Monday, December 23, 2013

The Crap I Lived on at CalArts

I went to CalArts in the fall of 1981 as an 18 year-old just out of high school.  I had never lived on my own, and found myself suddenly having to think about little details such as my next meal.  I had very limited knowledge of food and how to cook it, and an equally limited budget - $40 a week from my work/study job.

I can remember quite clearly that first excursion to the supermarket without Mom.  I wasn't completely on my own.  I had my roommate, Dan Jeup, and classmates Tim Hauser, and an Australian named Harry Weinmann.  They didn't know how to cook either.

Tim took us in his 1966 Volkswagen Beetle to Alpha-Beta.  We entered the store and stood staring at the long, massive aisles of food.  Yes, we had all been in supermarkets before, but this time was different.  We had to buy ourselves a week's worth of food to live on.  At last, Dan asked,  "Do you guys know what to get?" We all shook our heads and shrugged.  We followed each other in a slow convoy of carts, snaking up and down the aisles in search of culinary clues.

Dan bought Chips Ahoy cookies, Ho Ho's,  Potato Chips, soda (or "pop" as he called it),  and Count Chocula cereal.   He was totally fucked.

I tried to be more pragmatic in my choices.  I couldn't afford snacks or soda, but cereal - that was breakfast.  I was shocked at the prices of all the sugar coated cereal.  The ones I liked - Cap'n Crunch, Frosted Flakes, Honey Nut Cheerios - almost $3.00 a box! I settled on old-fashioned, un-sugary and inexpensive Kellogg's Corn Flakes, only $.89.

Milk, had to have milk.  And bread.

Peter Pan Peanut Butter was the cheapest.  Close your eyes and wish it were Jif.  

I could cook hot dogs - who can't?  I would skip buying rolls and use my bread instead. Thrifty!

Van de Kamp's Baked Beans - that's a meal and a symphony all in one.

Campbell's Tomato Soup - but I had to have crackers with it; store brand saltines.  The yummy Ritz crackers were twice the cost.

Harry was jonesing for a special chocolate spread he loved to eat Down Under, but he couldn't find it in this crummy American supermarket and was getting very agitated.  He brow beat a box boy - "How could you not have Nutella?" Alas, Nutella would not be sold in the US until 1983, not soon enough to save the Alpha-Beta grocery chain.  Harry's revenge.

We had breakfasts and lunches covered - what about dinner?  None of us knew how to cook a proper meal, so those long shiny bins of fresh produce under mirrors, and that case of butchered meats meant nothing to us.  It had to be processed or frozen.   We spread out along the frozen dinner aisle, comparing prices by shouting up and down the aisles to each other.  There were huge price discrepancies between different brands in what appeared to be the same meal.  Why buy a Banquet dinner at $2.65 when Swanson has the same meal for just $.99?  We stocked up, each buying seven fine Swanson dinners.

That was easy!

We wedged ourselves and our groceries into Tim's VW Bug like a clown car at a circus.  It strained its way back up the hill to the campus like the Grinch's overloaded sleigh.    Over the following week, living on cereal, hot dogs, soup, and Swanson frozen dinners, we starved.

The rotation.  
We abandoned Swanson, and explored more satisfying frozen options like Stouffer's Lasagna.  Also in my rotation was Gorton's Fish Sticks, Banquet Salisbury Steaks, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, a real deal at $.47 a box!  You've heard of college kids gaining ten pounds their first semester?  I LOST ten. 

Classmate Mac George was notorious for going to "Tom's" for dinner.  Tom's was the name of the company that owned the vending machines at school.  He'd head out for dinner, then stroll back to the studio minutes later with a bag of pork rinds and a Dr. Pepper.  He ate at Tom's so often it made him seriously ill.  

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger."  He surely must have done college without a meal plan.  

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