July 15, 2003

This summer I've rediscovered lemonade.

I used to "rediscover" lemonade every summer,  the same way I "rediscover" hot spiced cider every fall, or Shamrock Shakes every spring, or watery Swiss Miss Cocoa with those little styrofoam marshmallows every time the first good rainstorm blows through. Growing up, Grandma's watery home-squeezed lemonade was as much a part of my childhood summers as library books and shade trees and warm wormy raspberries, eaten straight off the bush. Even into my teen and adult years, lemonade was often the hot weather beverage of choice ... especially when *fortified* with plenty of bitter cheap chablis. (Inexpensive high; you can drink buckets of it and remain vertical most of the evening; semi-manageable hangover afterwards.) But then I managed to pretty thoroughly overdose on lemonade, the summer I lived alone in the Tree House. Not only was lemonade a lot cheaper than carbonated beverages -- and when you're digging under the sofa cushions every morning, looking for your bus fare, every nickel and dime counts -- it was also a heck of a lot more convenient. In those days, I had to cart my groceries home on the rickety Tri-Met #32 every night. One can of frozen lemonade weighed a lot less than, say, a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. Plus it left plenty of room in the grocery bag for the more important groceries ... like a box of Mountain Chablis, or a six-pack of Saxer's Lemon Lager, or both.  I drank so much lemonade, during the summer of 1998, that eventually I grew to loathe of the taste of it, the smell of it, the sight of it in my refrigerator, the sticky residue on my kitchen counters and my doorknobs and my computer keyboard. Plus after a while I began to equate lemonade with hangovers, homesickness, leaky air mattresses, failed romance, far-away family. It's probably no wonder that I haven't sought it out very often in the years since.

But now all of a sudden lemonade is back ... with a vengeance.

David and I were having our weekly emergency dinner at Applebee's a couple of weeks back, during the first of a series of epic heatwaves here in the East Bay. Lately Applebee's has sort of become our default Where do you want to eat?/I don't know: where do YOU want to eat? restaurant of choice ... especially on those limp and uninspired evenings after a long day of dirt and newspapers, when it's just too damn hot to cook and we're too frazzled to think more creatively. It's certainly not the ambience at Applebee's that draws us back, week after week. For reasons we have never been able to figure out, they persist in seating us in The Shrieking Infants Section, even though we are 1.) middle-aged, 2.) never accompanied by Shrieking Infants and 3.) clearly not in the market to acquire any Shrieking Infants of our own. It's not because we're crazy about the menu, either. (Although I must admit they do make a decent house salad. And there is something weirdly addictive -- if redundant -- about the Chicken-Fried Chicken.) Mainly we go there because Applebee's is currently the only generic, all-purpose "family style" chain restaurant on the entire island, now that Lyon's has closed ... and at least once or twice a month, generic/all-purpose/"family style" chain food fits our needs better than anything else. When the nice young Applebee's waitress came to take our drink orders that night, I automatically ordered my usual -- "Sprite or 7-Up, either will be fine" -- and then I sat there and waited for David to order his usual iced tea, no sugar, two lemons. Except that he didn't ask for an iced tea this time. Out of the clear blue sky, he asked for a lemonade, of all things, which promptly threw the order of the beverage universe into spinning lopsided chaos.

A lemonade? Why didn't *I* think of that?

I spent the entire meal enviously eyeballing David's drink ... especially once the ice in my soda began to melt. Watery soda -- especially watery Sprite, in the middle of a heatwave -- is an abomination. Lemonade, on the other hand, is one of the few cold drinks I can think of that is actually improved by melted ice. In fact, the more watery and anemic it is -- the more like my Grandma's fresh-squeezed -- the better I like it. 

"Are you going to finish your drink?" I asked David, all innocence and indifference, once we'd paid the bill and were getting ready to leave. When he said no, he'd had enough, I grabbed his half-empty glass with both hands and chugged it down like Lance Armstrong chugging Aquafina at the end of the Tour De France.

It tasted like coming home.

That very same night I insisted that we stop at the grocery store on the way home from the restaurant so I could appease my sudden lemonade jones. I was between paydays that night, so I bought two of those industrial-sized jugs of cheap store-brand lemonade. (Slightly on the oversweet side, but drinkable.) Within 48 hours, both jugs were empty. I went back on payday and bought two more, springing for the more expensive Minute Maid Fancy-Pants 'Premium' this time. (Slightly on the acidic side, but drinkable.) Once again I went through them both in less than 48 hours. Since then, I've pretty much turned into a lemonade-drinking machine. Lemonade with wheat toast in the mornings. Lemonade with my cottage cheese and fruit for lunch. A splash of lemonade for flavor in my water bottle when we're bike-riding. A bedtime lemonade, as I'm curled in bed watching my subpar summer-replacement reality-TV shows. I drink it at home, at the office, on the bike trail, in the Subaru. I'm not a lemonade snob, either. I'll drink it pink or yellow ... pre-made or frozen concentrate ... out of the can or out of the bottle. (Although I'm actually thinking about going to East Bay Restaurant Supply this weekend and buying one of those cut-glass lemon juicers like Grandma used to have, just so I can more authentically replicate the lemonade of my childhood, seeds and all.)  

I can't really explain this sudden new obsession with lemonade ... except that it's cold and it's sweet and it tastes like my childhood, and it doesn't keep me awake all night or give me heartburn or make me have crazy dreams about airports and overflowing toilets all night long. I can pour a big glass of it over crushed ice and leave it sitting on the headboard or the kitchen counter or next to the computer, while I go off and do laundry or make a phone call or work on the Upstairs Neighbor Guy voodoo doll some more, and when I come back it's just sitting there waiting for me, all melted and watery and perfect, just the way I like it. It's a very low-maintenance sort of beverage.

Of course, I know that I'll be sick to death of lemonade in another few weeks. Like a lot of things I love suddenly and unreasonably (see: Don Johnson, "Last of the Mohicans," chat rooms, KFC Honey BBQ Wings), I'm aware of the fact that I'm probably overjonesing here. By the end of the summer I'm going to be so sick of the smell of lemons -- real or otherwise -- that it will be another five years before I'm able to look at a can of Lemon Pledge, let ALONE a nice frosty cold glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

But that's OK. I know that lemonade will be there, in the Summer of 2008 ... just waiting for me to "rediscover" it all over again.

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