Sweet Occasions

Stretched out on my love seat and lazily flipping through a copy of Chicago Magazine, I propped the phone under my chin as I talked with my friend Vivian. It was 9:30pm, which meant that her free nights and weekends minutes had kicked in.
“I never knew you were so obsessed with candy,” she said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a commercial on TV for the next season of The Amazing Race and momentarily lost my train of thought. “Obsessed? Who said I was obsessed? What do you mean?”
“I mean you write about candy a lot on your blog. I just didn’t know you had such a sweet tooth.”
“Do I?”
“Yeah, Jen, you do. Just in the last few weeks you wrote about giving up candy, then there was the Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Just seems like a favorite topic of yours.”
I tossed my magazine onto the floor and popped a caramel Dove Promise into my mouth, pressing it against the roof of my mouth with my tongue until the soft caramel oozed out. “Viv, I’ve known you for what – ten years? When have I ever not had candy in my house? I don’t know, it’s just… who I am. I like candy. Doesn’t mean it’s an obsession.”
“Look, you don’t need to get defensive. It’s just an observation.”
“Well, maybe I’m obsessed with candy, but you have vices too, you know!”
“Like what?”
“Uh, hello? When’s the next season of America’s Next Top Model coming out?”
“September 21. Oh, and did you hear that they got rid of Janice Dickinson and are replacing her with Twiggy? What an awful idea that is. I don’t think the commentary is going to be nearly as funny anymore. I mean, Twiggy’s just skinny. Janice Dickinson was the world’s first supermodel. You know that the apartment the models lived in during the first season is right across the street from my office, don’t you? And really, they can never top that original season with Adrienne and Elise. Remember when we saw Shandi in the sub-“
“Viv. Vivian! Weren’t we talking about me and my candy obsession?”
“You’re the one who brought up ANTM. Anyway, that was really all I wanted to say. I just didn’t know you liked candy so much. I guess we never really know our friends, do we? All righty, ditey. I should get going – it’s pretty late.”
“Okay. Talk to you later.”
After I hung up, I looked over at my coffee table and saw the freshly opened bag of chocolates that I had picked up at the grocery store on my way home from work. They didn’t taste as delicious as the package had promised, but somehow just seeing them there made me feel good. I don’t know – I felt safe, I guess.
And the more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that maybe the reason I talk about candy a lot is because it has been my one constant companion throughout my 34 years – helping me make new friends, easing the pain of lost ones, comforting me during sad days, celebrating with me in the good times.
Somehow, candy has played a larger, more critical role in my life than any one person or event. And for that, I’d like to dedicate my story to candy, as candy has dedicated itself to me.
Diary of a Sweet Tooth
I am born. To my knowledge, no one brings me candy.
I taste my first Smartie and know what it is to feel joy.
My brother and I dress up as Raggedy Ann and Andy for Halloween. We come home after trick-or-treating, dump out our candy on the living room floor, and sort everything into three categories: chocolate, non-chocolate, and stuff that mom might eat.
A few years after this, my brother loses his taste for candy, and our relationship begins to deteriorate.
My best friend Tina has a birthday party with cake, balloons, games, and a piñata. Hordes of five-year olds race around the house, squealing with hyperactive delight. Angered by the noise, Tina’s father walks into the living room and yells in a booming voice, “I think there are enough corners in the house for everyone to stand in!”
The piñata breaks.
I don’t move.
Eventually, I bend down to pick up the lone root beer barrel that has fallen at my feet.
My brother informs my mother that if she continues to hide our Easter baskets, he will no longer bother looking for them.
I look at my brother and realize I am staring into the eyes of a total stranger.
We are celebrating something in my 2nd grade class. Mrs. LoCicero is the most beautiful teacher in the world – even her name is like a song.
There are cupcakes with white frosting and multi-colored sprinkles, but somehow we don’t have enough for everyone. Mrs. LoCicero looks worried and asks if anyone doesn’t want a cupcake. I walk up to her and hand mine back, untouched. She asks if I am sure and I nod yes.
I watch as she walks back to her desk, digs in her purse, then gives me a stick of Wrigley’s Double Mint gum. She says I can chew it in class.
Forbidden fruit.
As we sit on the step by the back door, my mother sips coffee and tells me about when she was my age. Her grandparents would sometimes give her money for candy like black licorice pipes. I don’t think that sounds like candy I would like. Then she describes her favorite treats, which were little coconut candies in the shape of watermelon slices. The red part was really red and the green part was really green, and they even had the little black seeds.
They sound so beautiful. I close my eyes and wish I could taste them.
Mr. Wendell catches me passing a Tootsie Pop to Danny T. He grabs a wastebasket and walks from desk to desk, confiscating our illegal candy stashes and throwing them in the trash.
He then returns to his desk and spits on the candy.
The Fosters and I decide to make our own Pixie Stix by mixing packets of Kool-Aid with sugar. After reaching the perfect formula, we pour the powder into a Tupperware container, lick our fingers, and dip them in. Our fingers remain pink for days.
Mrs. Foster catches us making this mess in her kitchen, kicks us out of the house, and screams that we’re all going to get worms. I am not sure what this means, but it worries me.
My class takes a field trip to Old World Wisconsin, where I learn how to make soap from lye. I catch a small green snake by the smokehouse.
At the end of the trip, we stop at the souvenir store and the Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe. I see black licorice pipes, but they still don’t sound good to me.
There are nine tall glass jars containing multi-colored sticks of hard candy, in all different flavors. The flavors are written in calligraphy on yellowed pieces of paper. I buy the orange and white striped one.
I walk to Belmonte’s Grocery on the corner because he has the largest selection of Now & Laters anywhere in the city. He even has Butter Rum flavor, but I don’t like that kind. I buy two packs of Bub’s Daddy gum, which is a foot-long piece of bubblegum, covered in white dust.
A friend and I try to chew the entire stick to see who can blow the biggest bubbles. I get bubblegum on my eyelashes, and my jaw hurts for a week.
My friend Angela and I are killing time after our summer school gym class. We ride our bikes to the drugstore and buy cans of Coke and packs of Sixlets. I ask Angie how many Sixlets she thinks I could fit up my nose.
We almost crash our bikes.
On the table next to my grandfather’s recliner sits a covered candy dish made of opaque white glass. I lift the lid and am disappointed to find spice drops. It’s always spice drops. Except at the holidays, when it’s those tiny striped pillow-shaped hard candies that stick together.
I quickly replace the lid and grab a handful of black olives from the kitchen.
I am in Paris. The French do not like candy. A rich American girl in my dorm has her boyfriend send her a case of Rain-blo bubblegum every few weeks. She has an eating disorder, I’m pretty sure.
I watch her as she sits at my sink, chewing package after package of gum. Before all the sugar is gone, she spits the wad of gum out onto a napkin. She then drinks mineral water because she says this will wash the calories out of her.
I watch the wad grow larger and larger. She never offers me a piece of gum and I never ask for one.
My friend Vivian and I decide to play hooky from work and drive out to Old World Wisconsin for the day. We watch a man butcher a pig the way it used to be done, and learn how to render lard.
The Candy Shoppe is still there. I buy three different flavored candy sticks, but they don’t taste as good as I remember.
On a business trip to Mexico, doe-eyed little girls in dirty dresses run up to me and want to sell me little packets of Chiclets. I am defenseless.
It is Christmas. My brother finds what appears to be a small white pill on my parents’ carpet under the coffee table. He half-jokingly scolds my mother for being so careless around his infant son.
I grab the pill from his hand and eat it. It is a Good ‘n Plenty.
I tell my nephews that if you microwave a Marshmallow Peep, it will get so big that the eyes will pop off. They think I am teasing them. We all gather around the microwave, and they never doubt me again.
I have dinner with my parents and spend the night at their house. In the morning, I walk to the back of their property to find my dad digging in the garden. I catch a small green snake by the raspberry bush.
My father apologizes for not having any candy in the house. He is trying to lose weight.

9 Responses to “Sweet Occasions”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Okay, so you tried to make your own Pixie Stix but I’m a bit disappointed, Jen, that you didn’t even give Fun Dip an honorable mention. Sheesh.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    I forgot to tell you that, oddly, there is a ye olde goody candy shoppe right here in the West Village on Hudson Street. While you have to dodge the tranny prostitutes (whom I now count among my many friends– they’re so friendly and always call me ma’am) to get in, once you do, it’s a step back in time. You can find all kinds of olde fashioned peppermint, root beer, lemony, sugarific treats. We’ll go next time you visit NYC. But we’ll need to bring some cigarettes to hand out to the ladies.
    p.s. that halved pig we saw still gives me nightmares.

  3. asia Says:

    I have similar memories but they are about pepperoncini peppers. ummmm….

  4. teahouseblossom Says:

    That’s hilarious.
    So it’s good to have a tap dancing hobby to tap out the calories!
    When I was a kid, my orthodontist lived on my street. Because he didn’t want to give out candy at Halloween, he’d give out toothbrushes with his business card attached. Cheesy!

  5. hooizz Says:

    i hope you’re right about the peeps – i just emailed two of my friends who are addicted to peeps, and told them about it. they will be thoroughly dissapointed (and mildly psychotic) if they waste a peep and it doesnt work. ha!

  6. shari Says:

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Peeps (PETP) will definitely be contacting you soon. If you need legal representation, I have Hershey’s Treasures – Caramel on my desk.

  7. Robert Says:

    [reading] candy candy good candy candy … [/reading] …
    Wait…new season of Amazing Race? WHEN? DETAILS?????

  8. Jenny Says:

    J: Wait – do you mean Lik ‘M Aid (or however it’s spelled)? I loved those! But mostly I just liked the stick.

    V: If all it takes for me to gain access to rock candy suckers is to pass out Marlboro’s to a couple of hookers, sign me up! I can’t wait!

    A: Hmm… pepperoncinis? You must be Italian – my mother eats them for breakfast. Maybe that’ll be my next photo shoot.

    T: Only thing worse than a toothbrush for Halloween is a penny. Please – like you can buy anything with a penny these days!

    H: I swear it worked! Okay, so maybe they kind of drop off, but still – the eyes came off!

    S: I LOVE the caramel treasures – they’re actually better than these new Dove things. But maybe that’s because I made myself sick eating them yesterday during the photo shoot. A lot of candies died in the taking of that photo…

    R: I think it comes out on 9/27, or thereabouts. But it’s FAMILY Amazing Race. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Kids will only slow you down, people!

  9. Jessica Says:

    Jen – I never cared for the stick to the Fun Dip…it was only good for smothering in saliva so that the sugar/candy granules would adhere to it. Also, speaking of Marlboro’s – what about candy cigarettes???