C-Town, Crush #1, Food Stamps, Humility, Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon New York, Stereotype Threat, Stigma
I’ve spent very little time walking down memory lane regarding Crush #1 this year. Partly because I’m sure some of my readers are sick of hearing about my love for her, and partly because I’m sure she’s sick of hearing about herself. But this short story is more about me than her.
Twenty-seven years ago this week, I experienced my first — and nearly my last — embarrassment around food stamps at the one-time C-Town grocery store near the corner of Park Avenue and East Prospect Avenue in Mount Vernon. I was shopping after 7 pm for groceries after a quick stop at Mount Vernon Public Library early on in my freshman year at Mount Vernon High School. It was right around the last Rosh Hashanah I’d recognize as a Hebrew-Israelite, a Wednesday or Thursday night. I was buying some pinto beans, Carolina Long Grain Rice, beef neck bones and other healthy yet cheap things to eat for the next few days.
It’d always been a struggle to shop for my family during the Hebrew-Israelite years, to find kosher food, to buy strange things like matzohs or kosher salt. But it had become stranger for me earlier that year, when we ended up on welfare and using food stamps after April ’83. By that fateful evening, I’d maybe used my
mother’s food stamps a half-dozen times. Other times, I’d used my father Jimme’s money to pay for the groceries, the indignity of using food stamps was so great. And when I shopped in Mount Vernon, I was acutely aware of the possibility that I could bump into one of my better-off classmates while paying for groceries with my stereotypical food stamps. As far as I was concerned, they already had too many things they could make fun of me about as it was.
So as I finished combing the slender and short aisles of C-Town for kosher bargains, I began my trek to the cash registers at the front, relieved that I hadn’t bumped into any folks I knew. Only to run into Crush #1, having beaten me to the cashier that was open at the time.” Damn,” I thought, one of the few times before the age of twenty-one that the word damn ever invaded my thoughts. She was polite enough to say “Hey, Donald,” to engage me in a short conversation about the start of high school.
Although I was usually grateful to be in my first love’s presence, all I wanted to do at that moment was run away, get out of the store as fast as I could. Instead, I went through the motions, answering her questions and asking a couple of ones about the teachers we had in common that year, like Cuglietto and Murphy. Luckily for me, she didn’t linger after she paid the cashier, and said her laters while I was still being rung up. I quickly handed the cashier my $20 in food stamps, told them to keep the Monopoly money change, and walked around the corner and down Prospect to 616 at Warp Factor 3.
The funny thing about getting older — not old, but older — is that it would take a lot more than food stamps to embarrass me these days. Especially now that you can get welfare checks and food stamps through direct deposit and EBT cards. I’m sure that Crush #1 thought nothing of our short conversation that evening, and neither did I, other than feeling awkward about the reminder that I was completely out of my league, not only from a relationship standpoint, but in terms of my lot in life overall. Boy, I’m glad that things have changed — that I’ve grown — so much in past twenty-seven years. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a blog to remind me of my ridiculous past.