I don't know any family that matches mine when it comes to our relationship to food. There simply was no comparison, no one came even close. As an 11-year old, I would cross the street from St. A's to Breslow's Stationery Store every day and buy my first snacks of the afternoon -- a Slim Jim and a cherry pie. I absolutely had to have the experience of the chewy salty meat, and then the burst of syrupy cherries. The only question was -- which first? Once home, I mixed Cheetos in a large mixing bowl with mayonnaise and strawberry jelly, and downed that concoction as if it was bliss itself.
We were a ravenous household of teens. Ale used to eat cans of tuna, and, disturbingly, leave the empty cans like carcasses, under her bed. After a night of partying, she'd come home and lay her mitts on whatever big dish sat in the fridge. Once it was a pot roast, and you could see her teeth marks and the gnarled missing sections, evidence of her ravaging, the next day. I don't remember what it is my sister Mar used to gorge on -- besides pot. My brothers were known to each down 36 to 40 clams easy at a clambake and could each devour their own Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. Ale was known to go through an entire Sunday breakfast box of Dunkin' Donuts, and, I heard, after school, used to panhandle in front of the local Baskin and Robbins, and sometimes hold up kids for their change, just to get her daily fix -- a banana split.
Mind you, we were a slender, athletic bunch then, but this is how we ate. Besides consuming alcohol in unholy quantities, my brother John could devour just about anything. There were times we all sat to dinner at the kitchen table, and noticed knives and forks missing from our place sets. I wonder now if my mother wasn't just trying to scrimp on the silverware, knowing it might well dissappear into somebody's gullet for good, or even be used as a weapon. We were like that, and our mother went so far as to lock the kitchen snacks' cabinet. No question about it, without that lock, all the bags of Cheetos and Fritos, the Planters' Peanuts and Nestle's Crunch bars that were meant to be used for lunch snacks and as hors d'oeuvres at the cocktail hour would have been downed in a day.
In college, I found strangely disgusting combinations comforting -- Mateuse wine with saltines and fondue; Vodka and Tang; strawberry ice cream filched from the school cafeteria dipped in fondue. I made sure my mother sent emergency boxes of Slim Jims and cashews. As a runaway on Cape Cod, I am convinced I single-handedly emptied out every Seven Eleven of its bags of cashews. One winter night, I went everywhere and simply could not find a single bag of those nuts. My hors d'oeuvres were Spam and Tavola Red, the cheapest wine there was -- at under five bucks -- then.
After I quit drinking in my early 20s, I spent a whole year consuming about a pound of cheese and a pound of nuts a day, and only nuts and chocolates on the weekends. I believe this was my own version of the Atkins Diet. Then I passed two or three kidney stones and started rethinking my diet. I haven't stopped thinking about it since then and trying to refine it.
When I look back, I can't figure out who or what to blame for not knowing how to eat properly. I remember being an eight-year old in Key Biscayne, when we first arrived in the states, opening up the fridge and kicking back with a box of Velveeta cheese and a fat sausage of liverwurst. Once I'd finished digging into the Velveeta and processed meat, I would step outside in the one-piece bathing suit I wore everywhere but to bed. If it rained, I planted myself under the roof gutters to shower blissfully in nature. I felt so free, alive and lucky to have everything I wanted. Ah yes, I must have thought to myself, thinking of my new friends, Velveeta and liverwurst, I do so love the U.S.A!