|Photo by Jacqueline Castel (2004)|
I grew up the richest kid in a poor neighborhood. Roads to my house were actually paved. We had a fence that could keep our dogs inside the yard. I had a Game Boy and an NES. It was like being the prince of a third-world country. It wasn't until high school when I started dating girls from Galena that I realized that we were poor.
There was one kid my age on my block. We had no choice but to be friends. We used to ride our bikes to the sanitation plant and pretend it was a fortress holding our girlfriends captive. Mine was a girl from my kindergarten named Summer, and other times it was Summer's Mom, who'd once kissed me on the cheek. I don't remember who Brian was rescuing. We'd build forts in the desert and look at his dad's Playboys. We'd play with fire.
He was a few years older than I and beat me at everything. Looking back, my disdain for losing is probably rooted here. During a particularly vicious tetherball game, he served the ball as hard as he could. The ball rocketed past my guard and hit me in the face. Tears and snot coated my face. I cried easily as a child. It wasn't pain; I could handle pain. Leaping from rock to rock catching blue-belly lizards, I skinned my knee plenty of times, but the pain was barely a thought. But shame was devastating. Missing the ball made me feel small, which I was. I'm a small guy now, I was especially small then. And I still hate losing.
The freest I ever felt was riding my bike to school with him. We'd stop at the 7-11 and get shredded beef jerky. The kind that looked like the carpet from my dad's house. We'd longingly stare at the covers of the nudie mags but settle on a Cracked magazine consolation prize. Going to Sev was the only thing that made me look forward to going to school. We'd wave to the chumps on the bus with Sixlets and Slurpees in our hands. You gotta pound the Slurpee on the counter. Even if you think it's full, put on the dome lid and pound for another few seconds. You'll get an extra ounce or two for sure.
Playing games, looking at boobs, and pounding back Slurpees. That was the life. Not much has changed after twenty years. I was on to something then, and I'm on to something now. I'm not interested in money. I don't care about amassing wealth. This month I moved into a studio apartment slightly larger than a room at a Motel 6 so I could dedicate time to being creative. My kitchen cabinet is being used as a dresser. I want to spend time with people I love, create things discerning audiences would like, and feel like that kid outside 7-11. Part-time 'til I die. No part of me wishes I had grown up somewhere else. Too much of me is in that desert and I wouldn't want to leave him behind.