Maybe it’s a genetic abnormality, maybe it’s a dark knot in my psychology that can never be untied, but whatever the reason, I never much liked chocolate milk. Chocolate, yes. Milk, yes. But the two combined always seemed to me to be a culinary experiment less successful than trout ice cream. Then, a few years ago, Gerda——who doesn’t share my long list of food quirks ——brought home a half-gallon container of Hood’s Calorie Countdown chocolate milk. My life was forever changed.
Hood’s is headquartered 3,000 miles from me, in Massachusetts, where I have never been and where, therefore, I couldn’t even be certain that they had cows or knew about chocolate. Yet here was a sublime concoction, more chocolatey than the bland chocolate milks I had known before, like a liquid version of the chocolatiest of chocolate ice creams, yet only 90 calories a glass. The vicissitudes of life ceased to bother me. I no longer worried about planet-killing asteroids plunging toward Earth or that some demonic TV network would resurrect the old series My Mother the Car.
Then one day a great darkness fell upon me. Gerda came home to say that the supermarket where she bought Hood’s no longer carried it. And she couldn’t find it elsewhere, though she had looked in markets major and minor. I knew then, as never before, the full meaning of the word devastated as it is used by the lost and grieving figures in the great tragedies of the theater.
When Hood’s web site failed to reveal any stores in Orange County, California, where the magic elixir could be purchased, I thrashed in anguish for several hours, and then thought to write to the address on the last depressingly empty carton of their exemplary product. In my letter, I said that if there was a store selling their chocolate milk within a 30-mile radius of our house, I would crawl there over broken glass to buy it, though I hoped that I would be able instead to drive there at ballistic speed.
In the two weeks required to receive a reply, I had our last empty carton of Hood’s Calorie Countdown chocolate milk encased in Lucite and mounted upon a pedestal in my office, so that I might never forget the perfection that had once been and might never be again. When an envelope appeared in the mail, bearing the return address of Hood’s, I hesitated to open it, fearful that I might be told there was no way to obtain the precious liquid other than by purchasing a refrigerated 18-wheeler, driving to Massachusetts, and personally hauling a year’s supply across the continent and up the treacherous Rocky-Mountain highways. (I had investigated the cost of doing just that, and I had found it was not prohibitive, considering the alternative of a life without the world’s best chocolate milk.)
But the wonderful, kind, and all-around delightful woman working in Hood’s customer-relations office provided the name of a market within a reasonable distance of our home. My relief was akin to that I felt when the Soviet Union collapsed and, for a few years at least, the imminent threat of global nuclear war diminished.
I have my chocolate milk again. I am at peace. Though sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, rattled by the fear that if for a while I could not obtain Hood’s chocolate milk, then any of life’s essentials might be denied me tomorrow. What if, for example, a total collapse of the Cheddar market made it impossible to obtain those little Goldfish crackers?