With my springy, shock-absorbent bike I was ready to venture out of the secure confines of my home to seek new adventures. (Read previous confession.) My morbid obesity and lack of fitness shape prevented me from going far, so aside from McDonald’s, I went to the local convenience store. The Circle-K was a go-to place hit with the cognoscenti because it was the only place in the neighborhood that had an arcade game. Kids from the neighborhood would flock there to play Galaga and Pacman.
The Nostalgic 80’s
The arcade games at the Circle-K were just a aperitif for the bonafide mall arcade. For you millennials, a video arcade was a place in the mall replete with dozens of video games that only cost a quarter to play. The room was dark and ambient and it was likely built that way like a casino to keep kids in their for hours plunking in quarters.
Now, by the late 80s the original Nintendo and Sega were hugely popular, but their graphics were still inferior to the arcade games. As the home platforms improved so did the arcade games but they began to charge $1.00 or more. Similar to why many people don’t go to NFL games due to the ease and improved quality of flat screens, kids eventually stayed home and the arcades became obsolete.
But we are not there yet. This is 1988 and Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the wunderkind Milli Vanilli were huge. So I would go the Circle K to play video games and otherwise hangout. Back then convenience stores would rent out VHS movies so when I ran out of money or others were playing I would peruse the movie titles. I was in no hurry to return home.
Eventually I struck up a conversation with the clerk at the store whose name was Claire. She was a woman likely in her 30s who I could tell lived a tough life (though I can’t recall now how I knew that.) She was a smoker for sure I knew. She grew an affinity to me, first because I told her she shared the name of the Molly Ringwald character in The Breakfast Club. She also thought I was just a cute, chubby obese kid who clearly came every day because I didn’t want to be at home.
Eventually, we came up with a symbiotic, mutually beneficial arrangement. Being around all the tasty, high-fat, junk food whetted my appetite, but I didn’t have much money. Claire didn’t want to do more work than needed. So in exchange for food I worked for her and became her assistant.
In retrospect, it is pretty amazing the things she allowed me to do. She let me stock the drink cooler (I used to love that room because it was behind the doors and it was a gigantic cold room), mop the floors, stock the shelves, and even run the register when she went out to smoke or take a break. She really must have trusted me, for I had easy access to the money.
In exchange she gave me an unlimited amount of Icees, microwave cheeseburgers, those gross hot dogs that rotate on the grill, and pretty much whatever other food on which to binge. (I guess inventory was not that exact in the Circle K word.) I was never remunerated for my work…but frankly I didn’t care. Ecstatic I was that I could essentially binge eat all I want away from my family.
I hit the jackpot!!! I thought “I can play video games and eat all the food I want! Eureka!” Also, at that age you think it is an honor to help an adult to adult work so I never had a problem with stocking and cleaning. Also, Claire and I became friends…well at least as much as a 14-year-old can be friends with an adult.
My parents never knew about the work. They did know that I was either at McDonalds or Circle K. I assumed they thought I want to the park. Never did they express to me their concern that I could be abducted or abused. My stomach welcomed negligent parents; my psyche, not so much.
The Circle K was eventually sold to an Indian family and they didn’t have much need for a portly, profit-undermining kid. They essentially told me to beat it. I stopped going there to play video games because the new Sega Genesis came out and it was honestly not worth the exercise to ride to the store anymore. I never learned what happened to Claire.
Ambivalence envelopes my memories of the Circle K. I look back with happiness those years at the store since food, friendship, and Millipede filled it with weeks of joy. But, it along with the binge eating at McDonald’s, school, and other locales, exacerbated my already growing waist line. And that is the thing about binge eating and obesity. You know it is bad for you, but until you are ready to deal with it, you know you aren’t going to stop. And part of you is happy about that, for who wants to get rid of their “comfort vice.”
Read about my weight loss backstory here.
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified health consultant
(Share with me your own stories or comments below.)