Sunday, February 15, 2015

Freeze Frame

­­When I was a kid, my grandmother lived just up the street from my family’s house and my aunt’s house. Our veritable family compound laid claim to a rather isolated, wooded parcel of rural land and often made it feel as if we were the only ones in the world. On most days, when me and my cousins got home from school, while the parents were still off at work, we would get together at our grandparents’ house for carousing.  On the days when we weren’t taking turns at Air Zonk or Keith Courage on the Turbo Grafx 16, we were usually outside, sweating through the sticky afternoons. We played basketball, one-on-one kickball (a modified form of soccer played with an under-inflated, smaller-than-soccer ball) and ragball (it’s a baseball that is made of rags stuffed inside of a sewed rag shell, perfect for not hurting each other or the house).  The formula of life then was so elegantly simple: play ourselves into a sweaty lather, retire inside to sit in front of fan, find some drink and sugar to refuel our engines, repeat.

This thing would thump against the house's siding with great regularity.

A lot of the time, we drank huge plastic glasses full of RC Cola on ice, the lifeblood of my grandmother, who was never then without her 32-ounce Rubbermaid mug, replete with bendy straw.  To this day, I have had no other cola that has quite the fizz and bite of RC poured directly over ice.  The effervescent, almost painful first gulp of an RC crackling over ice is a vivid, cherished memory of my youth.

Fizzy elegance.

On some days, though, RC was not enough to rally us.  On such days, another go-to solution was to invade the stand-alone freezer off in the back room.  Sometimes, there were fudge sickles or ice pops, and of course, on hot summer days, those were hard to resist.  More often, though, we had only the default option to sate our need for sweet: milk chocolate holiday idols. At any time of year, no matter the date – no matter the date – there were giant milk chocolate Easter bunnies or Santas to eat.  Our family came from modest roots, and whenever there was a deal to be had, my grandmother eagerly stockpiled provisions for us in the freezer.  Seemingly endless roasts, packages of hamburger meat and chickens sat alongside bags and bags of half pound chocolates, emblazoned with bright orange “$0.25” clearance stickers.  The chocolate was so ubiquitous that we were often tired of it.  If you thawed one bunny or Santa, you had days of eating ahead, and if you put it back into the freezer to keep it from melting, it would often get freezer bite and turn into that chalky, white thing that chocolate does.

I would have sworn that sometimes these things were reproducing in the freezer.

I remember this time of life not only because I have been missing my grandmother recently, but also because today, I think she would be proud.  On this day after Valentine’s Day, I went out and hit 4 different locations, stocking up on over 10 pounds of discounted candy.  For months hence, when people visit my home, they can raid my larder, like we kids did the freezer, and find for themselves the fuel they need to go out for another round of whatever game they are playing. They will just have to deal with the fact that, for the time being, it is all heart-shaped.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Stately Pleasure Dome

There are varying opinions of globalization and its impact on cultures, governments, economies and personal identities.  Many argue that international corporate conglomerates, for instance, are the twenty-first century's Mongols, invading and pillaging other cultures, impressing their values upon those they conquer.

Pictured: Microsoft, circa 1258

While such critiques may point to disturbing trends of late Modernity, it is undeniable that the forces of globalization have also effected positive outcomes, among the greatest of which must be the proliferation of border-crossing candies, a product of global exchange of a kind that Arjun Appadurai might term the "Sugarscape."

I encountered an artifact of such exchange at a shop that I frequent often.  There, alongside the Haribo Gold-Bears I have come to know and love, were "Juicy Haribo Gold-Bears," in packaging I had not seen in American stores.  Upon closer inspection, I found that these Bears were 20% fruit juice and included these flavors: blackcurrant, pear, apple, raspberry, peach and lime.  The flavors immediately reminded me of a package of Haribos my friend had brought back from West Africa-- Bears that bespoke her dedication to our friendship and that reflected the global flows that define Euro-African life.  Indeed, a closer inspection of my find revealed that these Bears were from Turkey, likely of the same type I had eaten years earlier.  My inevitable conclusion was this: Euro-Bears, chock-full of real fruit juice and exotic (for American markets) flavors, had made their way to my little hamlet.  I was shaking with glee as I walked the package to the counter.

Fruit juice, real sugar, lime gummis?  Salivary glands overload.

My excitement was magnified when the shopkeep asked for only 1.06 for the nouveaux Bears.  After I quickly shoveled my monies across the counter, lest she reconsider the price, I hurried back to the candy aisle to confirm that these new candies were priced at a mere $0.99 (their American contemporaries cost the typically over-priced $1.99).  Needless to say, I cleared out the aisle of the Juicy Bears, and for weeks, I came back assiduously to grab at least a bag or two per trip.

You know the rest of the story: like a blackcurrant berry plucked from its shrub and inadvertently dropped into the grass, this era of unprecedented flavor and thrift soon soured, and I found the Juicy Bears priced at an outrageous $2.69.  I still occasionally buy a bag, because, well, they are Haribos; but the thrill, as they say, is gone.  Ironically, the increased demand for the Bears, fueled by my voraciousness, likely led to the shop realizing their pricing was too low.

Nevertheless, for a period of about 2 months, I was king of the world, a true beneficiary of global forces, an example of the fact that not all Mongols should be turned back at the gates to the city.