The Sour Saga of the Disappearing Diet Soda

Dr. Pepper zero flavors Credit: Dr. Pepper

I don’t often drink soda (I’m originally from NYC and that’s what I will ALWAYS call it), but when I do it’s always the kind that doesn’t make you fat, but can kill you via its cancer-causing sugar substitutes. I’m determined to leave this world no wider than a 34-inch waist. Who knows? The gatekeepers in Heaven may be former tailors standing at the Pearly Gates with a tape measure.

Just as millions of other like-minded soda drinkers who prefer the no-calorie variety of this awful liquid, I search the grocery store aisle for the “diet” version. Diet Coke! Diet Pepsi! Diet Dr. Pepper! I honestly don’t care. I like ’em all because my taste buds have been forever neutralized from years of drinking this dreck. I drink ’em cause they’re cold and mostly caffeinated.

But now, suddenly, I cannot find my favored diet soda. Oh, I’m told, it’s there, but sporting new labels without the word “diet”. These diet sodas are now branded “Zero Sugar,” or “No Sugar” but should more properly be labeled “Too Woke But Can Still Make You Croak.”

I was recently informed by a millennial in my family that the word “diet” is frowned upon as a form of body shaming those who might actually benefit from losing a few lbs by ingesting more diet stuff instead of stuffing themselves.

“Younger people just don’t like the word ‘diet,” said Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America, in a recent CNN.com story. “No Gen Z wants to be on a diet these days,” he continued.

Oh sure, they don’t want to be on diets but they’re still actually dieting even though they can’t stomach the word for it. What else would you call it? “Fat food intake reduction?” “Putrid-system?” “Body Freight Watchers?”

There’s really no stigma to the word diet. Does anyone take umbrage at the profession of dietitian? These are highly skilled professionals who help folks eat healthier..by improving their diets…so maybe they don’t have to go… on diets. It’s a perfectly proper term!

Here’s the other thing. The soda now branded as zero or no sugar is the same exact swill as previously labeled diet soda. Who ya foolin’ here? Now don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be “on a diet” to drink diet soda. Maybe you just want to reduce your sugar intake or are attempting to prevent your teeth from prematurely disintegrating. Really hard to whistle without choppers.

I know there are much more important subjects to rail on but I’m weary of this steady diet of this no-sugar nonsense. It’s just left a sour taste in my mouth.

Check…Please!

I’m afraid I caused quite a ruckus the other day at the eyeglass place. When it came time to pay for my new frames and lenses I whipped out a check. You would have thought I had presented the optician/cashier a hold up note.

But no, I simply chose to pay for my new glasses using a piece of paper with pretty colors on it and places in which to inscribe important information including how much money the eyeglass place would get in return for providing me with the optical appliance necessary for me to read my exorbitant bill or to avoid bumping into utility poles or street urchins.

Here’s how it went down. The optician presents me with my bill. I present her with a check for required amount. Couldn’t be easier. But oh, it could. Her once confident demeanor crumbled into total doubt. Her eyes darted then settled on her computer monitor as she furiously started tapping keys.

“I’m gonna see if I can log into the check system. We haven’t used it, like, ever,” she informed me. “OK…it’s….just….churning.”

Starting to panic she asked her colleague at the next station for help.

“Your customer is paying by check?” the colleague asked with a look of total incredulity. “Who pays by check?” she continued as her voice rose. “Let me try.”

Same deal. Now I’ve got two optician/cashiers with workstations churning and rumbling and refusing to perform any task related to entering my payment by check. I’m actually kind of enjoying this because I know where it’s going.

I figured I’d toss a lifeline. “Wanna use my credit card?” I offered with a goofy smile.

“Too late,” my original optician/cashier said. “Once the process has begun you can’t undo it.”

Oh. Seemed like the “process” was not actually proceeding.

Then she suddenly ran away for a few minutes finally returning with a printout and a relieved look.

“OK…we did it. Needed a supervisor to do her magic. It’s done,” she said, obviously thankful her dealings with a, shall we say, “traditionalist” Boomer were almost complete.

Just a few weeks earlier, when I presented a check to pay for service to my car, the guy at the dealership whines to me, “you know how much extra work you’re causing me paying by check?” Poor snowflake! Here’s my license, do the thing!

When I told my millennial daughter about these episodes she was not sympathetic.

“What is wrong with you? No one pays by check, or even with money! Do it on your phone like normal people. Or at least use a credit card!” she scolded me.

My wife and I find it extremely easy to keep our records straight using them, you can’t hack paper and our information is never lost or compromised. Plus, the ones we ordered have pretty colors and we ordered a million of ’em so we’re pretty committed to paying by check for a good, long time. And yes, we do use credit cards…and pay our bill by check.

Now don’t peg us as old fart Luddites. We use all the latest technology as it suits us. Smartphones, computers, tablets, Bluetooth, big ass LCD TV, online reservations and purchases…. everything…but we stick with our check for some things.

Oh, we’re not alone. Here’s the kicker. There was a guy of similar, um, vintage to me sitting at the next station at the eyeglass place. Just as my challenging transaction was wrapping up, the man was given his total.

“Oh, sure. Who do I make out the check to?” he asked. I smiled the whole way home.

A Lesson From Columbine I Witnessed First Hand

I’d like to offer some hope for good things to come for the students at Oxford High School. I’m not quite your neighbor but I live less than an hour away and know your town.

I didn’t cover the Columbine shooting during my time at CNN but six months after the tragedy I was assigned to go out there to cover a football game. Columbine was going to play heavily favored rival Cherry Creek for the Colorado state championship.

I won’t write any more. Please view my story. It just proves a miracle can happen when you most need one.

White Hanukkah? Who Dreamt That?

This isn’t going according to the script. Who dreams of a white Hanukkah? Certainly not me. In the spirit of my heritage snow falling on a Jewish holiday can only mean one thing—a new reason to kvetch. What? I’m supposed to schlep to the deli for pastrami, rye and latkes for our first night meal when it’s cold and slippery?

Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it because my family depends on me to provide, but honestly, my wife’s a shiksa so she doesn’t exactly have skin in the game. Or so you’d think. But after 48 years of marriage she’s come to embrace our customs—especially those involving fatty smoked meats heavy baked goods and the implied accompaniment of sweet wine.

On Passover she sits through the seder to both respect my holiday and snag four glasses of Manischewitz… as directed in the Hagaddah. She now believes in the “associative law of Jewish holiday imbibing,” which she interprets as “who cares what holiday, pour the wine!”

It’s not enough to make her convert but compelling enough to win her blind obedience. In turn, I participate in ravenous ingestion of her incomparable honey and anise Christmas cookies. We must respect each other’s faiths and customs!

So here it is, the first night of Hanukkah with the snow falling. It’s not much. I stuck my finger in the flakes accumulated in my driveway and they’re barely deep enough to cover my first knuckle. Of course I did this without my gloves on so now I can kvetch about how cold my finger/snow gauge is. I was advised by my caring family to stick it somewhere warm. I love the holidays!

But let’s face it, at heart I’m a sucker for a snow scene, since that’s the background my mother chose when she had my picture taken at the department store photo studio in 1962. The photo is long gone. The scars aren’t.

That’s all tsurus under the bridge. We will enjoy the view…from the warmth of our home, light the candles then settle into binging episodes of “Superstore” because this holiday is all about miracles and when no one expected this wonderful, wacky series to last more than one season, it lasted six. A blessing!

To all who celebrate, enjoy your Hanukkah. To those who don’t…feh! Nah..I’ll see you at Christmas…maybe it’ll be white, just the way you sickies like it.

When Jury Duty Calls…and Cancels

Instead of writing this, I thought I would be spending today in court. Maybe tomorrow and the next day too. I was actually a little excited when I received the notice a few weeks ago that I had to report for jury duty this week. I always enjoyed covering court cases when I was a full-time reporter and now that I’m semi-retired I have plenty of time to perform my civic duty.

I was also looking forward to seeing the jury experience from the inside after covering so many trials.

But when I called the special number Sunday to find out when to report the recording said no juries were needed this week so we were all off the hook. It’s not surprising. This particular district court is located in one of the highest income and low-crime areas of Michigan.

However I was so looking forward to sitting on a panel scrutinizing arguments in what I imagine would be typical offenses in such a tony area such as someone criminally mismanaging their portfolios, a catering service providing unmemorable canapes at a pre-schooler’s snooty graduation banquet or a socialite suing a groomer for insufficient poodle fluffing.

This being Thanksgiving week, there may have even been a charge of counterfeit stuffing preparation. Swapping Stove Top for homemade? A major felony in this zip code!

No grisly crime scene or autopsy photos in this courtroom although I had heard tales of past juries being horrified by being subjected to images ill-kept spreadsheets.

This would not have been my first jury service. I did actually have the opportunity to be selected for a case several years ago in county court. The trial lasted one day. It shouldn’t have happened at all.

The defendant was facing his second drunk driving offense. The entire police pursuit was on video. The guy was weaving all over the road and when they stopped him he failed the field sobriety test quite convincingly. Open and shut but he opted for a jury trial hoping, what? We’d think the incriminating video was just a guy doing the “drunk dance” on Tic Tok?

His poor lawyer did his best to toss in a red herring argument his client was a victim of police malpractice because when they hauled him in for booking the precinct video camera wasn’t working to record the process.

“Ha!,” the lawyer exclaimed as he looked each of us on the jury in the eye. “They can’t prove they read my client his rights and other important stuff because there’s no video! You have to find him not guilty!” We could have found the lawyer of misdemeanor “trying to pull a hopeless case out of your ass.”

Once we were handed the case the preponderance of evidence, meaning the video, made our job easy. The defendant was guilty as hell. But you can’t just say you have a verdict 30 seconds after deliberating so we asked to be shown all the videos again “just to make sure.”

One juror was not amused by our sense of responsibility and announced, “this needs to wrap up by 1 because I gotta pick up my son.” As it was only 9:30am when she imposed this “deadline” on us none of the jurors were the least intimidated since there really wasn’t much to discuss.

“Hell, we’ll be done by 10!” announced the foreman who “won” that honor by looking around at the rest of us and deadpanned, “none of you look like leaders, so I’ll be the foreman.”

We watched the video a couple more times because a few insurgents just wanted to find a way to stay away from work a little longer.

Finally, we could no longer justifiably stall any longer, and after all, the whole process was about speedy justice. We took a vote and signaled the bailiff we were done.

He led us back across the hall from the jury room to the courtroom where the foreman announced our guilty verdict. There was no drama. None of the six people present were the least bit surprised. They’d all seen the video. The defense attorney patted the back of his now-convicted client ostensibly to hide his true feeling the guy was a two-time loser and will find some excuse to welch on his legal fees after paying a hefty fine.

One of the courtroom spectators who seemed to know the losing attorney walked up to him and with a sick smile said, “Hey Larry. Can’t believe you used that bullshit ‘no camera in the cop shop defense!’” Larry mumbled “for what this guy is paying me it’s all I had.”

While the judge thanked us effusively for our service the mom on a deadline muttered to herself, “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, boy’s waiting.” The juror next to her smirked. When the judge finally excused us we quickly left the courtroom flush with the belief we performed our civic duty with distinction and expedience and new respect for the jury system where one’s fate may rest in the hands of a carpooling parent who needed to teach her kid about the wonders of Uber.

Update: It’s Time For the NFL To Pull the Detroit Franchise..NOW

edLINES

This post was originally published November 23, 2020. Almost a year has passed but the urgency to pull the Detroit franchise from its longtime, losing ownership is more imperative than ever after this Sunday’s embarrassment at the hands of another losing team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Roger Goodell….do it now. Don’t wait for the season to end.

Here’s the original post.

Call it a coincidence but the Detroit Lions embarrassing whitewashing 20-0 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday was exactly 57 years to the day Pres. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, thereby ending the idyllic era that became known as Camelot. It was also on that fateful day the franchise came under the sole ownership of the late William Clay Ford, ending the era of hope for Detroit Lions fans.

Since the Ford family took ownership of the team more than a half-century ago, the Detroit Lions, the City of Detroit…

View original post 417 more words

Vetting the Pop Tarts Torts

As a news guy I’m sad to report this item. We’re out of news. Debate it all you like, but when I discover dozens of stories about two separate lawsuits regarding Pop Tarts, that’s all the proof I need.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. One tells the true tale of an Illinois woman filing a $5 million class action suit against Pop Tart maker Kellogg.

Another suit filed by a woman in upstate New York not only calls for $5 million in damages but a jury trial! I’d love to be called for jury duty in that one. I’d bring a case of Pop Tarts and hand ’em out with juice boxes in the jury room.

Here’s the alleged rub. The cereal litigants believe they are owed some dough because the strawberry Pop Tarts don’t have enough strawberries but a lot of sugar, apples and pears. Pardon me. It’s fuckin’ fruit! Strawberry is one of them. If they labeled them Pear Pop Tarts would anyone eat them? There already is an apple variety. So it’s strawberry by default. Label says strawberry, ya got some.

I’m kinda passionate about this particular item because it not only helped me earn my college degree but woo my eventual wife as well.

It was 1969 at the State University of New York at Oswego on the frigid shores of Lake Ontario. I was sent there by my parents who wanted me as far away as possible from the morons I hung out with in high school 325 miles away in Queens.

Early on I met a cute coed and we hit it off right away. As things progressed I visited her room more often. Being a gracious hostess hoping to win my heart she plied me with well-presented frosted apple Pop Tarts and a nasty Finger Lakes wine called Catawba Pink. The combination of cardboard stuffed with sugary gravel and the vile vino was a potent aphrodisiac.

When the Pink Catawba finally ran out, we washed down our subsequent Pop Tarts with an appropriate substitute, orange Tang—the stuff astronauts drank then had trouble peeing out into their space suits. Yes, it took space age fake orange juice to break through the cement formed in our bowels by the Pop Tart’s crust/mortar.

Well, this went on through 1973. Pop Tart fueled snack assignations that provided the fuel for both our studies and our romance that led me popping the question in March of that year. Upon graduation and marriage shortly thereafter we went on to dine regularly on Pop Tarts, branching out from apple to brown sugar cinnamon, always, always, with frosting. A Pop Tart with no frosting could only be used for one thing…a shim under a wobbly table.

As we’ve aged we were forced to end our Pop Tart habit since they had a way of creating impassable intestinal dams, making colonoscopies impossible—much the same way those foolish lawsuits would jam up the courts with nonsense Pop Torts.

Deciphering the ‘Amodio Moment of Surrender’

UPDATE: Of course the day after I posted this and Matt said he enjoyed it, he lost. Of course he already knew he had lost, but that’s the kind of guy he is. He’ll win the next Tournament of Champions…invoking that Amodio Moment of Surrender once again.

I’m enjoying Jeopardy ninja Matt Amodio’s run and don’t give a damn about him using “what’s” with every answer. What’s the difference? But this scribble is about something I haven’t yet seen mentioned about his play. I call it the Amodio Moment of Surrender.

Here’s how it goes down. There are games when Matt simply messes with his well-meaning, but ultimately inferior opponents. Oh, he may actually go into the red during the Jeopardy round, fall behind for a bit and seem as if he’s just another curly haired nerdy guy with a buzzer hair trigger.

Imagine the other two standing there thinking to themselves, “Holy crap, the guy is mortal. I have a shot. I HAVE A SHOT!” It’s really so sad. They don’t have a shot, or a chance in hell. You see, Matt Amodio has apparently memorized the entirety of Wikipedia along with the Bible, Torah, Quran, the complete works of Shakespeare, Voltaire, Stephen Hawking and Johnny Rotten, along with every episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Sheldon Cooper’s “Fun With Flags.”

At some point Matt appears to tire of toying with these nice folks. It’s tough to tell exactly when it happens because his habit of alternately smiling and grimacing is effective camouflage. Pay more attention to his play. He’ll suddenly be first to buzz in and answer several high value clues in a row adding to the bankroll he’ll need for the coup de grace he can only deliver courtesy a Daily Double.

He finds it! Bets five-figures, fumbles so you think he majorly screwed up, then pulls out the correct answer from wherever he’d been hiding information that until this moment, was entirely useless.

Now he’s put 10, 15 grand between him and the nearest competitor who is now, no longer a competitor but rather a garden gnome filling a fallow field.

The Amodio Moment of Surrender has arrived.

Once smiling, engaged players who have waited decades for their shot on the Jeopardy stage, the Amodio Moment obliterates any shred of hope they harbored. They have the blank, defeated, thousand yard stare wishing for a power outage or other calamity forcing an early end to the taping, and therefore, their misery.

Some just give up. Their score is frozen because they no longer have the will to buzz in. Others will attempt to play knowing unless Amodio suddenly collapses from having endured six different hosts they have no shot.

At last Final Jeopardy arrives. It doesn’t matter if Matt is right or wrong. He’s so far ahead of the others all they can do is play for second because number two gets a grand more than the third place loser. In either case, they hardly break even on their costs to travel to Los Angeles to suffer a nationally televised embarassment.

My family and I have learned how to recognize the Amodio Moment and actually cheer when it arrives. We laugh a little too because we’ve enjoyed a little wine with dinner…and we’re kinda mean.

One day Amodio will lose. Another player up to the task will invoke his or her own “moment” on Matt. He will humbly submit, politely congratulate his vanquisher and when the 47th temporary host of Jeopardy asks how he feels his face hardens as he invokes Walter White, responding, “What’s….I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.”

World Trade Center Sidebar: A Remembrance In the Round

When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to build the World Trade Center that meant the end of what was known as Radio Row on a Cortlandt Street. Radio Row was a string of musty shops that carried all manner of tubes and transistors and capacitors and resistors, circuit boards and knobs and cabinets from which radios and other electronic devices could be built or repaired.

Among them was an unexplained anomaly–a little shop that sold bowling stuff. It was there my father, who worked nearby, stopped in when the store ran its going out of business sale since Cortlandt Street was going to disappear. My father was an avid bowler and couldn’t resist the deal that was offered: new ball, custom drilled, with his initials engraved in it and a bag—10 bucks. Sold.

My dad used the ball for several years until his health faltered and bowling was just too much of a strain, so he gave it to me. My father was right-handed and that’s how the ball was drilled. I’m a lefty but the ball seemed to work just fine for me. I rolled my lifetime high game of 250 with it. Never again came close.

I still have the ball, the bag, and even the long-hardened little jar of sticky stuff you put on your fingers to keep the ball from slipping off. It stopped being sticky decades ago. When I bowl, that’s the ball I use. I love that my father’s initials on it. He passed on back in 2007, nine months before my mother.

It’s like he’s with me at the alley, exhorting me to line up with the dots, don’t cross the foul line, don’t loft or drop the ball—just roll it smoothly.

When my friends would ask me about the ball I’d always joke and call it the “World Trade Center ball,” because if they hadn’t demolished Cortlandt Street to build the towers the bowling store wouldn’t have had to run its going out of business sale and my father would never have bought it.

But ever since Sept. 11, 2001 the World Trade Center ball took on new symbolism to me. It reminds me of a time before the towers were built in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. In an earlier post I recalled how I watched them being built during my lunch breaks when I held summer jobs in Lower Manhattan while I was in college. And now they were down. Not even 30 years old, just like many of the men and women who lost their lives when the planes hit them.

You know, when the Twin Towers were built New Yorkers hated them. They looked like two big featureless rectangles jutting up throwing the beautiful symmetry of Manhattan’s skyline. It was all wrong. The apex of the scene was always the Empire State Building, further uptown on 34th Street. It was centered, it was perfect. Now the picture was out of kilter.

Ironically, on 09/11/2001 the picture was out of kilter again. The World Trade Center was gone, the skyline the way it was before it was built. The way it was when Cortlandt Street and Radio Row and the bowling ball store were still there. Yet every day we wish those towers and the people who were in them that horrible day were still standing. What a much better picture that would be.

I don’t bowl much anymore but every once in awhile I’ll pull it out of the closet, take the ball out of that bag, look at my father’s engraved initials and wish both he, and those whose lives were lost in the buildings that stood where the old bowling store stood, were still alive.

Busting Baseball Crib Notes

I’m old enough to remember hiding “crib notes” in my hand when attempting to not fail a trigonometry exam. Oh c’mon, you did it too. Maybe you scribbled some facts in pen on your hands or arms. Get caught, you get sent to the principal’s office, or worse, get a F on the exam. Aw, don’t act self-righteous about it. I bet you read the Classic Comic version of Silas Marner or dove into the Cliff Notes rather than suffer through the actual, depressing book.

Yeah, yeah, it’s technically cheating, which has me thinking about what’s become glaring demonstrations of cribbing among Major League Baseball players. It’s right there on TV. Catchers sport those flip up things attached to their wrists that contain intelligence on opposing batters. Pitchers and position players doff their caps where they’re hiding cheat sheets on how to play the next guy at bat.

I don’t know the exact wording but I’m imagining something like, “Joey Bagadonuts sucks at hitting sliders,” “Andy Eatme hits to short right field and has bad breath.” This is invaluable intelligence as to how to pitch to or defend against the hitter. But it just smacks of smuggling crib notes into the test room.

Boston- 07/25/19- Boston Red Sox vs NY Yankees- Sox pitcher Rick Porcello looks into his hat in the 2nd inning as Yankees Aaron Judge comes to the plate. Photo by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff(metro)

OK, I’ll invoke it. What I was a kid, players just, well, remembered things about their opposition or had a feeling about the guy and acted accordingly. Can you imagine a grouchy Nolan Ryan looking inside his cap for advice on how to brush back a batter with a 100 mph fastball? Screw it, he’d just terrorize the guy on general principles because it’s fun.

If Ryan’s catcher had the temerity to flip up and refer to crib notes on his wrist and then actually suggest a pitch based on that information, I’m guessing he’s the one who would get the heater aimed at his head.

Did Willie Mays need notes hiding on his head? Are you kidding? Ball goes up, ball comes down… in his mitt. What’s so hard about that? Nothing, if you’re Willie Mays.

I know, it’s all related to the scourge of sports related Sabremetric, data, numbersnumbernumbers, blah blah blah blah.

Go ahead, without Googling it, tell me what OPS is. Sure, some of you will know, others will pretend they know, honest ones will say, “don’t give a shit.” What’s the guy hitting? Launch angle? It’s baseball, not NASA. The ball’s gotta rendezvous with the fielder’s mitt, not Venus.

during Sunday’s baseball game against the on April 15, 2018, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

I love it when they tell me how fast the ball left the bat. Sure, it lets you know how hard the guy swings but honestly, some of the most effective swings are slow and easy and result in run scoring hits.

All these esoteric stats may be included in these cheat sheets but to me sports is all about training, natural talent, instinct and spitting.

But it would be fun to see the umps crack down on this stuff, like test proctors, ejecting guys for using the crib notes on their wrists and under their hats rather than playing the game using their heads.