By the time I started going to John Bapst in 1989 most of the corporeal punishment accepted while it was a Catholic school was a thing of the past. For better or worse (better) you can’t rap children’s knuckles with a ruler to guide them in learning anymore. There were some holdovers, however. A Latin teacher I had would give out cups of Moxie to anyone who bombed their quiz as punishment.
I was in a position to receive a lot of cups of Moxie, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve. The first was that Latin class came directly after gym class so I was very thirsty. The other was that, after bombing several quizzes, I was beginning to develop a taste for the stuff. I would gulp mine down, and then when the teacher’s back was turned, swap cups with other kids and drink theirs too. I dropped Latin after one semester and quickly forgot whatever vocab words and verb conjugations I had learned. My taste for Moxie, on the other hand, stuck with me.
What usually happens is I’m minding my own business when I randomly get a powerful Moxie craving. Like licorice or Thai food, once the idea gets on your tongue the only fix is the thing itself. So, because I live in one of the few parts of the world where Moxie is sold, I head down the street and buy a bottle.
Stepping outside and twisting the cap, I take a big swig and wonder, “what is the deal with this stuff?”
In our homogenized times, when so many things lend comparisons to so many slightly different things, Moxie stands alone. Say what you will about the flavor, you won’t confuse it for root beer or even Dr. Pepper. The one thing nobody feels after tasting it is apathy. It’s one-of-a-kind in a world of uniformity.
But what is this taste? Gentian root? No, the hard-to-describe taste of Moxie actually represents something else that defies description: life in Maine.
It’s not for everyone. In fact, it borders on being deliberately unpleasant. But, while it may seem strange at first, once you develop a taste it’s in your blood forever. Unique, charming in a peculiar way, at once strange and familiar, Moxie and Maine are made of the same stuff.
That Moxie reminds Mainers of themselves may help to explain some of its popularity in the Pine Tree State. This weekend 50,000 people (wait what?) will descend on the Moxie Festival in Lisbon, a town with approximately 9,300 residents. I suspect the festival has about as much to do with soda as a Grateful Dead show had to do with music, it’s mostly a cultural phenomenon.
And as we celebrate the official soft drink of Maine, with its history and deep weirdness, we celebrate ourselves.