Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guilt and Pleasure

I don't know what you call this thing. I'm sure its manufacture is no trade secret, no proprietary confection. We can call it a "chocolate star," though as soon as I wrote that, I realized how dirty that sounded. Oh well, we can't let the language be held hostage by a group of giggling high school sophomores.

There was a bowl of these in the break room at work, a couple days ago. A nice square, white ceramic bowl with a dozen of these left after the initial pick-through. H1N1 concerns aside, I can't bring myself to eat these simple, unadorned sweets. It's not even an aesthetic matter: I've had excellent chocolate, like Ice Cubes and Toblerone, and I've had Hershey's, and I've had much, much worse chocolate than that. I'm not a chocolate snob by any measure.

Guilt is what precludes me from eating this, a guilt that has blistered up intermittently throughout my life.

When I was six or seven years old, and my brother was four or five, our parents took us on a routine grocery shopping errand. We tagged along as they went through produce, boxes of processed food, commented on prices of meat, all the usual things consumers around the world and throughout time have always done while shopping for groceries.

In the produce section, however, was something quite out of place. If I had to reconstruct the incident, I would guess that someone had a plastic bag of these chocolate stars from the nearby bulk candy section. Whether by accident or due to malicious, obscure intent, they spilled this pile of candy into the produce shelving by the tomatoes and avocados. That's where I found them, a pile of chocolate stars on green plastic mesh, between two paper cartons of vegetables.

My brother and I looked at them, stunned as little kids are by the sight of candy. But this was different: the candy didn't belong here. We probably passed it in the bulk section, our perceptual filters up because we knew we couldn't have any if we asked, so there was no point in agonizing over it there. But now it was here, in the vegetables.

I took one. My brother took one. "Are we allowed to eat this?" he asked me.

I made a judgment call and spoke to him as authoritatively as only an older-by-two-years brother can. "Because these candies aren't in the right section," I announced, "we are allowed to eat them." This sounded just fine to my brother, in his role as Lousy Devil's Advocate.

But my parents just as quickly formed an opposing view point. Mom glanced back to see what her suddenly quiet two young boys were up to and saw us putting food--she didn't know what kind--into our mouths. "They're eating something," she hissed to our father, and all I remember after that was a blur. I knew something was wrong and repercussion was forthcoming so I shoved a few more into my mouth; wrist was grabbed; butt was spanked. In one minute my brother and I were locked in the car while our parents finished their shopping. We probably got another spanking after that, later, when we got home. I don't recall.

So now these chocolate stars are inextricably linked to a strong sense of guilt and punishment in me. I can't look at them without feeling an emotional tension and aversion. Even when they're sitting in a bowl on a table in the break room, even when they're free and I'm an adult and it's perfectly okay. Can't do it.

1 comment:

Ang said...

HA! I'm going to borrow that logic the next time I'm at Cub.