Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shattered Candy

I like candy.

I don't like it for breakfast, or mixed into breakfast cereal or ketchup, or masquerading as vitamins or pretending to be anything other than the glorious thing that it actually is -- a mildly subversive experience with decadence.

When I was a kid in the summer we used to go to the Penny Patch and pick out 5- and 10- and 25-cent candies from shelves of glass jars. The picking was half the experience -- an exquisite kind of torture, because you only had a dollar or two, and could only get so much. As much as you fervently planned to come next time with FIVE or TEN dollars and get EVERYTHING you wanted, somehow there you always were with a sweaty handful of small change.

You could blow the whole thing on a few yards of licorice whips, or get a box of spicy pink bubblegum in the shape of cigarettes that puffed clouds of powdered sugar, or get caramel Sugar Daddies that might or might not wrench the fillings out of your teeth. Candy was weird and dangerous and spicy and sometimes hurt to eat, like Pop Rocks. Also, it was one of the only things you would really buy on your own, and one of the only stores you'd really go into on your own with real business to do, and you probably didn't want your parents to know you were there, so there was this thrill of independence. When you came out of the store with your little brown bag of treats, what can I say? It was like you'd scored.

Ah, those were the days. Candy sucks now, the same few offerings, no fun, no thrills. I have no time for it, and I am scornful of my children that they like this modern crap. I know, I know, I'm a crabby old fart, but I make up for my crabbiness when we discover a good old-fashioned candy counter and let my children share the thrills of candy lust. Recently we found a vintage store on Court Street that has candy jars of what are now basically old fashioned candy -- the candy I grew up with. Sprees, violet or lemon candies, and one of my all-time favorites, Charleston Chews.

Yesterday I gave them out at my son's birthday party as part of the goody bag. "You have to freeze these," I told the kids. "Then you shatter them."

"What do you mean?" one kid asked.

I wanted to give him really explicit directions: You should be in a bathing suit, preferably an orangey-red racer back tank, and you should be cool to the bone from hours in the pool, but the blazing sun will have dried your skin, so that you are basically a perfect balance of wet, warm, dry and cold. Your suit will be damp, as will the crumpled dollar in your hand. You will take the Charleston Chew (vanilla, DUH!) from the freezer, which is still a few years away from freezing Milky Ways and Three Musketeers -- right now it is only Charleston Chews that any retailer has thought of freezing. You pay the guy, without even thinking about if he's cute or not. Why would you care? Outside, you squat down on the pavement under the snack bar awning and with a resounding, expert CRACK, smash the Charleston Chew onto the pavement, shattering it into perfect bite-sized pieces.

"You just smash it," I told the kid. "You'll see."

He has to find his own path. That is the way.

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