I grew up in a very generous family. My parents were always giving, volunteering, and thinking of others. They’re like, so nice.
In high school I liked to be generous, too, like buy my friends iPods and candy and gum and lighters. However, since I was 17 and had no job, I was just using my parents’ money to do this kind of stuff. Which makes sense when I just buy my friends things like iPods. Well, it was one friend. And one iPod. But boy, that’d be like 35 hours of work in a minimum-wage job that I was never forced to get because my parents were like, supportive and thankfully well-off.
Anyway. I guess it’s good I didn’t end up just using the money on myself and like buy expensive clothes and 100 Pokemon games. What did teens in the 2000’s spend money on? I was not a “with it” teen.
Anyway, so I had this eclectic group of friends in 2006. I was at a public school in Denver (George Washington, baby!) and made my first black friend. No, I’m not kidding. The other schools I attended were 100% Orthodox Jewish and everyone basically looked like same. And at public school, I made friends who weren’t Jewish and lived in my neighborhood and celebrated Halloween and cared about school sports.
One of these friends had the nickname Carrott, because his name was Barrett and I thought of the clever nickname. (Don’t feel too bad for Carrott - he ends up being creepy to my sister). Carrott was a freshman, and I guess a normal kid who likes normal things like gum and TV (literally the two most normal things, right?) and never brought lunch to school. Now, it could be his family was just as well-off as mine. I never asked. I never knew how to ask. It’s different when you grow up in a small Jewish community and you know which kids would require a little more help with donations, and which kids had a giant house and a built-in aquarium in the wall of their foyer. (True riches right there).
So one day, Carrott didn’t have lunch and I was feeling generous and was like, “let’s go off campus to McDonald’s and I can get you lunch!” Off campus wasn’t that far or even exciting. It was just like down two blocks. So we walked to McDonald’s.
My poor Jewish heart was racing. I had never set foot in McDonald’s. I didn’t know what it would be like. Or smell like. Would a Jew from my neighborhood see me walking in and assume I wasn’t keeping kosher? But I was going for a good cause! Probably.
Carrott didn’t say much. He was very terse and truly I remember nothing about his interests and things he would say. But we were probably having a conversation. I can talk to anybody.
We walk into McDonald’s. The smell of plastic and fast food was very overwhelming, honestly. We get in line. I was probably speaking very quickly about something inane, which is what I do when I’m nervous.
For example, when I went with my little sister to get her industrial piercing, I did not stop talking during the whole procedure and didn’t even stop to take a before/during/after picture, which would have been cool but I was too nervous.
Anyway. I ask Carrott what he wants. I’m sure I was weird about it, too. Like I probably half-stood out of line and made him talk.
He orders something. I get my wallet ready.
“That’s $1.99,” the person taking our order said.
All my nerves went away. Now I was shocked. The only restaurants I had gone to in Denver were the two Kosher places that had appetizers that started at $14. Never had I heard of a meal for less than $2. Sure, I watched all the fast-food commercials during Sabrina the Teenage Witch after school, and they’re always showing these bouncing burgers that are like $2.99 or whatever, but it’s different when you are actually at the restaurant itself. I had a realization. I was experiencing America for the first time.
Here’s how I responded: “What?! $1.99? That’s so cheap! You pay for that yourself!”
So Carrott paid for his meal and we walked back to school.
Where did my generosity go? Wouldn’t I have been more willing to pay for such a low price? My brain kind of broke after hearing the price. I had never experienced the world that way. Which is so backward, since most Americans who would look at the Kosher restaurants in Denver and never get anything there because why would they pay $35 for a kosher meat meal if they could get McDonald’s for $1.99?
I mean, I know nothing about the quality of the food at fast-food joints. It probably doesn’t taste as good as a $35 entrée. But still.
Clearly, mine and Carrott’s relationship changed after that. I’m sure he kind of resented me after that. We still hung out in our little friend group at lunch. But we never went on those one-on-one trips off campus again. I never offered to buy anyone else’s lunch.
Any then Carrott turned out to be a creep and when he went to the movies with my sister he tried to feel her up, which is like, gross dude, and hence why we are no longer in touch.
I remember this day as an abrupt entry into the real-world: how most Americans eat, and the vast disparity of prices for fast-food versus any other food that probably had some nutrients in it. How I, as an Orthodox Jew, fit into the culinary world of Denver (I didn’t). And I learned how to continue to be giving and being careful not to get myself into a situation where I would feel uncomfortable and renege of my offer, putting my friends in an awkward situation.