Lies and Untruths

Gillette, Peter

The first time I ever fell in love, I was in Madison, Wisconsin.
I was in eighth grade, and we were on a school band trip to play for UW’s high-octane marching band director, Mike Leckrone. It was November, I think.
I don’t remember much about that trip, except that I put on a caffeine drinking exhibition. I believe it was Jolt I drank on the way up – two liters of it. You know, it’s a very eighth-grade thing. At the time, the father of my good friend, Jordan Nobler, worked for Coca-Cola, handling distribution to Midwestern Burger Kings.
Knowing my predilection for caffeine (which I have since toned down to a one-cup-of-coffee- and-two-or-three-cans-of-Dr.-Pepper habit), Jordan let me in on a little secret: Surge was on the way. Surge was Coke’s rather excessive response to Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew, albeit caffeinated, remains more a product of clever marketing than food-chemistry mad science. Surge was highly adulterated, straight-no-chaser pop.
On this trip, Jordan and I discovered
that Surge had been distributed to Madison, and we went to town. It was such a rush, such a thrill of discovery. And then, a 12-pack of Surge in my backpack, I went to a bookstore.
I saw an attractively jacketed, silver-and-white hardcover book sitting out on sale for about $5: “Watergate” by Fred Emery. If it hadn’t been for the excessive caffeine, I never would have been so excited to see a book about . Watergate. But I was, for some reason, and on the three-hour trip back from Madison, I plunged into the book. What an interesting man Nixon was! All of these great things he did, quite liberal things, and then this criminal conspiracy! That was it. I was in love.
You see, I just finished recovering from my final weekend as a trivia master, and this past weekend represents the apotheosis of my love for Nixon and my love for Jolt. I was trying, to paraphrase Shakespeare, to delve these great loves to the root, and I came upon this great memory of this terrific day.
Since that great day I have acquired, at my own financial detriment, literally dozens of books on Nixon’s presidency, many of which have proven to be terrifically trivial sources. At about 4 a.m. Saturday morning, I couldn’t fall asleep (because so much Jolt was in my system), and what did I do? I read a few pages from David Greenberg’s fantastic “Nixon’s Shadow” and found that I was even less apt to sleep. So I turned on some Ken Burns instead and I was right out.
I prize that day in Madison, because it represents for me the source of my burgeoning
pride and comfort in becoming an absolute geek, and represents to me why a mindless, asinine event like Trivia Weekend can feel so satisfying.
Throughout high school and earlier, social pressures convince us to bite our tongues when we have the right answer, so we avoid looking like know-it-alls or so we avoid the stigma of the brownnoser. Sometimes, though, in the privacy of our library carrel or over the signal of WLFM, we can feel a rush again, as if for the first time, not caring whether Jolt or the joy of reading is the source; the two become indecipherable. It is a sort of Nerd Heaven on earth.