Published February 20th, 2008
Hello, my name is Erin, and I am a Clamatoholic. Clamato. Say it out loud and it sounds like a dirty word. Everyone crinkles their nose when I own up to loving it. Because culturally speaking, Clamato is like Spam's ugly-duckling stepsister. Canadians might drink this stuff by the gallon in their Bloody Caesars, but stateside, we think Clamato is weird or yucky or downright horrific - providing we know what it is.
"You drink tomato and clam juice?" my friends say with disgust after I explain the crux of Clamato.
"Um, yeah," I mumble and look down.
Even Motts is embarrassed by their 42-year-old clam drink. The label features a glistening glass of red liquid along with some celery, tomatoes, lime and, tucked behind the glass and barely visible, an innocuous-looking clam shell, as if to say, "Hey, there's lots to love in here! Never mind that pesky clam." Motts also doesn't like to own up to Clamato. The only place you'll find the maker's name is in tiny squeaking letters on the back label along with the mandatory address of origin and "product of USA."
Unlike buying a cute rectangular can of Spam, which is occasionally stacked in a we've-got-nothing-to-hide display at the end of the aisle (and yes, I have been known to wash down Ritz crackers topped with Spam and a dash of Tabasco with a Stroh's beer; and yes, I did even once make Spam sushi, which I proudly dubbed Cleveland Rolls), buying Clamato is a closeted experience.
Grocery managers know we Clamatoholics very well. Hence, there is never, ever a Clamato display of any sort. We don't like people watching us chew our nails as we fret over the "nutrition facts." And we'll pay any price, so you'll never see BOGO under the Clamato bottles, which are amid the land of Knudsen's Very Veggie and those dubious cans of Frank's Quality Kraut Juice.
Clamato is actually some combination of tomato concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, salt, onion/garlic powder, ascorbic acid "to maintain color" (I love that Mott's explains this ingredient to me, almost an apology: Hey, we only put the ascorbic acid in there to keep this shit good and red!), dried clam broth, vinegar and red 40 (Er ... about that last one, folks ... the tomatoes and ascorbic acid weren't quite doing the job so we went ahead and just added some of our regular red as well).
Eight ounces of Clamato contains 880 milligrams of sodium.
I tell myself every time that no one should drink anything that has 37 percent of the day's salt in one cup. What if I want a Cleveland roll later on? But one glass here and there, moderation and all that jazz, right? Thirty minutes on the elliptical will sweat that out, no problem.
With that intention, I pluck the stratified blood-red bottle from the shelf and drop it into my cart while evoking an image of tomorrow's breakfast: a whole wheat bagel, fat-free cream cheese and a sensible six-ounce glass of Clamato garnished with a lemon wedge. Call that a perfect send-off to the gym. What a good girl! Maybe I'll buy a fresh tube of pink lip gloss as well.
Full of self-satisfaction, I turn toward the rest of my errands, the remainder of the day and the fall of night.
The black space between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. is populated with even sleep and soft dreams. But then come the nameless hours between 2 and 5, which bring the demons and desires, the sleepless fits. I toss and turn, thinking my useless thoughts: Where is the dry cleaning slip? You would look stupid in Robin Meade's make up. Do not eff up. So it goes until the image of the gleaming bottle of Clamato comes crashing in on all of it. I try to push it away to no avail. In no time, I am tiptoeing down the stairs, snickering to myself like a misplaced Grinch on his way to suck down the last can of Who Hash.
Nude save a pair of cotton undies, the miracle of the refrigerator light spills upon me. I wrap my hands around the bottle and shake, shake, shake, all my Erin flesh jiggling along in celebration.
I relish the twist of the cap. The sound of the breaking seal is barely audible, but satisfying nonetheless. I don't bother with a glass, just stand ablaze in the glorious illumination of the open refrigerator, guzzling the clammy, sweet, salty, tomato-y nectar. I cannot stop myself.
I. Fucking. Love. Clamato.
The next morning, I wake with the uncomfortable results of consuming 3,520 milligams of sodium and 240 calories of what is essentially colored, flavored and diluted high fructose corn syrup. I slither to the breakfast table. My husband clears his throat with no further comment on my bloated appearance or the empty Clamato bottle on the counter.
"Never again," I vow in a throaty voice. "I'm never buying it again!"
Six months later, beads of sweat form on my upper lip as I peer up at the top shelf of the grocery juice aisle and reach up with a shaking hand.