Moxie II

  Jerome Shea       November 25, 2011      Weekend Wonk

(Yes, this is Moxie, Part Two, in which your intrepid wonker faces his fate!)

At this point, nostalgia turns mean. My Moxie reminiscing had followed a docile pattern, predicated on the sure assumption that the Moxie enterprise had gone belly-up in the late ‘40’s, that this elixir of the Puritans had gone to join the shadows. But ten minutes’ research revealed that the Moxie makers were alive, well, and now based outside of Atlanta, Georgia, the soft drink capital of this country. I did not rejoice.

I did not rejoice, but I did write to the president of the Monarch Company (a subsidiary of Moxie Industries) for more information. It was he, Peter A. Kill, who sent me a cordial note, The Moxie Mystique, and, somewhat later, a full case of the product. With a riot of contending emotions in my breast, I appealed to my mother-in-law on Cape Cod—Moxie is still marketed only in New England—to send me a can. She sent a quart. It arrived just before Christmas and I stuck it in the fridge.

The nostalgiac is a strange and perverse animal: he feeds on loss. His wry creed is that Things Ain’t What They Used to Be, and what would be cold comfort to others is the hearth where he warms himself. But unless he has cut all ties to reality, he has got to subject his faith to doubt, if only to keep it strong. If, for example, some provocateur in Kansas claims to have reincarnated the old Ford flathead, the nostalgiac will make a cynical trip to Wichita, give the thing a test, and—if the gods are smiling—pronounce it a cheat. His faith is reaffirmed and he battens on it. But that first night in the Wichita airport motel was a fitful and sleepless one.

Just so did I regard that quart of Moxie. Ten times a day, on errands for cheese, peanut butter, or the occasional apple, I had to salute that quart of Moxie. First thing in the morning, groping for orange juice, I beheld its patient, taunting presence; at the nightcap hour I would reach for it with steely resolve and then, rationalizing faster than thought, squiggle a beer can out of its harness and retreat cravenly.

Finally the pain of unknowing became greater than the pain of putting off. After cleansing my palate one last time with gasoline (regular, leaded) and a pinch of lye, I poured a dollop of Moxie into a terrarium-sized brandy snifter. For a full minute I let my nose wallow in the bouquet. Then I tipped my past into my mouth and down my hatch.

Moxie had not changed. Every nuance of taste was still there: the metal on the tongue, the astringent underside of the bark, the note of chastisement for one’s own good.

But it was woefully diminished, as if the spirit of the thing were down the road and past the bend. I wasn’t blasted by a trumpet; I was ensorcelled by a French horn, moaning forlornly in a far vale. My wife broke into this tacky reverie to remind me about all the strong drink and tobacco fumes that have traipsed across my tongue for twenty years. She was right, of course, and she spoke for the other half of nostalgia’s equation: the beloved holds firm but the lover suffers time’s changes, be they deeply spiritual or, as in my sorry case, only physical (this was not a loss of soul, just a loss of taste buds). And Moxie surely hadn’t changed. To remove any last doubt and grab whatever revenge was handy, I bade her drink. Moxie was swift in its work. She scraped her tongue desperately and threw her mouth into reverse, like the puppy that got into the shoe polish. That may be the last good turn that Moxie has done me.

The nostalgiac celebrates loss because he is at heart a coward. The world tells him so persistently that he cannot recapture the past that he comes to believe it. Almost. Enough so that the invitation is not worth the risk. Better a decently dead and decently buried Moxie than that, in drinking it, he should wind up eating crow. And all this torment besets him because some people still have the moxie to make Moxie. The ironies clang in his head.

Of course, I am spared all this. Moxie is truly not the same for me now, thanks to my excesses. To petition for a taste bud transplant would be an affront not only to science but also to morality. One accepts one’s just deserts so that order may stave off chaos. Let Moxie’s taste revolt my wife; for my son, Moxie may be a memory aborning.

By such means I try to make my peace. But I catch myself making dangerous plans: if I scorned the world’s opinion and threw off these cautions—if I struck some Faustian bargain with the Mayo Clinic—Moxie might, just might, take me back to the resplendent summer of ’47. And for part of the way I could get a lift in that ’50 Ford flathead that once purred under me all the way West, freighted with dreams.

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