VICTORVILLE, CALIFORNIA – I sat in the lobby of the cheap, seedy, run-down motel, patiently waiting for the front desk guy to get off the phone. I’d once again managed to lock myself out of my room in my rush to pick up a forty from the gas station across the street.
I heard the door chime and looked up to see what sort of character had wandered in. The man was tall, skinny, and strung-out as fuck. I guessed from the way he was twitching that he was high on meth. He took a moment to survey to room slowly before zoning in on me and wandering over. The front desk guy raised his eyebrow at me. I could tell we were both thinking the same thing.
“Hey,” he said.
He looked around to make sure the walls weren’t listening and leaned in to share his knowledge with me.
“You wanna know the secret?” he asked.
“You know…” I wasn’t sure if he was winking at me or if his eye was just twitching a lot. “The Secret…
“Ohhh,” I said, stalling for time as I reached for my notebook and pen. “The Secret. The Secret to Life, the Universe, and Everything?”
“No. The Other Secret.”
I looked up at him with my pen poised ready in hand.
He continued nodding at me for a few minutes before his eyes suddenly became wide and glossy.
“You wanna know the secret?” he drawled again. “The secret… is chocolate milk.”
“Chocolate milk,” he repeated. “It’s chocolate milk! Chocolate milk! Cha-co-lette milk.”
“Chocolate milk?” I raised my eyebrow skeptically.
“That’s right. Chocolate milk. I work out on the oil fields, see? When me and my buddies are working out there 97 hours a week, chocolate milk is the only thing getting me through.”
“I believe you.”
“If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense,” he said reasonably. “It’s tasty, nutritious, and cost-effective. You can just get a whole big gallon of it as the gas station for just three-ninety-nine.”
He looked around shiftily and took out a small bottle of Tru Moo from his pocket. He took a quick swig before showing me the details on the package.
“Now see, this one here is pint-sized. Portable. Perfect for on-the-go. I got this one awhile ago for about a dollar twenty nine. I just refill it from the big one I got in my fridge at home.”
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Somewhere over there,” he said, motioning in the direction of the setting sun over the hill. “I’m just out for my evening walk.”
“That’s lovely,” I said.
Suddenly, my new friend whipped his head around and stared in horror at the wall behind him. He started sweating and his eyes began bugging out.
“They’re here!” he hissed. “They’re listening in on me again. I can’t let them know. I have to protect the secret.”
“You go,” I said dramatically. “I’ll stay here and hold them off until you can get away. I won’t let them know the secret. I’ll fight to protect it to the death.”
He gave me a creepy, twisted smile and bolted out the front door. Luckily, right at that moment, the front desk guy got off the phone.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “That guy comes in here all the time. He’s a tweaker. My apologies if he was bothering you.
“It’s okay,” I said. “He wasn’t bothering me at all. I’m a writer. I got a good story out of it.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss?”
“As a matter of fact, there is,” I said, promptly getting back to business. “I’ve locked myself out of my room again…”
Sometime later, I was shopping in the dairy aisle at the grocery store when I heard his voice calling to me again.
“The secret… is chocolate milk. It’s the only thing that keeps you going when you’re out there working 97 hours a week.”
I picked up a gallon immediately. To this day, when you see me sitting outside my apartment with a red solo cup in hand, there’s a 99% chance I’m drinking chocolate milk.