Friday Off-Topic: Mathematics, Mike Week and Miller Chill
I may have pointed this out to you before, but I’m not especially good at math. I’m not being self-deprecating about it, because it’s truth. I have a single point in my life where I ran up against the exact limits of my interest in and ability to calculate numbers — I can identify and point at it. Fortunately for me, it was early.
Okay, not THIS early.
In Ontario we used to have a 5th year in high school, allegedly to help us prepare better for the university experience and reduce the number of students who would attempt to drink vodka through their eyeballs. The trade-off for being stuck the extra year was that we got to pick the courses we’d be evaluated on when we eventually applied to post-secondary schools, based on our top six grades — anything under that didn’t count. Predictably, that didn’t go well for me. I did okay with my English courses and even some of the languages, but bizarrely I still thought I should be well-rounded. So, despite all warnings to the contrary, I went and signed up for Calculus.
Now, Calculus even at the senior high level is the sort of thing that does not tolerate dilettantes, and crushes us ruthlessly. It has an arcane set of rules and consequences which broach no interpretation: You either have the right answer, or you do not. There may be beautiful, lyrical means to reach some new and unheard-of response in far-off classrooms populated by men in tweed jackets with chalk-stained hands, but none of them are available to 18 year-olds in their spring term of year 5.
It showed in my results. After what must have been my sixth consecutive test with a grade below 40%, my Calculus teacher asked me to remain behind after class. He was a man I’d known for a very long time, HUGE and DRAMATIC and REFINED in his classroom demeanor simply because he liked to have fun and got a big charge out of teaching that way — students loved him, and it was a relief to those for whom Calculus was not optional that he ended up their teacher. I sometimes felt guilty that I, in my academic toe-dipping, had denied someone else a spot in his class.
“Michael, sir,” he said to me, using a big voice and regarding me with scrutiny.
I made eye contact.
“Tell me,” he said. “What is it that you plan to do in university? Are you interested in the sciences?”
“Perhaps then, I wonder, do you have some intention of going into engineering? Architecture?”
No, no, I would be terrible at those.
“Indeed. Yes, indeed I agree that you would be. It’s good at your age to come to realize these things.”
If it had come from anyone else I may have died in my chair at that judgment, but from him it made me laugh.
“Michael,” he said again. “Sir. It occurs to me that if you do not in any way require this course, I should have to ask you why in the world are you taking it?”
He seemed genuinely confused, and as I rambled something about seeking a challenge and wanting to expand my horizons, his expression went from puzzlement to pity, and finally to resolve.
“Michael,” he said one last time. “Sir, I have in my hand here a form — which as I understand it you are old enough to sign for yourself — that will drop you out of this course before your grade becomes a part of your permanent record. I have taken the liberty to fill in everything but the signature.”
I signed it, and we smirked at each other. It was my final admission to myself that, much as I would love to think I can do anything, I am just TERRIBLE at math.
Now, this is a long preamble, but I share it for two very important reasons:
- Next week, Tina is going away to a far-flung place to once again show her co-workers how breathtakingly fabulous she is at her job. This leaves you all alone with me, for a WHOLE WEEK! So I think we ought to get to know each other better, starting with a little bit of sharing and caring. And also,
- Even though I can’t prove it with math, I still know that Miller Chill is a TERRIBLE deal.
I know that Miller Chill isn’t exactly a groundbreaking product elsewhere, but here in Canada it’s new enough that they’re hiring modestly attractive people to stand outside of train stations waving signs at me that suggest MILLER CHILL IS HERE and IT’S CHILLING TIME and CHILL OUT and so on. So, if I’m going to be told that my out-chilling is contingent on drinking a different lime-flavored diet beer than one I tried a year ago, I am expecting either a taste sensation or a fabulous value.
Yeah, and it’s Miller Lite with lime in it, so taste sensation it is definitely NOT.
Seriously, say what you might about Bud Light with Lime, at least it delivers on what it promises. That is some lime-flavored beer, everybody, to the point where you’re seeking to taste the beer in among the lime and bubbles — and when you’re dealing with light beer, that’s not entirely a bad situation to be in. It’s a bit synthetic, but who cares? We’ve been pretending that purple Popsicles taste like grape for thirty years, and suddenly we’re going to get uppity about things?
It is in choosing to chase authenticity that Miller Chill fully dooms itself. When you start out with a beer whose “great taste” could only be rivaled by how “less filling” it is, you do not actually want to upset the fine balance: “Yum! This beer’s flavor greatly exceeds how full it makes me feel after I’ve finished the six pack during a visit to my in-laws!” and “No sir! I could easily down another six without feeling bloated, and that is the far greater pleasure than its taste!” must ever live in tension with each other, lest the consumer realize that neither benefit actually exists in the product. It’s not like Miller Lite has fewer bubbles than other beers, and it sure as hell doesn’t taste any better. Must a twist of lime be the instrument to bring this awful truth to light?
Oh yes, yes it is. When you open up a Miller Chill, you quickly realize a few important facts:
- Hey, this tastes just like Miller Lite, but with a bit of lime.
- Oh, but the bottles are a different size, aren’t they?
- And really, it’s very similar to just a regular bottle of Miller Lite…
- …except damnation, I paid a premium for this!
- Oh God damn you, Miller Chill.
Yep, that’s right: a 12-pack of 341mL bottles of Miller Lite here in the People’s Republic of Ontario costs just shy of twenty-one bucks. A 12-pack of Miller Chill in 355 mL bottles is two dollars more, which means you actually end up in slightly better shape with the Chill. And guess how much two limes cost?
Yeah, I know, it’s two bucks — but even so, that means that buying a twelve-pack of Miller Chill is exactly the same experience as buying Miller Lite and sticking a slice of lime in it, minus the brand cachet of a nice font on the label. The whole exercise just seems so totally pointless, except perhaps to try to lure the MGD-drinking generation over to their inevitable light-beer fates. Jesus, even the girls they hire seem half-hearted about the whole thing.
“Hey guys! Yeah, wooo! We enjoy Miller Chill, probably! Yeah! It’s time to chill out with… it’s… c’mon! Look, we are TRYING but it is HOT and this BEER SUCKS, okay?”
I would so love to have proven to you that it’s mathematically impossible to enjoy Miller Chill, but it seems that I can never escape my early life lessons: I suck at math, I will always default into trying to prove a thesis no matter how hard I try, and I will always complain about drinks that try to be better than they are.
Welcome to Mike Week: It’s going to be fun.