Monday, April 30, 2007

I was going to post a deep and reflective birthday post, but this is much more urgent

Can you drink Attic milk?

This question drifted up from the nether reaches of consciousness, as I was trying to convince my brain that it really did want another hour or two of sleep, despite the bright sun and the sticky green leaves outside my window and the kids hollering at each other from the sidewalk. I was quite lucid for most of the time surrounding this question, thinking more or less alternately about my in-progress assessment of pragmatism and objectivism and about love. But in the midst of this, the question was asked: Can you drink Attic milk?

I don't remember who was asking; it was definitely another voice, not native to my identity. It followed naturally enough from the conversation which preceded it (of which I can't remember a word), but I felt, a minute after it had been asked, that there was more to it than appeared on the surface. It was a test, of sorts; much was expected from my answer. No mundane "yes" or "no" would do, I must try if I could to be witty, or insightful, or encyclopedic.

This posed a problem because I had no idea what the question meant. Attic milk? What is Attic milk? If, as I first guessed, it was milk left over from the time of Attic Greek, my answer was easy: a dryish, deadpan response about the milk's probably having spoiled by now. But even that was problematic. Surely milk from the 5th century BC would have long ago not only spoiled but hardened, crusted, turned black and finally discomposed entirely. My answer contained its modicum of wit, but it left an opening for my interrogator to up the ante, to come back with a correction which, if also phrased wittily, would leave him or her indisputably victorious in the conversation.

On the other hand, the "attic" could mean the upper storage area of a house. If so, did that mean milk that is stored in an attic? What special properties would such milk have? Intuitively I imagined it being very cold, and therefore couldn't see how it would be different from regular old refrigerator milk. On reflection, though, I'm recalling that most of the attics I've been in were oppressively hot. In this case the milk would probably be well on its way to following the other kind of Attic milk, and also the attic would smell horrible. But even so I feel there must be more to it than this. If attic milk is a substance distinctive enough to have its own name, there must be something particular about it, beyond its storage temperature. Only I can't imagine what.

Wikipedia's disambiguation page lists, apart from these two usages, only the names of three companies: the US and Canadian branches of a record label, and a German computer game developer. I can't make any sense of milk in either of these contexts.

The interrogator is gone, of course... disappeared almost immediately after posing the question. I haven't even had an opportunity to pass or fail the test contained in it. I suppose this is a good thing, since I'm pretty much at a loss. Can you drink Attic milk? Can you drink attic milk? Attic milk...

Well? Can you?