By JEFF PICKELL
I think it was during my sophomore year of high school that I went into training. Training is good for folks; it tests their might and determination, their willingness to transform into something new.
When I completed my training, maybe around winter of my junior year, I was indeed transformed—into a bigger, fatter slob than I was when I started. You see, some people train for triathlons, or marathons, or dodecahedrons, but I spurn such health and geometry related pursuits. I was training for a true challenge, a challenge of the mind, of the spirit, a challenge that numbs the heart and bereaves the soul. A challenge only the manliest of men would undertake.
I was training for the Pepsi Challenge.
The Pepsi Challenge, for those who didn’t spend 1997 through, well, now planted in front of the television, begins with attractive marketing employees from Pepsi asking consumers whether they prefer Pepsi or Coke. The consumer then samples both Pepsi and Coke from separate dixie cups and reports to the employee which of the two they prefer. If the consumer says they prefer the Coke sample, Pepsi loses. If the consumer says they prefer Pepsi, Pepsi wins. At least, that was the gist I took away from the commercials.
At some point during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I resolved never to be a tool of corporations, so I quit my job at McDonald’s Corp. and took a position as a stock boy at CVS Corp. This wasn’t of my own choosing, however; my desire to not be throttled to death by my mother for not having a job ended up outweighing my desire to not be a corporate shrew.
But I decided that, even if I was forced to slave for the man, I should still try to stick it to him in some way. Since sitting around drinking pop all day is one of the few things I’m good at, training for the Pepsi Challenge seemed the best method of going about this.
So I sat around in the cooler at CVS, all day, a bottle of Pepsi in my right hand, a bottle of Coke in my right, trading sips, struggling to discern the subtle differences between the two, and growing fatter and grosser by the second. Truly, I stuck it to the man with no concern for myself.
I must say, I trained diligently. Toward the end, I could tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke by sight alone. The only problem was that I had no idea where one went to take the Pepsi Challenge.
The commercials portrayed the Challenge as if it were some kind of spontaneous extravaganza, as if the marketing employees burst onto the street from some hidden place, surprising and terrifying unwitting consumers. For a good spell I kept a reserved demeanor about my fat self, expecting reps from the Pepsi Corp. to explode onto the scene at any moment, expecting to totally stick it to them. However, Pepsi never came, and by graduation, I had to accept that my training was for naught.
But then, I went to Canada.
Specifically, I went to Canada for a rock and roll show, and was having an awful time. It was a 90 degree day, and I was sweating and thirsty and marooned in a foreign land, far away from my couch. All around me Canadians were jabbering in their absurd and primitive dialect. It was like a buzzing in my ears, and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to stick it to the man. And then, when the sun was highest in the sky and it seemed I could bear it no more, I saw them: two attractive young marketing employees administering the Pepsi Challenge in the distance.
I marched over there gritting my teeth, years of pain and anguish and obesity replaying in my mind, and stepping up to the challenge booth dared the marketing employees to do their worst.
“Do your worst,” I said.
“Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?” asked the employee.
“I prefer RC Cola,” I snapped. “Now let me take the challenge.”
She motioned to the cups. I finished them in two gulps, then slammed them to the table and said, “That one’s Pepsi, that one’s Coke, and you’ll never make a dime off me again.”
Before she could respond, I wobbled off, satisfied, the fat on my upper arms jiggling.
There’s nothing like sticking it to the man.- Nov. 16, 2005