My cousin is always drinking a Coke. Whenever I’m at his house, I can find him by listening for the sound of the top of a soda can popping. His teeth aren’t so good, and burbling acne has made a permanent home of his face, but he’s happy and alert. It’s all that Coke. He has it for breakfast, of course. And more than a couple throughout the day. More like a sixer. A colossal amount of air is released from him as regular punctuations to his excitable activities, whether watching television or talking to his mother, who is always telling him to lay off the stuff on account of the magnificent bills from Brian Almquist, DDS. Yes, I can often smell it on my cousin’s breath when we wrestle, and when he works up a sweat it’s just like a whole palette of Coke has been dropped and punctured and spilled—the smell of caramel and raw cane sugar.
Speaking of my cousin—my cousin’s father is of course my uncle, and boy is he a frighteningly bad driver. He’s always rolling through a stop sign or nosing up against parked cars as he wiggles and waggles back and forth hopelessly trying to pull snug to the curb. His family are all mortified whenever they travel in their Honda Odyssey around the bustling St. Paul suburb where they live. My cousin and my uncle’s wife, my aunt Rae, ride with their eyes locked on the action, grimaces on their faces, sure that my Uncle Lewis will drift across the center line or make a boner move involving a hair-trigger meth-head trucker, who will then be incited to elaborate retaliation.