It’s a hot summer day in Park Slope. Owen “Jessie” Jacobs just finished his shift at Crunch Gym, where he checks ID cards at the front desk. After an eight-hour workday, it’s snack time. On a park bench in Brooklyn, near Flatbush Ave., he pulls out empty Tupperware from his backpack, along with a plastic spoon, a Ziploc bag filled with Frosted Flakes, and a mini-carton of whole milk. A bowl of cereal is his go-to meal after work.
The sounds of ambulances and rushing New Yorkers drowns out the crunching of the cereal. After a few bites, he pauses. The Frosted Flakes are drowning in milk. He uses the spoon to bring a few flakes back to the top of the container.
“Maybe it’s weird, but it reminds me of my childhood,” Jacobs, 31, says.
Growing up, he says, breakfast was a do-not-miss event. He lived in the outskirts of Chicago, where his mother and sister gathered around the table each morning before getting their day started. What was for breakfast was usually a good indicator of how much money his mom made that week. Sometimes Jacobs would enter the kitchen to find a spread of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. Most days, it was cereal.
“When there was more on the table, things were good,” he said. “If me and my sister could only have one Eggo each or one serving of Corn Flakes, we knew things were rough.”
Jacobs’ mom worked multiple jobs to put food on the table. Some days, she worked as a security officer at a local bank. She also split time at the front doors of various department stores and movie theaters. This meant Jacobs spent the nights watching his little sister, while juggling his homework and social life. They looked forward to mornings, when they would crowd around a small table and talk about news in the neighborhood.
Now, he skips traditional breakfast. His shift usually starts around 7 a.m., and he leaves his apartment in East New York about an hour earlier to catch the subway to make it to work on time.
“The most I have time to do is pack this lunch and head out the door,” Jacobs said. “I can’t get up any earlier.”
The last time he remembers sitting down for an early morning meal was last year, when his mother and sister came to visit. Since he moved to New York five years ago, he has made an effort to reunite with his family for major holidays and birthdays. But that can be hard, given how expensive flights to Chicago can be. Plus, going back home too often is hard for Jacobs.
“I left for a reason,” he said. “I saw myself going down a bad path, and I needed to switch up my environment.”
After he graduated from a local community college, Jacobs moved to New York for a change of scenery. Until recently, he lived with his grandmother. Now, he has finally saved up enough money for a studio apartment. It’s a long commute from work back home, so he almost always hangs out on a bench in Park Slope and makes an impromptu bowl of cereal before heading back home.
“Whoever tells you that cereal is about equal proportions is dead wrong,” Jacobs said. “Don’t believe them.”
He likes extra milk.
“Two-thirds milk. One-third cereal,” Jacobs said.