In an effort to instill a sense of national duty and civic pride, many nations require their citizens to, upon reaching some milestone of adulthood, spend a year or two in service to their country. Formally, the United States has no such required civil service. Informally, however, each generation of American designs their own requirements to give back. Something for themselves to endure as they are ripped from the safety of their childhood bedroom, and find themselves clinging desperately to the door frame to the outside world.
Having been born in 1987, I find myself called upon now. To join the ranks of millennials past. To walk that same path blazed by thousands of brothers and sisters before me. To forge another link in an unbreakable chain of duty. To write a nostalgic piece about some bit of 90’s pop.
The 90’s was a decade made up of many things. Or at least that’s what my research turned up when I consulted people who spent those years outside of grade school. Things like Ska Music. The triumphant rise of Daniel Stern. Vague memories of toys in a JC Penney catalogue. Bill Clinton. That soda that had little balls floating in it that I’m pretending I don’t remember was called Orbit. The decline of Daniel Stern. Zima.
Oh, Zima. That enigmatic name. That sophisticated logo. That oddly corrugated glass bottle. To my child brain, Zima was hip. It was adult and metropolitan, but in a youthful sort of way. The ads for it provided a secret window into the crisp, citrus-flavored world of adulthood. Full of young sexy people laughing and flirting with other people who were young and sexy and probably going to have youthful sex later which, thanks to the child brain, could have been anything. My picture encyclopedia didn’t go into a ton of detail about that, so my knowledge of what likely came after Zima was cursory at best.
But just as I hit the age where I could legally walk into a package store and buy whatever embarrassing wine cooler or premixed cocktail in a can I wanted, Zima was pulled off the market. The powers that be determined that, as of 2008, the 90’s were officially over. It seemed I would never experience the rooftop parties and converted loft romances that Zima had been the key to unlocking.
Sure, there were other clear malt beverages, but they didn’t have that same cache in my mind. Smirnoff Ice, Zima’s girl-next-door cousin, was always there promising a different kind of evening. Something a little less urban. A little more wood paneled basement. Still enjoyable, to be sure, but for the stylish, bawdy, urban, evening I had always envisioned, I was officially too late.
Smash cut to 2017. Thanks to the courageous efforts of my millennial siblings we have, like Orpheus, softened the hearts of our corporate betters and led so many of our lost loves back to the land of the living. Surge, French Toast Crispies, Invisible Pepsi, and Hi-C Ghost Juice had all been financially coerced back to life. And so, it should have come as no surprise when, in 2017, The Coors Brewing Company announced that the (probably) fabled clear ambrosia was back again for a limited engagement.
All that build up is what left me slack jawed outside my local package store. The same local package store that had nearly 9 years prior broken my heart was now piecing it back together. Through the plate glass window, past the cooler cases, was a modest display and a full stock of six packs. One was immediately purchased and placed in the fridge before the agony of anticipation fully took hold.
What followed was a full day of Olympic Mental Gymnastics coverage with limited commercial interruption brought to you by Coors Brewing Company. Not even the rose-tinted glass cathedral built specifically to house the 90’s could protect me. But even now as I put pen to paper I can’t bring myself to unequivocally come out and say, “Zima’s kind of crap, isn’t it?”
What I want to say, what my brain is desperately trying to convince me of, is that just one sip transported me to a halcyon world of butterfly hair clips and Drew Barrymore hair flips. AOL was still relevant, and everything was right with the world. The crisp, refreshing, citrus flavor of Zima had made new episodes of my favorite childhood shows materialize from the sheer collective willpower of thousands of other 90’s kids.
What I refuse to say is that it had a taste accurately described by a friend far cleverer than I as “cheap restaurant sangria mixed with sunscreen; like you’re eating a Spree candy that someone else sucked the hard shell off of”. I can’t allow myself to accept that this is likely the unfortunate result of a suburban teenager trying to combine cheap beer and Fresca in a mad science experiment. I don’t want to feel like, instead of a sexy rooftop soiree, I’m at a bonfire where I’m the only one not being made out with, and all the ice in the coolers melted long ago.
For someone that had experienced Zima in its heyday, there is likely a “you can’t go home again” joke lurking in this somewhere. But there aren’t any appropriate trite phrases for my experience. No “you can’t go to the home you never actually lived in and only exists on a sound stage and pretend you’ve always lived there”. Maybe this is a “don’t meet your heroes” situation. Or “don’t let your heroes be sodas”. Especially when your sexy iconic classic Coke bottle turns out to be an RC Cola in disguise.