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, an ice cream delicacy created by Vermont alchemists who one day divined caramel, marshmallow, chocolate ice cream and tiny chunks of fish-shaped milk chocolate would hit the same spot in the craving brain as bacon and eggs.
And invite me! I’ll even bring my own spoon, the one with the happy, little dinosaurs on the stem.
I already know the rap on chocolate milk. It’s high in calories and sugars that lead to obesity and heart disease. The internet usually conveys the news accompanied by pictures of grim-looking doctors with stethoscopes draped around their necks.
But the pro-chocolate milk people tend to use drawings of cows with reassuring grins that seem to say, “Love me! Eat me! Drink me! I’m yours to plunder!”
I’m not kidding when I say I felt the stranger and I were about to bond. I was disposed to liking him immediately. Why?
For one, he was reading a book. A major league book.
Yes, it was hard cover. Mine are all softies, which is only one step up from the cardboard kind teething toddlers gnaw on or as I call them “Read ’n’ Chews!”
We talked about where to find the best breakfast in the area.
“I live in New Stanton,” he said, “and I’ll drive a long way for a great breakfast. This was a long way but it was well worth the drive. I’ll be back.”
I showed remarkable restraint by not pointing out the posters and books on the shelf were mine.
Before departing he thoughtfully poked his head in the kitchen and said loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear, “Thanks, men. That was the best breakfast I’ve had in years. I’ll be back.”
I hope he is and soon. He seemed like a great guy.
I won’t even mind if he ridicules me for drinking chocolate milk. He could tell me healthier options and I’ll tell him to shove off.
He can go Phish.
But only on the days when he doesn’t feel like driving to Youngstown for breakfast.
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