It looks delicious.

But it ain’t.


I had a free drink coming, so I went mildly wildly and ordered a large glass with half almond/half coconut milk, two shots of espresso, and four scoops of protein, to which I added two packets of stevia. My friends had made it just like I asked them to, but it is a frothy, foamy failure in taste. It does look nice, however, and I will drink it all for the nutrition.

I am not relenting from Lenting off chocolate (especially Lindt) until, let’s see . . . 4 days, I hour, 21 minutes, and 3 seconds have passed from this. Period. Then, surrounded by friends, I will savor some fine chocolate, for myself and for the world.

But, if this drink were chocolate I could easily imagine that it is “a chocolate malt with extra malt”. That is what I always told the soda jerk (who was instead, a kind and patient older gentleman) at the Rexall drug store in the place of my birth.

It was summer . . .

Hot is too mild a word. Add humid. Then put in oppressive. Slowly pour some density into the still air. There is no stirring this aqueous near-solution. It just sits, with weight, upon all that it touches, and its fetid fingers reach into every pore, and pull all remaining moisture from you, drenching you in your own essence, exposed to the sun.

It was the summer after third grade for me.

Mrs. Welch, third grade teacher, was ugh, gorgeous! Too pretty to teach me anything except the power of beauty, I suppose. I do know that still. I remember the classroom with wood-topped desks in cute rows, and I sat one from the front and one from the left. Windows on the left side looked out upon the asphalt playground with gloriously unsafe equipment. There were metal bars worn smooth from elementary hands, and a merry-go-round that had a delightful squeak from an aging axis. Rusty, jagged bits of other metal were here and there, with sparse bits of dried earth and grasses and weeds pushing up through the gaping cracks. They were clinging to life dearly, just as we did on the bars with the sweet agony of gravity and free-fall, and on the merry-go-round as we took turns learning the forces of a centrifuge.

Mrs. Welch taught me physics too.

And on this day, I was experiencing the physics of friction between molecules, generating energy that manifests as heat. And the physics of respiration and condensation and evaporative cooling seeped into my consciousness. Like I said, it was hot.

And it was grocery shopping day with my mom. She pulled the light blue Ford Galaxy 500 (three-speed manual on the column) into the parking lot and circled around. What is going on over there?

I am not making this up: there was an elephant in a parking lot in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Dozens of people were gathered around while a finely-dressed ringmaster type spoke to them. The elephant had on a saddle of sorts, I could see, and a saddle usually means . . .

I don’t even remember if the Galaxy had stopped as I opened the door and ran as fast as I could across the parched pavement. Heat, what heat? There is an elephant! Mom caught up to me, and yes you can she said. For 25 cents–a week’s allowance–you can ride an elephant. That quarter had been burning a hole in my pocket anyway, and another anyway I would have shoveled its poop for a week without pay to get to ride that elephant.

The man, though nicely-dressed, was a little brusque. I am sure that I thought he spoke with authority then, you know, because he commanded the beast and all, but he was probably a rude carny. And what did I care then, and what do I care now about that? He was a guy giving happiness to children and making a buck or two. He helped me up, way up into the saddle, and the smell was earthy, exotic, and utterly foreign. The leather and wood saddle creaked as I sat in it, and the man gave a command just like Tarzan, “Tantor, umgawa!”

And then, the entire earth moved.

I was king of the known world sitting atop a mountain as it shifted beneath me. I felt unimaginable power below and all around, and there was slow, unstoppable strength there as my friend, Tantor, snorted once and walked with certainty amidst the sounds of leather and wood and the smell of the jungle.

[I weep, thinking about it now, remembering the joy that I felt, but even more so my mother, who took even greater joy in my happiness, I know.]

Some amount of time passed, though it is still here, that time, never lost, and we walked across the parking lot with residual joy from my brief reign, I with the gait of gaiety, and she with love for her son. Midway to the store, she nudged me to the right slightly. I need a couple of things from the Rexall, she said, as we walked toward that orange sign with blue script.

By now, the jungle call had left me, and it was just hot again; and the physics of it had ramped up several degrees. We went in, and instead of shopping the aisles for a “couple of things” my dear mother led us to the counter of the soda fountain. I knew what was coming: she would order a chocolate sundae with chocolate sauce, and then she would turn to me.

She is doing that now, turning toward me, and I am saying, “A chocolate malt with extra malt, please.”

And it is all so delicious.