Monday, May 30, 2011

Little Gold

Happy Memorial Day everyone! Do I have a treat for you today...

So - I took a non-fiction writing class recently, and I got to do quite a bit of writing for it, on top of critiquing, and perhaps most important of all, revising, which is a muscle I've rarely flexed on my own in the past. Having seen the the incredible results that come through revision though, I now most certainly see the value of doing it all the time.

I'm going to slowly put some if not all of my pieces from the class here on this blog. All of them will be revised to a satisfactory degree (i.e. until I get sick of reading my own writing), and given the extra special Matt Shafeek Seal of Approval. Some pieces will be longer and will probably be broken up into parts, but today's is a shorter piece I wrote for one of my first exercises in class.

Without further ado, I present to you: "Little Gold." Enjoy!

-Matt


Little Gold

Throughout my childhood I developed a nasty relationship with a lot of really unhealthy food. Candy, soda, chips, sugar, salt, fat. I had little tolerance for anything that qualified as less than flavoriffic. Though I was a mostly obedient child (my mother said my “terrible two’s” were mostly spent drawing and coloring) I put my foot down at mealtime. I only wanted to eat what tasted great. Nothing I ate ever contributed an ounce my near-skeletal frame, and any concerns regarding sugar intake, heart disease and cholesterol were decades away, so I saw no reason not to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, danger be damned. And what I wanted to eat was usually Doritos.

Doritos - named after the term “little gold” in Spanish - took a particularly strong hold on me at a very young age. I brought them with me to my elementary school every single day in my bagged lunch. During lunch I’d take a bite of my sandwich, and whatever kind of sandwich it was - ham and cheese, turkey, or peanut butter and jelly, I would always be sure to cleanse my palate with a chip in between each bite. I also had larger bags of them waiting for me at home for after school and then for after dinner. I started heated debates over the respective values of each of the two flavors: Nacho Cheese - which I thought of as palette-pleasing perfection - versus Cool Ranch - a bland, boring afterthought of a flavor, barely more worthy of your time than a disgusting bag of ordinary, unflavored Lays. I lived for the brief but delightful moment of licking my fingers clean after finishing a bag. If you asked me at this point in my life which one food I would bring with me to survive on a desert island for the rest of my life, there wouldn’t be a moment’s hesitation.

Doritos were my obsession. I even came up with what I thought was a brilliant snacking technique involving my crunchy ambrosia that I thought would revolutionize the way people thought about their food. One night, down to my final Doritos reserves in my bedroom, I decided the eat them a little differently than usual - I took one chip out of the bag at a time, and slowly licked off every last speck of nacho cheese flavoring on it before finally eating the remaining saliva-filled, soggy (but still tasty!) tortilla carcass. I realized that by extending the amount of time invested in each chip, you’d make a $2.50 bag last hours, possibly even days! This was a true moment of ingenuity, and to think I came up with it at the tender age of eight years old! Starving families would be able to survive on a single bag per week, and self-conscious dieters now had a way to indulge with only a fraction of the guilt! All it would take was a little bit of discipline. Discipline, that sadly, I myself couldn’t maintain.

My undying love for America’s favorite tortilla chip was tested on March 18th, 1987, a day that will forever live in nacho cheese-flavored infamy.  In the lunchroom at P.S. 138, during the course of eating my lunch as quickly as possible in order to squeeze in as much outside play time as possible, a 1.5” wide triangular piece of nacho flavored goodness* lodged itself inside of my 7 year old throat, restricting the passage of air to my lungs.

I was choking, I was dying, I was being done in by a Dorito!  “Fixthisfixthisfixthisfixthis!!!” was the only thought going through my head, shoving aside for perhaps the first time in my life concerns of this afternoon’s television and video game schedule. I stumbled and ran to the nearest adult, coughing and pointing at my throat. It was a 5th grade teacher, Mr. Barshay, who quickly summoned an incredibly resourceful lunch lady who jumped into action without a moment’s hesitation. Treating me like the tiny little ragdoll I was, she turned me around, placed her arms around me, made a fist with her hands, centered at my gut and pushed in and up. In and up. In and up. The culprit was soon dislodged and it came flying out of my mouth along with a whimper in an otherwise silent lunchroom. As my face slowly returned to its normal color, I thanked the lunch lady (who, thanks to a combination of confused shame and youthful ignorance, remains forever nameless and faceless in my mind), barely making eye contact, and quickly returned to my seat, hoping that the quicker I got there, the quicker we could all pretend what just happened never happened.

The next day over the loudspeaker our principal Mr. Post announced to the entire school the story of how a seemingly harmless tortilla chip nearly killed a second grader (who naturally, had to be named), but I was thankfully saved by a quick acting employee in the lunchroom. I buried my head under my arms to a chorus of laughter from my classmates, who certainly didn’t need the reminder. I hadn’t been this embarrassed since kindergarten, when I quickly discovered that other boys didn’t just drop their pants in front of the urinal to pee.

That morning, I was made fully aware of four brand new emotions: powerlessness, humiliation, irrational fears of eating and swallowing. Most of was the conflicting emotion of being betrayed by something I love. For two weeks I stayed away from that salty siren call, albeit mostly at my mother’s behest. Inevitably though, I was lured back. Whether it was sheer ignorance, addiction or an extreme form of brand loyalty (Bravos simply weren’t cutting it), I soon returned to my old ways, scarfing down Doritos less than a month after nearly being killed by them.

*goodness ingredients & information: ground corn, vegetable oil and salt, coated in cheese powder, buttermilk powder, wheat flour, whey protein concentrate, tomato powder, flavor enhancers, onion powder, whey powder, garlic powder, dextrose, sugar, mineral salt, food acids, flavor (natural), spices, and colors (#129, #150, and #110), deep fried, mass produced and marketed at the time by Jay Leno in a national advertising campaign (“Crunch all you want, we’ll make more,” I still remember him saying)

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