When I was in elementary school, there were four food groups. I think it is important to remember this: the food groups are not some sort of eternal truth that inheres in the nature of food. They are merely a way of conceptualizing the much messier, and less segmented, question of what, precisely, humans should eat to remain functional. (Much like gender, race, sexuality, and the piles we use to sort laundry by color.) Anyway, when I was in elementary school, there were four food groups: meat, fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. One was supposed to acheive 'balance' among them.
This lead to me believing, for a while, that pepperoni pizza was the perfect food. The reason for this should be obvious: it contains all four of the food groups. There was meat; there was tomato sauce; there was cheese; and there was bread. QED. I never tried to subsist on an all pepperoni pizza diet or anything like that, but something in me thought that this was that perfect spot to eat.
I mention this now because the Princess, in all of her wisdom, has one food she will always, always eat. When it's a really bad day--or her parents' fridge contains nothing but bacon grease, moldy parmagiano-reggiano, and Chinese takeout of questionable age, and those days are often--I know what to do.
"Hey, Princess," I say. "Want do go get pizza?"
I used that tactic today when we'd been in Barnes and Noble too long for my taste. For some reason, tons upon tons of baby through young elementary school kids are brought, mostly by caregivers but some by mothers (and the occasional father), to Barnes and Noble on 7th Ave in Park Slope, every afternoon. This totally, totally mystifies me. The kids play on the small wooden trainset, and fight over the trains; they rip books off the shelves, and demand that their caregivers read them. What bugs me about this is that it's a freakin' store
, OK? It's not a library; it's not a playspace; it's not a school. It's a place that you go to buy stuff. Everything you touch is about consumerism. Princess went through an entire rack of plastic Disney-branded crap, saying she needed each item. A Cinderella book light. A Snow White pen that lights up. An Ariel book light. An Ariel book mark. Can I add that she can't read or write yet, just to bring home my point? Though she's thinking about it, which makes me happy. I had to say, for each object, I can tell you would like that. It's really nice. Why don't we tell your mom you like it, and she can think about buying it for you? I even offered to take camera phone pictures of the objects in question, so that I would remember to tell her mom.
I've gotten a little off topic. But the point is, you walk into the store, and it isn't all about the reading books, playing with trains, running around thing. You get suckered into the act of consumerism, almost by default. Once Princess and I had a playdate there with a friend of hers, and it turned totally naturally into "oh, let's get coffee and cookies for the girls," and then into "oh, there are no tables, let's go to the totally bourgie
cafe that just opened up near your house," which Princess still refers to as the place that makes "bad cupcakes." You enter, you shop.
What incenses me here, besides everything, is that Park Slope has a perfectly lovely library branch. It's an oldish building, which means the children's wing is long and thin with a two-story ceiling and a crazy-cool fireplace. There is a little nook where the board books and preschool books are, with a rug, and in front of the fireplace there are foam things to stack. There isn't a train set, but there are big tables to sit at, and a good long aisle to run up and down. At the library, there's no hard sell. If you like a book, you don't have to pay anything for it. (Although, if you are me, you run up fines. I want to make sure Princess doesn't learn this habit, because I was the adult who signed for her library card, meaning I'm responsible for her library debts until she turns 18. Scary.) Money doesn't enter the picture. This exchange is brought to you by your tax dollars at work. This is, to me, a good thing.
And maybe that's why the kids who hang out at the library are different from the ones at Barnes and Nobles. They're mostly black, mostly not with parents or caregivers. Most of them are old enough not to be in daycare, to fend for themselves for a few hours. They're finding somewhere to hang out after school, and the library is open and accessible. It's somewhere to be.
So the bourgie kids go to the store where their zoned-out caregivers and parents get mocha lattes and buy the kids Cinderella book lights, and the non-bourgie kids go to the library and screw around on the computers. And we dig the trenches between classes/races even deeper. Kudos to you, Park Slope. Kudos, indeed.
So I really wanted to get the hell out of B&N, plus it was past four and I was hungry. Princess eats very lightly; so far that day, she had had a bowl full of preztels and two 'bottles.' A bottle, in her world, is a mixture of yogurt and something else. Yogurt, because if she gets too much milk she gets anemic. Something else, because she doesn't like kefir, which is just about the only drinkable yogurt around. One bottle was a mix of orange-carrot juice and yogurt; the other was 'chocolate milk,' which is half yogurt and half milk with enough Hershey's Syrup to kill the yogurt taste. (Yogurt+chocolate≠love, in my book.) So she needed to eat, I needed to eat, her fridge looked like I described above, and we needed to make a graceful exit from the land of consumption. "Hey princess," I said. "Let's go get pizza."
On the way, I asked if she'd rather go somewhere else. There's a diner that I offered up ("A restaurant where you could have french fries and steak"). Or Japanese ("Or you could get soup and rice").
"No, pepperoni pizza," she said. Then, after a pause, "Let's go to Pino's, next to Maggie Moo's." This was to differentiate it from Two Boots, a fancy pizza place where her parents get takeout frequently. Pino's on the other hand, is a standard New York slice joint, the type where you walk in and get something yumtastic and basic. We went in, got our usual booth, and I ordered for both of us.
This is pretty standard for us. The pepperoni slice, cut-up by the pizza guy, and the lemonade, two cups, two straws, which at some point we exchange during the meal, are constant. What I get varies. They make an excellent 'grampa' slice (square pizza with sauce, cheese, and sauteed onions), and a very good pizza alla norma (fresh mozzerella, fried eggplant slices, and chunky tomato sauce). However, I'm supposed to be avoiding tomatoes, according to my allergist. Goddamn it. So what you see there is a broccoli and ricotta calzone, along with a large pile of garlic powder and red pepper flakes.
Princess offered me a slice of pepperoni. I politely declined. I haven't yet explained to her that I don't eat meat. The kid is a total meatitarian--sausage, steak, pepperoni, bacon. I don't want to be the one to explain to her that I don't eat meat because it's animals. (Really, my reasons for being a vegetarian are more complicated--the questionable morality of killing animals for my consumption, the environmental disaster of the meat and dairy industries, a Diet-for-a-Small-Planet era dislike for eating high on the food chain, and a totally inability to interact with raw meat without getting sick. But the upshot is, it's animals, and I have a problem with that.) I know people who became vegetarians because, very young, they made the meat=animals connection and just stopped eating meat. Some never go back. I wouldn't mind, per se, if Princess decides to become a militant vegetarian. But I don't want to have to deal with her parents, who I really like, who are my friends, and who would be displeased, I think, to have Princess tell them "Emmy said that bacon is made of pigs, and it's wrong to eat pigs." I mean, and this kid wants to wear her hair like me. And wear boots like me. And I'm nothin' special in the physical appearance department.
In the end, we ate our "balanced meal," stopped at the store to get a few groceries (apples, bananas, apple juice, orange-carrot juice, plain yogurt, baby carrots), and walked home, chilly but well fed, and thankfully out of Barnes and Noble, at last.