I was a candy kid. Starburst, Twix, Snickers; it got so bad that when I was 10, my dentist suggested I just save money and get dentures early. So whenever my mom and I would go to the store, she knew I was going to ask for something, even though I knew what she was going to say.
“I don’t have any money.”
Kids are very literal. If a kid says the house is on fire, the house is probably on fire; if some man your momma knows bought you a baseball glove, that’s your daddy. So for my mother to tell me that she didn’t have any money didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
“I don’t have any money.”
“Mommy, why we in a grocery store then?”
I didn’t understand it until I got a little older, but what Mom was trying to say was that she didn’t have any money for candy. You see, back then when I saw a dollar bill, I didn’t see a green piece of paper with an old white man on it, I saw a pack of Twizzlers. Mom saw bills. Where I’m from, every teen comes to that point when they get tired of asking their parents for money, and in the neighborhood, it’s around this time that most kids do one of two things: find work or knock people over the head for cash. I refer to this as the “Job-or-Rob” response.
“Can I take your order?”
“Can I take your wallet?”
Since I was too skinny to be a hood and everyone on my block was just as broke as I was, I went to McDonalds and got a McJob with cheese. If you’ve never worked fast food, it’s the closest thing to a sweatshop we have in this country. McDonalds may love to see you smile, but their employees hate to see you come. In fact, the only people that have it worse are coal miners, and even they get lucky every now and then, fall in a hole and collect a check. Try collecting medical off of a grease burn.
I was the grill man. I grilled burgers, cleaned the bathroom and ate McNuggets when my boss wasn’t looking. Why they had the same person cleaning the bathroom that prepared food, I never quite understood.
“Bachelor! When you’re finished scrubbing the toilet and mopping up that vomit in the play area, make some more apple pies!”
My first few weeks on the job I put in what felt like 70 hours. It was actually closer to 20. When I got my first check, I thought I had broken something. After taxes, I must have taken home a little over a hundred dollars for two weeks work. But mom was proud. I had earned my own money and I didn’t even knock anyone over the head. By this time, I had moved on from candy. My new passion was sneakers; they were to me what sunglasses were to Elton John, and I had a pair for every outfit. I spent my entire first paycheck on a pair of Air Jordan’s. One night, some friends were going out for pizza, and I had to ask my Mom for cash.
“Where’s the money from your job?”
“I bought some Air Jordan’s.”
“Well eat your feet.”
For the next two weeks, I was broker than I had been before I started working. The irony was that I couldn’t even afford to eat at McDonalds; at work I would sneak meat patties in my pocket and eat them in the bathroom. The next time I got paid, I was a little smarter with my money: I put some in the bank, set a bit aside for the weekend, and I even had a little for my pocket.
I’m an adult now and I rarely eat candy anymore, but whenever I walk through the mall and see all the newest gadgets money can buy, I can still hear mom’s voice as I eye the newest stereo system or flat screen television.
“Take care of your needs and responsibilities first, baby. Everything else is just candy.”