In my family when I was growing up, the word snack didn't mean what it meant in other families. I remember I would sometimes go over to friends' houses and watch with amazement as they non-chalantly walked into the kitchen, grabbed a bag of potato chips and a can of soda, and sit down at the table and start snacking. To them, this was such a commonplace event, they often didn't even think of offering me something. They just expected me to be completely comfortable with reaching into their fridge and helping myself to whatever I wanted.
These kids were living in a fantasy world that I could only dream about. Soda for the asking? In my family, us kids used to start into my mom at around 3pm if we wanted Kool-Aid for dinner! If we nagged and cajoled for two-hours straight, we knew we had a good 18% success rate and that we would be allowed to share one pitcher of Kool-Aid between us eight kids. (I feel I should also add at this point that we weren't really getting Kool-Aid. That was a bit pricey: we usually had something called Flavoraid).
This is the way everything was in my family: everything divided eigth to ten ways. Have you ever bought a bag of potato chips and eaten the whole thing? Never happened in my family. One bag was divided into ten equally small piles of potato chips. On a rare Sunday, we were allowed to have soda. Two 16 oz bottles would be poured into eight glasses.
But these were rare treats overall. For the most part, my parents did not believe in having their kids snacking. Looking back, I think they were very wise. There is no doubt in my mind that I was better off drinking milk instead of soda and kool-aid and eating regular meals instead of eating cookies and potato chips on a daily basis. However, there can be no denying that I really lusted after junk food when I was young. It was the forbidden fruit of my youth.
The first release for this lust would come when us kids got jobs delivering papers. We would get that money in our hands and we would go nuts at the candy counter. Before we could deliver papers, we got an allowance of 15 cents a week. That meant we could buy things like a small package of bottle caps. I remember watching my older brothers coming back from their paper routes with things like Astro-pops and Milky Way candy bars. It blew my mind. When I got my paper route, one of the first things I did was eat a can of pringles potato chips all by myself. I had never know such decadence. You just don't know what it is like to sit down and eat something that you normally think of as feeding ten people all by yourself. Actually, I felt rather bad about it.
When I abandoned my newspaperboy job, I didn't get another job for several years. That meant money was really tight, but the fact is that I have always been an extremely miserly sort of person. I have never needed much money to sustain myself. Besides, once I was in high school, most of my friends were of the kind that I mentioned at the begining of this story (only by the luckiest of coincidences, I assure you!), so I was able to feed my latent junkfood addiction fairly well.
I also had a method of generating spending money that actually fed my need for junkfood. As I recall, high school lunches cost 85 cents when I was a student. Therefore, every Monday my parents gave me $4.25 to buy my lunches for the week.
I am sure high school cafeterias are much more fancy these days, but when I was there, there were only two lines: the regular slop line where you got the standard lunch served on those plastic indented trays, and an A la Carte. For years I never even dreamed of going through that line. That was the line for the rich kids. In that line you could do things like ask for seconds, double helpings, and a bunch of stuff like that. Provided you had the extra cash, that is.
One day I went to lunch with my friend Tom and he decided he wasn't very hungry so he just went through the A la Carte line and got only a piece of cake.
"Can you do that?" I asked.
"Sure, why not?" he replied.
You have to understand, this was completely foreign to everything I ever learned growing up. I never got to make decisions about what I was going to eat for lunch or what part I did and didn't want. As for being allowed to just eat a piece of cake, that was madness!
"How much did that cost you?" I asked.
"Uh, 20 cents, I think." Tom answered.
I finally saw the light. The A la Carte may have been intended for the rich kids, but I saw that I could put it to my own cheap uses. The next day, I shocked everyone by actually going through the A la Carte line.
"Three pieces of cake, please." I requested.
I got my cake squares fully prepared to pay my 60 cents. When I got to the register, the cashier looked at my tray and asked for 30 cents.
"Only thirty cents?" I asked.
"That cake is a day old." she explained. "It goes down in price when it gets old." Sure enough, I noticed what I hadn't before that the cake tray had a 10 cents sign next to it.
"Interesting..." I thought to myself.
After that, I always had my finger on the pulse of cake stocks at my high school.
On Monday, I would get the standard lunch. If they had cake for dessert, I made a note of it. Tuesday, the cakes would be available in the A la Carte line for 20 cents. My friends would always say: "Are you buying your cake today, David?" I would simply shake my head knowingly, not even trying to hide my scorn for anyone who would pay 20 cents for a square of cake.
On Wednesday, my friends weren't sure which way I would go. "10 cents, David. Probably a good time to buy cake." Again, I would shake them off and go to the regular lunch line.
By Thursday, the three day old cakes would go down to 5 cents, and I would leap into action: "BUY!!! BUY!!! BUY!!!" I would scream. I would load my tray up with ten cake squares. Let me repeat this: Ten cake squares for a total of 50 cents!!! What an incredible deal!
For some reason, the cooks threw away four day old cake so I couldn't buy it on Friday. But that was okay, five squares was enough to fill me up on Thursday. I would wrap the other five up in a napkin and save them for Friday's lunch. And of course you realize what that meant: By Friday afternoon, I would have $1.20 burning a hole in my pocket! Not a great amount of money, certainly, but over a cycle of a few weeks, I had enough money saved to go out with my friends on the weekend.
There was, of course, a price to be paid for this lifestyle. After five or six squares of cake, I sometimes felt a bit rough for my first class following lunch. My friend, Mitch, used to love to watch me wolf down my cakes at lunch and then see the effects in our Physics class the next period. I would usually get to the room before him, and I would stretch out on both our chairs so I could lie flat to try to settle my stomach. Mitch would walk up and start pulling his chair out from under my legs. He would say something sympathetic like: "If you don't get your shoes off my chair, you are going to find out how hard it is to pick up teeth with broken fingers."
I would just weakly wail out: "Caaaaakkkkeeeeeee....too....much...cake...." at which point he would burst out laughing and knock my feet to the floor.
Physics class was sometimes tough for this reason, but I almost felt fine within the hour. And by Friday afternoon, I had my ill-gotten $1.20. It was always worth it.