Growing up in Cicero, IL during the Millennium, when people were shoring up canned goods to survive the Unanimous Blue Screen of Death on every register that never happened, I blurred heavily the twin beasts of Need and Want. One is pragmatic. Essential. An archetypal fact built into the function of life anywhere on the planet. The other, The Thing We Shall Not, is luxury. Icing. Embellishment not every life can spare, excess we oughta do without.
I found this dichotomy first in food. You paying for lunch or is the school paying for it? You have cash for those Swedish Fish, the ones you throw at girls to try and land one in a bra? What are you gonna eat during summers when your parents aren't home, left no real cash for food (had no cash for food, there were times and I now understand why), with you and the other neighborhood kids? Mind you this is before the advent of organic. Had never even heard the word. In the Midwest, the most widely accepted version of hippie is drug addict, not health fanatic. So it goes, and you end up buying Mamba's and 25 cent juice jugs (red over purple, everydayeverydayeveryday) and rotating who gets the raspberry.
This was our bounty
and our economy distributed wealth fairly. None of my friends were exactly my age. My older brother had his own paths to cut, my younger sister was one of my first true friends but her toys were just boring to me (Polly Pockets, nail polish remodeled Barbie's, Tweety Bird everything). I was always somewhere in the middle of the pack, not young enough for that automatic sympathy for babies and not old enough to pull rank. For this reason I was near last in the rotation of Raspberry Mamba's.
What drew us to Mamba's wasn't just the spread found in one package, but the name appeal considering our healthy dose of Nova on PBS. I was almost 8 years old when Kobe was swapped for Vlade Divac, so mamba for me meant this:
Widely considered the world's most dangerous snake (fastest land snake in the world, second longest in the world, and HOW MANY TERRAINS OF SNAKE ARE THERE TELL ME NOW), venom that can kill a man within 20 minutes, aaaand brightly colored variety pack candies!? Is there one single loss in there? Don't bother. There isn't.
See poverty holds the seed of Negative Capability and we didn't know that lack actually still fills your pockets, and sometimes your stomach. The potbellies of extreme poverty swollen with hunger type of horrific, never-should-be thing. When I lived above a donut shop and next to a Wendy's I doubled my weight in one academic year (I was 5'2", a sentient chicken nugget). My father worked 2nd shift for a blink and then graveyards for the length of my youth. My mother, a Telemarketer, worked during the prime hours to bug people watching daytime television. Forget tracing the stem of economic inequality, OG Sin, or lack of education to the blooms of disadvantage we really did water - my childhood, in my mind right right now, is still juicy.
We had migas every morning. We played basketball against the tin sign above an abandoned garage, shots counted by the ring. We played 2 hand touch football in an alleyway and the only thing that stopped us wasn't energy then but traffic. My friend Eddie Sparks, whose parents smoked Marlboro's and drank Eight O' Clock (god rest Ed Senior and Linda's souls, I loved them), threw a spiral so hard one time that it hit my chest and knocked all the feeling out of my left nipple. Must have been 40 degrees out and we would throw passes to each other from alleyway to alleyway, across 23rd place, and with every completed pass we took one step backwards. I was always the smaller kid, but was never interested in letting the limitations of my body govern my decision making (not always the best idea but this was the seed of my disinterest in math). Eddie was bigger, had that cornfed whiteboy heft about him but lived in the first floor of our apartment building, so I considered us equal. By sheer mass we were nowhere near equals. This was before my donut/Wendy's days and he must've had 30-40 lbs on me and 3 inches of height, easily. It was one of those Midwest days where the overcast is so thickly laid across the sky, and you've been out for so long, you can't tell if it's sunup or sundown, and he threw a pass faster than my lessons to "catch with your hands, not your chest" could react. Didn't get feeling back to my nipple til a few years ago, and still not full.
My father learned through his love of karate movies that you have to intake a certain amount of Earth to stay alive, and I learned that through watching him since no karate man will say this.
"Karate man bleed on the inside." - a common Garza adage misquoted from Trading Places.
Enter broccoli, the #1 ranked vegetable of my youth (now 3rd behind beets and brussel sprouts), probably still the most versatile of whole the cruciferous clan.
Green Tea and veggies, even if it was Arizona Green Tea and doused in Ranch, I figured were important counterweights for survival. Just enough anti-sweets to get back to sweets. Enough country to enjoy soul music again. Some inclination towards opposites aimed in all my decisions being born from an Italian mother and Tejano father in a racist town the Whites fled from because the Latinos came. Racism never making any sense to me because I was a petri dish for it, for how it might literally be overcome by the blood of love and not death.
I got a monist friend who really does think God and Devil are one being, the back and front of one monolith. Just yesterday he said "When I walk down Michigan Ave. and see all the homeless....I mean if I gave every single person on that street money I'd be right there with them" and I felt that pang in my stomach from the logic. Generosity inward or outward, pleasure in lump-sum or monthly disbursements, black and white or 1 quillion takes on gray.
What I do know is that even today when the work crew went out for Ricobene's, the Breaded Steak Sandwich you'd send out to fight Ajax, I opted salad. At Chef Freddy's they got this rosemary vinaigrette so strong you have to open a window so it doesn't stink up the office. I'd prefer it if God wasn't the Devil, and I don't believe they are one, but that's a product of my innate rhythm. I cleave to people then scorn them if the claws don't sink equidistantly back. Even married, at this very second, my fridge consists mainly of raw vegetables and chocolate or beer. I want my Mamba's and to eat them too. But pre-eaten Mamba's?!