My daughter’s school, like many others, has banned the sale of junk food on the premises. This astonishes me, given that she goes to the same high school that I went to, and I can’t imagine my high school career without the rush to the pop machine after third hour in hopes that you might be able to drop your quarters in and snag a soda AND eat your lunch in the same twenty minute time-squeeze they called a lunch period. I can’t imagine a South High experience without those gooey chocolate chip cookies that they were always selling four for a dollar, which tasted exquisite for the first bite or two, followed by a mournful compulsion, followed by nauseous regret.
I mean really, how can one experience the true euphoria of post-track-practice -high without the requisite bag of Funions or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Is it even possible? Kids today live lives of deprivation and woe, and I am sorry for it.
The pop machines were the first to go. The candy machines followed shortly after. And high school, for a very little while, became a very sad place.
Today, I was Target with my fourteen year old, shopping for god knows what.
“Mom,” she said. “Mom. Mom. Mom.”
“What, what, what,” I said, as I was trying to catalogue the entire contents of my fridge and pantry in my head, and plan for the meals for the next few days, and curse myself for not thinking ahead and writing out a damn list.
“Mom. Mountain Dew. It’s on sale. LET’S BUY SOME.”
I stopped in my tracks. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “You’ve never had Mountain Dew in your entire life.”
“Shows what you know,” she said. “I have it every day.”
“How?” I asked.
“The Mountain Dew Guy.”
“I hate that kid.”
“HE’S THE BEST.” She nearly shouts this. In the middle of Target. People turn and stare and wonder if my kid is crazy. Yes, I want to assure them. Very much so.
The thing is, I already knew about the Mountain Dew Guy. Ella’s spoken of him frequently. With the elimination of the vending machines in an effort to make our kids more healthy and whatever, an underground economy quickly sprung up in the halls of South High, and I’m guessing other high schools as well. A cottage industry of sorts. Or a backpack industry.
This is how it works: There are kids at school with suspiciously overstuffed backpacks. They sit down in the lunch room – or anywhere really – with the backpack sitting next to them, unzipped, the merchandise visible, but easily hidden from the adult gaze by the quick application of a math book or whatever. The independent vendors have their particular specialties. There’s the kid who sells Mountain Dew (“You want to get that right away in the morning, because it’s not cold anymore by third period,” Ella explained.). There’s the kid who sells Bugles. There’s the kid who sells Snickers. There’s the kid who sells Skittles. There’s the kid who sells protein bars. There’s the kid who sells Coca-cola. There’s the kid who sells Gatorade. Each one has a single item specialty, though there are a few who cycle through different products depending on the day.
Kids sidle up. They already know the price. Everything is one dollar. No one decided this, of course, but it is the easiest denomination to scrounge for the high school consumer. “Anyone can find a dollar,” Ella explained. “And sometimes we pool our coins together and share the Mountain Dew.” Which explains why her entire lunch table all succumbed to Strep Throat in the exact same week.
“Mountain Dew is really bad for you,” I told her. “You really shouldn’t drink it.”
“I don’t do anything else bad for me,” she countered.
“This is true,” I said, “but I’d rather you choose something good. Like French chocolate. How about you get hooked on that?”
“Is it a dollar?”
“No,” I admitted.
She picked up the twenty-four pack of Mountain Dew and gave me the giganticest smile in the world – all braces and pink cheeks and hope. “Please?” she said.
“Not in a million years.”
“You’re not as nice as the Mountain Dew Guy, Mom,” Ella said, walking dejectedly behind me, appearing to all who noticed as the saddest fourteen year old in all the land. “You are not as nice at all.”
“I know, buddy,” I said.
And so afterwards I took her out for lattes. Which are somehow better for her, though I haven’t yet figured out how. Reasons, I expect. They are better because of reasons.