05 July, 2011

Old-Man Candy

My computer desk had a lot of stuff on it that wasn't computer-related. It had to, considering how much time I spent sitting at it. Within easy reach of my geek throne were silver gel pens, black Post-Its (yeah, yeah; I know), a couple of brands of overpriced cigarettes, a clip of bills to pay, and two very specific containers of edibles: a can of honey-roasted cashews and a glass jar full of Werther's Originals candies. The smoking had been an awful habit, but I'll never apologize for my bag-a-week addiction to Werther's.

Some weeks ago, I was waiting in line at the prison canteen when the big wall-mounted monitor displayed on its "New Items" PowerPoint slide, "WERTHER'S ORIGINAL CANDIES — $1.78." A buzz went around.

"What are those?" someone asked.

"Damn, they sure want enough for them," said someone else.

And indeed, for someone whose allowance is the monthly $8.50 stipend from the state (through which we get all hygiene products that aren't toilet paper or hotel-size bars of waxy soap), a bag of buttery-delicious hard candy is beyond reach. I felt a tingle on my tongue, as though my body, impelled by nostalgia, was telling me, Ah, go on. You don't need soap, anyway.

Ages ago, a friend was watching online video clips at my apartment, seated in what I called the Sidekick Chair, when I offered her one of my precious gold-wrapped treasures.

"Oh, my god," she laughed, practically falling out of her chair. "You are such an old man!"

I was twenty-one. "What's that supposed to mean?" I asked. "I'm not even a year older than you."

"Werther's? They're, like, what your grandpa gives you when he comes over — 'Here, I brought you some sweets' — then he hands you one of those covered in pocket lint and hair and stuff. They're old-man candy, like licorice, horehound, or —" Her thought got lost in guffaws.

I have been known to offer pocket-borne Werther's, sans hair or lint. If that makes  me an old man, I thought, just call me Gramps. I loved Werther's. Rich, smooth sweet — I loved them.

Thinking back to my friends' derision as I waited in line, I did not forgo the soap. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I've since questioned my decision, bu you make your choices and you live with them.