Why I don’t like hot dogs.

3 Feb

I grew up lower-middle class in a bad part of town in Fresno, California. My dad worked blue-collar, laying asphalt for the city. The first and only job he had after two tours of duty in Vietnam. My mom was an office manager of an auto-body shop. We lived in a small, two-bedroom house on the same block that my parents grew up as children. My grandparents lived on the next street over, in the house my dad was raised. At one point, I think this was a fine neighborhood. By the time I was born in 1979, this neighborhood had become dangerous. Filled with gang activity, drug-deals, and those doing whatever they can to get by. My grandparents were too old (their opinion) to move, so my dad wanted to stay in our house to be near them and keep an eye on them in this tumultuous environment. This was not the best decision for his family, but that was the decision dad made and he was known to fear change. My mother always resented this. Thus, I grew up in a house where I had no neighborhood children to play with. I wasn’t even allowed to be in my front yard without a parent present. I never learned to ride a bike because the streets were too dangerous. I couldn’t walk to the corner store I could see from my house with pocket-change to buy candy or ice cream unless my parents walked with me. I also couldn’t go to the schools that were in the neighborhood, according to my mother. A compromise amongst my parents was that if they were going to raise their first, and only child in this dangerous environment, I would go to a private school. The only ones in Fresno at that time were catholic schools. There were no such things as “Charter Schools” then. It was public or Catholic, that’s it. From Kindergarten to the middle of 7th grade, my parents dedicated a significant amount of the household income to send me to a school all the way across town. I had 3 hours a day of religious study, no history, no science class, and math that included simple arithmetic only. It was “safer” but the kids were mean. I had straight “A’s”, was athletic, awkward, an ugly duckling, and had zero friends. I spent my free time as a child reading book after book in my bedroom closet. It was my escape. It also kept me from being nearly illiterate as my classmates appeared to be due to the stellar teaching of unqualified teachers and no state regulations. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me all the books I wanted, so my mom just started letting me read any of hers. I read Stephan King’s It at 8 years old. The nuns almost fainted when I brought it to school with me in my backpack and called a parent-teacher meeting with them. Mom decided if I could read at that level, I should be allowed. She pretty much gave those nuns the middle-finger. My mom was an atheist. Thank god for this, because without this freedom and love for reading, I’m not sure I could have gone on to be a successful member of society with the education I was being given. A disgustingly expensive “education”. To this day, this is the biggest scam and rip-off I’ve ever witnessed that literally hurts families and children in many ways. In case you’re wondering, yes. I got smacked with a ruler. I’m not afraid of clowns like 99% of the populous seems to be. I get a chill when I see a nun. My boogey-man wears a full habit. Because of the tuition burden of this “school”, our day-to-day living was very simple. Dinners included casseroles, shake and bake-coated pork chops, canned vegetables, and of course hot dogs.

Hot dogs were never my favorite, but I’d eat them. No choice but to. My childhood dinners went as following, ranked by a 7-year old me:

  1. Pizza night (Round table personal pepperoni and olive just for me with a bitchin’ coloring page depicting a medieval scene that I could color while eating)
  2. Frozen food night (I got to go down the frozen dinner isle and pick anything I wanted. Usually French bread pizza)
  3. Taco night (pre-formed taco shells, ground beef with the seasoning packet, shredded cheddar cheese.)
  4. Steak and velveeta mac n cheese. (Well done, pre-cut dry meat by mom, delicious creamy lovely side)
  5. Enchilada casserole. From the Betty Crocker cookbook. It’s actually still really good. Better as an adult.
  6. Hamburger helper. It’s ok.
  7. Spaghetti night. A pound of ground hamburger, a jar of Ragu, boiled noodles.
  8. Drive-thru. Even as a kid, I disliked McDonald’s. It never seemed like real food. Of course, I liked the toy.
  9. Pork chops. Covered in shake and bake. I haven’t eaten a pork chop since I’ve moved out of my parents house. Hate.
  10. Hot dogs. I would have mom broil the skin till it was almost black, in a plain bun, cheddar cheese on top. It’s food.

That was my childhood. I know back then, if you opened a can of green beans for your child you believed you were giving them something healthy. We know better now, but I’m sure many of you can relate to the Heeley family meal-plan. My parents both worked full-time, didn’t make a lot of money, and were paying an exorbitant tuition. I know they did the best they could with what they had. This is not an attack on them. I know they believed the private schools were the best for me. Give the options at the time, I’d tend to agree. As I got older, I became wiser. Around 7th grade, I started to notice the serious lack in my education. I would watch tv programs and see kids in high school depicted doing multiplication tables, having lockers and giving speeches in front of class on things in history I knew nothing about. It was becoming obvious I was missing out on things that seem to be completely normal for others. I also had even less friends than I had before. I was viewed as an outcast, weird, ugly. Boys would dare each other to kiss “the freak” on the cheek for money at recess. The girls couldn’t talk to me about The New kids on the block and lipgloss. None of the boys liked me. They called me names like “Casper, the ugly ghost” and blew spit wads into my hair anytime the ancient nun’s backs were turned. This meant, I had no crushes. They thought I was “gay”. Back then, in a religious school, that rumor is worse than nearly anything. My attempts at jokes sailed over their heads and my vocabulary was not like theirs. I’m not saying I was some genius. The years of reading book after book in isolation made me a little different than kids who were only made to read bible verses and nothing else. Right before winter break, one of the popular girls was having a birthday party at the local ice skating rink. Every single person in my grade was invited except for me. I told my mom about it. My mom called the girl’s mom to ask her why. They girl’s mom said “C’mon, Pat. You know why. Your daughter is weird, and frankly can’t afford to come. We’re doing a ‘prince and princess-dress’ theme. We just thought this would be easier for everyone”. I heard my parents shouting and arguing outside late into the night after that. The next day, my mom called the school and said I was sick. She called out to work as well. This has never happened before. We went to Burger King. I got to order whatever I wanted, and my mom asked me if I wanted to go back to that school. I said I wanted to go to a normal school. One where I could wear regular clothes, mascara if I wanted to and have a locker and gym clothes like my cousin Angie did. Mom explained that because my Dad went to catholic school, he wanted that for me as well and believed it was truly the best education. I started to tell my mom about what was going on in there and she listened. By the time Winter break was over, I was enrolled in the rich Fresno public school… using a bogus address. The very one my cousin was going to. I’d know at least someone, even if we didn’t always get along. We went shopping and I got to buy regular clothes for the first time. I had no idea what to buy, so I let my mom pick out everything for me. I had been in a uniform for my entire life, so I didn’t even know what I should get or what I liked. I think she felt some pressure too. She wanted the kids to like me. She took me to a makeup counter and we got some lipgloss, eyeshadow, and mascara. Strictly forbidden in a catholic school. I held these three things as if they were extreme luxury items. I remember this time as being some of the most fun I’ve had with my mom. I think she always wanted me to have a normal childhood, but was conflicted with pleasing my dad. I came home from the mall with my new makeup on. He took one look at me, And said it was too much and left the house to go to the bar. Honestly, my parents marriage never really seemed to be the same after that point.

Adjustment into public school was intense, especially coming in to the middle of a school year. I went from being in a 7th grade class of 16 students, to a seventh grade class of 755. It was like coming from a one-room farm schoolhouse in rural Alabama and walking into an inner-city school in New York, from my perspective. I had never used a combination lock before, and now I have my own locker for all my books. At the catholic school I only had 3…a bible, a religion workbook, and an English book fit for a below-average student in the 1st grade. Now I had a hard-bound book for every class that I had to cover with a carefully-folded brown paper bag. I had a gym class with another locker, gym clothes, and actual exercise. There were showers and a pool to swim in when the weather was warm. I had periods. Classes in different rooms, in different buildings, and bells to pay attention to. Before, I sat in the same desk, same room all day long. There was a cafeteria, a snack bar, a pizza bar, a frozen yogurt station, as well as a student store that sold snacks, like candy and chips. Before now, the only option was bringing your own lunch. After nearly 7 years of pb&j sandwiches with chips and a cookie, this was overwhelming. Everything was going 90 miles per hour, and everyone seemed so adult. I was lost and late to every class. All the teachers were nice and helpful. None of them yelled at me or punished me with a ruler. Even when I got caught chewing gum even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. I had female and male teachers. I’d never had a man as a teacher before. I couldn’t get my locker open and a girl that had one next to me offered to help. I’d never had a classmate help me with anything before. She didn’t make fun of me or called me any names. I gave her my illegal pack of gum to say “thank you”.

That first week was intense and confusing, but I was free. Here, I wasn’t weird. I didn’t talk differently or look differently. People asked a lot of questions, but were nice and just inquisitive. Its not common for a new girl to start school in the middle if the year, and they were curious of where I came from. In speech class, I overheard a boy tell another that he thought I was pretty. No one other than a family member had ever said that before about me. I had made some friends. I had to choose an elective at this school. I picked choir, as I had been singing in one not by choice in catholic school. I had an ear for it because of that, and got a solo nearly immediately. No one cared that I lived in the poor part of town. My very first day in math class, I sat down to a chalkboard full of symbols. This was algebra. I had never seen it before. My last math class we were just learning how to do 6×8. I had to go to a tutor, and I continued to have to for the rest of my school career. I went to a school dance. My very first. I mean, Jesus wouldn’t have approved of such a thing. My mom curled my hair and did my makeup. A popular eighth-grade boy asked me to dance. I thought this was another one of those dare jokes. My new friends practically shoved me toward him. I didn’t want everyone to start making fun of me. He put his arms around me and we slow-danced to Brian Adam’s mega-hit at the time, ‘Everything I do, I do it for You’ from the blockbuster Robin Hood featuring Kevin Costner. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a boy before. My entire body was blushing and I didn’t know what to do. I was sweating though my jeans and top my mom selected for me and my curls began to fall. He looked at me. I got scared and ran away back to my friends lined up against the bleachers. We never talked or interacted again, even though we continued to go to school together until senior year. I’m sure he just thought I didn’t like him. I just wasn’t ready for any of that.

Junior high is a strange time. Adolescents coming into their own, as well as discovering their budding sexualities. Back then, we didn’t have the internet, cell phones, or social media. If you wanted to call your crush, you had to not only get their number, which had huge social implications, you had to call their house phone which means you’d probably have to talk to their mom or dad…or worse, an asshole sibling to even get them on the phone. Oh, ps phone calls cost a lot of money back then so you had to make it quick and both parties’ parents will likely be breathing down your neck and be pissed the phone call is happening in the first place. It was nerve wracking. This means that many school ‘hook-ups’ happened during recess or after school. This would involve an elaborate system of passing notes, verbal messages carried amongst friends and good old fashioned rumors. Often if someone “likes” another, everyone knows about it and it’s the talk of the schoolyard. Just like the fan-favorite, the school-yard fight, an official hook-up will most likely draw an audience and will be pre-arranged. It was a very different time then, clearly. The first time I kissed a boy was that same year I joined public school.

One Of his friends told one of mine that he liked me. We had last period, English, together. We had never talked before, but I knew who he was. I had never had anyone “like” me before. My friends told his friend that I was open to it. I’m not sure if I approved that message. The next think I knew, we were to meet by the lockers 5 minutes before the final lunch bell. A small crowd had gathered, and my cousin had to drag me. Physically. I remember the heels of my little ankle boots my mom selected skidding across the asphalt. There I was, face-to face with the boy from English. He said “um, hi” and he grabbed each of my hands in his. I had never held hands with anyone before. Our audience was chanting KISS! KISS! KISS! Internally, I was panicking. I was not ready to do this. Why were so many people watching? He lunged at me and shoved his tongue in my mouth. It was profusely-salival, overwhelming, and the roar of the cheers of our crowd was embarrassing. This was my first kiss. This was not romantic, and the sensation of someone’s tongue on mine was so intrusive and bizarre for me. It was nothing like the movies I’ve been watching since I was a little girl. I had been dreaming of this moment my entire life. His tongue darted in and out of my mouth and our mingled saliva dripped down my chin. As the hot Fresno sun beamed down on us I couldn’t escape the simple fact that his mouth tasted distinctly like one thing.

Hot dogs.

It was after lunch. It was clear what he had.

His mouth tasted like a big, fat, boiled, cafeteria-grade hot dog.

I have never eaten a hot dog since.

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