I know it must have been when I was young, because the memory is of the small house, the small one in a dingy little off-center neighborhood, the house whose backyard was bounded by a grey cinderblock wall, one patch of which had a group of lead air-gun pellets that some previous resident had shot into it, flattened pellets whose discovery I regarded as a real coup, neighborhood narrative-wise. The house we lived in before we moved into the valley with its irrigation ditches and big, quasi-agricultural lots. It was pre-pre-adolescence, too. I couldn’t have been older than ten and was probably closer to seven. In a bid to help me help myself focus and behave, my mother crafted a simple economy based on points and prizes; working hard and doing my chores would earn me points, which I could then redeem for various trinkets, some of which I recall were sweet and edible. A vivid memory of very hard candies; cinnamon-flavored, plastic-wrapped, case-hardened. Surely many parents try something similar. No gum. Was there a new Transformer toy at the top of the tier? Hard to say. Unclear also whether my younger brother had access to the economy. The bright red candy is the clearer memory. Now in my thirties I find that reflecting on the system arouses a strange mixture of embarrassment and despair; self-conscious embarrassment at having been the subject of so much thought and labor (the image of my mother shopping for trinkets and carefully assigning each one a point value on a hand-drawn chart is inescapable now—the hours of work this must have taken) and despair at the weight of the responsibility that having been the subject of such care and attention imposes. I have never done anything in my whole life that could possibly merit such love and concern, but I received it anyway.

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