There are some things no man would ever do willingly (or, rather, there are some things that no man would ever admit to doing willingly), and in the past few weeks these sorts of things have come to define my life.
For instance, my wife Heather suggested that we hit up the local mutliplex and check out Something Borrowed on opening weekend. In case you don’t watch much television or don’t wander through Barnes & Noble on occasional lazy Sunday afternoons, Something Borrowed is a piece of chick lit that has achieved a great deal of mainstream success in the past decade (it is seminal to the study and appreciation of chick lit, some scholars might argue…”canonical,” even); it’s one of those books with a pastel cover and little images of cute accessories splashed across the spine: purses, shoes, hearts, sunflowers, etc. In other words, the publishers have done very little to attract Nathan Holic as a potential reader, and they really don’t seem concerned with whether I ever give the book a second thought, except to maybe consider it as a birthday gift for my wife. Anyway, the book was made into a movie starring Kate Hudson, Jim from The Office, and the mousy wife from Big Love. Again, not exactly selling points; the only thing missing is Justin Long. To be fair, I don’t mind Jim or the mousy girl, but Kate Hudson is like sauteed mushrooms…once you plop her into a movie, there’s no going back, no scraping it all off. Better hope you like mushrooms. She’s a surefire way to make any cast seem 100% Chick Flick, to make any audience member suddenly feel like they have (or should have) breasts.
This is not the sort of movie that a straight man should see, especially not on opening weekend. And especially not at 4 PM (my wife took the day off, and so I stopped working early). Looking around the audience, I think I counted four or five other men, all of them struggling for breath in the estrogen-thick crowd: yes, it was indeed a packed theater, women everywhere, four of five deep, mobs of them, a hundred BFFs bound by Something Borrowed. And yet, I had suggested this. Armed only with my trusted Regalator and $1 refills of Diet Coke, I’d actually uttered the following words: “Hey Heather, we could go see Something Borrowed. And hmm…let me finish this last document, and we can get to the 4 o’clock show!”
And then the next weekend, and I am in the same theater, once again sipping my Diet Coke and protecting my 10-year-old Regalator, and I am watching the movie Bridesmaids, and from the male perspective, this is only slightly better. Yes, we’ve upgraded from Jim from The Office to Jon Hamm from Mad Men, but we’re talking about a movie where a large group of women are on-screen together, joking, trying on dresses, engaging in womanly conflict, immersed in womanly mid-life crises, and we’re again talking about opening weekend, and we’re again talking about a sentence that went something like this, from my brain to my lips to the air itself to Heather’s ears: “Hey Heather, I got my drink cup, and I’m ready to go! Let’s go get our tickets for Bridesmaids!”
Two weeks in a row. Something had to be up, right?
After Bridesmaids ended and we left the theater, I held my Regalator close. There’s always been a nagging fear–a nightmare even–that I might accidentally walk past the trash can and toss the cup away. Lost forever! And these things are rare. In the concession stand earlier in the day, I saw an old man with two Regalator cups, one for himself and one for his wife, and I congratulated him on keeping two of them in such fine shape, and for so long. “Oh yeah,” he said. “They’re awesome.” I was hoping he’d salute me, as we were brothers of the Regalator Fraternity, but the clerk was filling my Regalator up still, and so he didn’t notice.
But that was the moment when it hit me, I think. I’ve had this Regalator for ten years, just about. The cup itself was introduced in the summer of 2000, back when Regal Cinemas used Pepsi products (I had a stack of them back then, collected from a half-dozen different movie viewings), and I had to participate in a forced-exchange in 2001 or 2002, I think, when they gave me the Coca-Cola version of the cup. Obviously, I didn’t mind that too much: walking around with the Pepsi cup made me feel like a traitor.
Ten years, me and the Regalator. Through American Pie 2, and Pearl Harbor, and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Grindhouse, and Iron Man, and The Strangers, through Shrek and Zombieland and feardotcom.com. Ten years. The cup has been part of my life almost as long as my wife has. We met in the last week of the last century, back in December 1999, and the Regalator cup came along just months later. As long as we’ve dated, the cup has been hanging around in drawers and pantries and on shelves; in fact, there is no chance that my marriage to Heather can ever be older than my relationship with that cup.
Yes, I get it. It’s a piece of plastic. It’s not as important as my wife. It’s stupid to draw such comparisons. Blah blah blah. But in non-chick-lit “literary” terms, it is a symbol: there in the line at Regal Cinemas, I felt a tremendous gravity in that simple thought: this cup is a decade old. I’ve maintained something for a full decade. I’ve kept something alive and clean and intact for a full decade, and not something that’s easy to keep alive and clean and intact, like a seldom-touched book or a framed concert poster. No, a cup. A cup that’s traveled to dozens of theaters, that survived several crummy college apartments and a fraternity house, that sat in a box in the trunk of my car for a year and a half as I drove across the country (40 colleges in 17 states!) as a Leadership Consultant with a National Fraternity, that survived a two more grad school apartments, then survived a move-in with my wife when we got married (that was the real test, methinks), and another cross-town move into our first house. It’s still alive. Used less frequently now, since movie theaters are more suited to rowdy high schoolers than to 30-year-olds who hate spending 10 bucks on CGI crap, but still used nonetheless. And it’s still alive, and I could have tossed it out into the trash at Bridesmaids?
It was enough to make my head hurt, this nightmare flash of the cup going into the trash can. What the hell was I doing there, and would I even make a good father if I couldn’t take care of a fucking cup?
And there. That’s it. That word, “father.”
That’s why we were sitting in the theater to begin with. Bridesmaids and Something Borrowed. That’s why I’d suddenly transformed our marriage from the traditional twenty-something Your Suggestion / My Suggestion battle, whereby one spouse comes up with a dinner option, or movie option, and then the other comes up with a counter-offer, and it goes on like this, like a negotiation, until a settlement is reached and both parties wind up at some mediocre restaurant that neither really wanted to be at, or some terrible movie that both are equally unenthusiastic about, maybe a concession on one weekend (“Sure, I’ll go see Zombieland“) in order to produce results the next weekend (“Hey, last weekend I saw Zombieland with you, so we’re going to Smokey Bones whether you like it or not!”). No, I was no longer expecting any return on investment. These chick flicks? This was the result of pure happiness and pure powerlessness, of seeing my wife curled up under the bedsheets with a package of saltine crackers and a ginger ale on the nightstand, just a few weeks into the pregnancy and already tired and achey, stomach upset and appetite fleeting. “Maybe Something Borrowed will make you feel better?” That sort of thing.
Knowing there was nothing I could do, but still trying every last trick I could think of.
But even that was only part of it. “I don’t know what I’d do if I ever threw this thing out,” I told Heather when we left Bridesmaids, shaking the ice at the bottom of the Regalator. Vocalizing a fear makes it go away, right?
Once, my mother took us (her three children) to the library for an afternoon, and after we’d checked out our books and played around for awhile, we plopped back into the car and headed home and…oh my GOD! She left Jason behind at the library! Screech, U-turn, car still running, darting to the front desk, where is my child! To this day, the incident is still mentioned.
Ten years, me and the Regalator. And what would I do if I’d left it behind? View it as evidence that I lack some essential parenting ability? Irresponsibility? Worse, what would I do if my own child had thrown the cup away? One of those “Daddy, I got your cup, and look, I can throw your cup away!” moments. Like a wallet tossed into the toilet.
There will be changes soon. That word, “father.” So much heavier than when I said “husband” for the first time, and that was pretty heavy. “Father.”
There’s a reason, you see, that I haven’t written a Diet Coke blog in over a year. Things were happening in my life, some of them important, some of them fun and exciting, but none that could make me hold the Regalator in my hand–a plastic cup–and just by staring at the last bits of condensation, reflect upon ten years and close my eyes and pray that I would have another ten just as sweet.
Ten years, me and the Regalator and Heather, and by early January of 2012, there will be one more to join our “wolf pack,” a Diet Coke addict who has yet to distinguish between soda brands, who has yet to open his/her eyes. Just seven more months. But in the meantime, I’ve got a mother-to-be to take care of, to drive to Beefy King at 11 AM, to drive to the multiplex for another ungodly chick flick, but trust me when I tell you that she’s far more precious than any plastic cup. And every moment is worth it.