I drank milk.
From as early as I can remember in quantities the American Association of Dairy Farmers would have considered “admirable” until my body suddenly started treating it like battery acid, I drank milk. Early on it was 2% then 1% and then skim. Whatever I ate (except pizza) I drank milk. My parents bought a gallon every week and between them my sister, and myself, we drank it all nearly every time.
I was the largest part of that we.
For as much as I loved milk our milk never tasted as good as the milk that came in my Fonzie cup.
It wasn't my cup exactly as it wasn't even in my house. It was in my neighbors’ house across the street. A couple my sister and I called aunt and uncle and whose three kids were practically our cousins. Everyone in that house babysat for another or me at one time or another. And everybody knew that when it was snack time, it was Fonzie time.
Before the cup was mine it probably belonged to one of their older children, somebody who would have wanted such a cup when the show Happy Days was actually on the air.
The cup itself is practically a relic. A white plastic mug wrapped in a thick paper printout of the Fonz and then encased in another piece of clear plastic. Print on the bottom says “Copyright 1976 Paramount Pictures.”
I don't know why I even got it for the first time or how I had come to know of its existence.
I imagine one of those moments where a sincere adult asks a child what cup they want to drink out of to give that child options, to make them feel older than they actually are.
I don't remember milk at their house before the Fonz.
The cookies that accompanied his vessel only heightened my affinity for the Fonz, two kinds in particular. One was a Striped Dainty, shortbread cookies coated in one side on chocolate and the other in drizzles of chocolate.
They weren’t completely new to me as they made an appearance at my house on occasion, but whereas Oreos and Chips-A-Hoy were staples at our house, Striped Dainties were much more of a staple across the street.
The other cookie was like a white unicorn. Keebler Elves, a sandwich-type cookie stuff with filling. I knew of the Keebler Elves because they were always on TV during Saturday Morning Cartoons, shucking their product, cookies that looked exactly like themselves. Cookies shaped like actual people! Well, elves anyway.
Imagine my excitement when for the first time I got to sit down and see these tiny celebrities emerge from the closet and arrive on my plate. Elves! Elves that were absolutely stuffed with chocolate. I can still taste them in my mouths memory. They had a flavor I could only accurately describe as "elation."
I probably never got more than 3 or 4 of them but their effect was significant. I remember loving them. Actually loving a cookie. It was another reason to be excited about snacks and dessert, as though I needed one.
I spent less time with the Fonz, as I got older. Eventually I stopped needing a babysitter all together, and the Fonz and I grew apart.
Years passed but my family and the family across the street still celebrated holidays and special events together. Dinner at one place or going across the street for coffee.
Always coffee, they were always coming over for coffee. I didn’t understand the ritualistic nature of it, but I could appreciate its significance.
And when they came across the street to our house it was like any other time. But when we went to their house and dessert time came. It didn't matter what age I was, the Fonz made an appearance.
Richard what are you drinking? Milk? Do you want your Fonz cup?
I always said yes.
Every time we'd laugh about it and recount how that came to be my favorite mug. It had little if anything to do with the Fonz himself as a television celebrity. And perhaps I was cognizant enough at the time that the guy with the shiny hair in the black jacket was "cool." But I kind of doubt it.
It had more to do with the fact that it had just become my mug. And when something becomes yours, well, the need for anything else just doesn’t exist. So what started as novelty became ritual and then tradition.
As I got older that mug became deeply connected to memories and people important to me. Drinking from that mug was my way of reliving those memories, reloving them, and preventing them from harm. From disappearance.
Some time before I was a really an adult, and long after their children had all become adults, the couple across the street moved away. They packed up their house and their belongings and headed south.
But before they left, they gave me a gift.
I've had it ever since.
It doesn't get much use; as to do so would almost defeat the purpose.
Feeling the smooth thick plastic between my lips raised by handle that was once upon a time twice the size of my hand feels like religion. It feels like paying tribute. It feels beautiful.
To this day, It sits in on a shelf in my apartment, not unlike my fathers aftershave, unused but not unloved.