Smoking Coffee

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / Boyhood /
@ K. 2000 09 20

c. 1950, How My Only Allowance Went for Coffee

The crazy finances of my childhood theme continues but this core story relates to addictions as much as to finance.

The dollar my Sunday School teacher promised me each year toward a Bible wasn’t the only installment never honored with a second. My mother had told me just as solemnly that kids should have an allowance. She told me she was going to give me a quarter a week. She actually handed me the quarter.

All that made as much sense to me as most things kids get told: not much. If my mother couldn’t pay the oil bill, how could she pay me a quarter? each week? That was one absurdity. Another was that I didn’t need it. No one took the house away: so I was housed. She somehow got food on the table: an adult responsibility, not mine. And I always had far more cash than I ever spent: drawers full of it: accumulated from sundry jobs: from lawn mowing to my paper route. If anybody paid anybody, it should have been me paying her.

That same week, maybe even the day or two before, I see the older kid from across the street, the one whose little sister taught me all sorts of games for a boy and a girl hiding alone in the attic, and he’s smoking a pipe. Now Tom Sawyer smoked. Huck Finn smoked. We had these books shoved at us in school. But Tom and Huck obviously didn’t live on Long Island. They were orphans. (Huck’s pap might as well have been dead.) Independent. They lived on the Mississippi River. They were tough kids. I’m shocked to see this kid smoking a corn cob pipe. “It’s OK,” he says. “It’s just coffee.” Huh? “Coffee grounds. They don’t stay lit though.” Indeed, his pipe is out and he relights before dancing away.

That evening I’m lurking for my mother as the Chevie pulls into the drive. “Mom! Mom! Can I smoke coffee?” Whatever the words as she clambered stuff out of the car, it was a yes.

Next day I’m lurking for her again, pipe in hand. I relight to make sure I’ve got smoke as she looks up. “Paul! How dare you? Just for that I’m suspending your allowance.”

And she did. I never got a second quarter. Never asked for it either.

But man, by the time I was twelve or thirteen, I had some trove of tobacco products and tobacco paraphernalia buried like treasure in a cookie box in a nearby vacant lot.

Do we have any idea of what kind of a culture we live it?

Do we have any idea who or what we are?

Freud did. Jared Diamond does.

PS: The “Rich Kid” title of the previous module is intended to have an ironic element, but don’t miss the “literal” element because of it. When my accountant told me, age thirty eight or so, that I was a millionaire, I asked him how come I had no cash. Childhood was the only time I’ve ever had cash to spare. (Though like so many things, that too is illusion. $80 in an eleven year old’s drawer seems like an enormous amount when the bills due total zero. $200 in your pocket when the impending rent is $500 seems like nothing.) But however financially impoverished I’ve ever been, I wouldn’t trade my position for the White House: not if it meant giving up the other forms of wealth I feel: happiness, uniqueness, specialness … My perceptions, however hard-won, are also priviledged. I’d rather know that I wrote The Model (or Beginning), or that I invented meta-oxymoron then and Macroinformation now, than hear my name as ticker tape descends around me.

ticker tape
thanx superstock

Even while I’m being beaten up by hectoring bullies, I feel God’s arms around me. Even as I deny the existence of God, I feel god’s arms around me. Even as I deny that god has any arms or that god has any specific attitude toward “me” or “anyone” else, I feel my destiny, a hidden destiny: a destiny incomprehensible apart from the Judeo-Christian Idea that nothing is as it seems. (Lots of religions believe that nothing is as it seems. Hinduism and Buddhism may be more conspicuous than Christianity in that regard. But Christianity has it that someday something will be shown to be right! That’s the feeling that I have: however skeptical I am of it at the same time: that I’ve got it right while the rest of you have it oh so disastrously wrong. It doesn’t matter who occupies the pinnacle of the temple when the temple is about to fall.

Actually, all of could be called

Ooo, I gotta a Tom Sawyer story I gotta tell. soon.

Stories by Age

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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