Sour Candy by Carl.
That’s how the story began. A story I remember to this day. A story I have fixated on, perhaps for the wrong reasons. A story I think I am glad I’ve kept with me all this time.
When I was in elementary school, I went to my school’s summer program. I went every summer, and I became familiar with some of the returning customers. One kid was named Carl. He didn’t go to my school during the regular school year, but would appear for the summer program. I hated Carl. I hated Carl because he was stupid. He annoyed me with his stupidity and with his existence in general.
So, naturally, we were in “classes” together. One during this particular summer was a book-making and creative writing class. If memory serves, this was the summer before second grade, and I had just turned seven. Everyone in the classes with me was the same grade as I was. I really never looked forward to book-making class, but not just because of Carl. I have always been anxious and have had perfectionist tendencies. When asked to create a book and write a story in it, I would agonize about what the story would be. Often we were expected to create these stories during one class time. I just wanted to come up with something worthy of being written down. I realized, even then, that it didn’t seem so hard for everyone else.
It came time to share our books and the stories we had written in them. I had written about a beautiful Italian glass necklace I had been given by a family friend. Perhaps that was for a different assignment on a different day, but I remember writing about that in particular. I illustrated it with drawings of the pendant, a tree with little circles for leaves, on a deep, clear blue background. It was no literary masterwork, admittedly. But anyhow, it was Carl’s turn to read from his book. He stood, while everyone else sat, on the square rug in the corner of the room, a standard in my elementary school’s classrooms. He began to read.
One day I had sour candy
It was sour so I spit it out
Then it turned sweet
I was almost scandalized by how idiotic and simple-minded this story was. We were seven, maybe eight years old at this point, and while we were still fairly young, this writing struck me as remedial.
This story has stuck with me, though, and I’ve kept it somewhere in my memory for some purpose or another, to pull out to entertain friends occasionally. But recently I’ve felt there’s something more to this tale than simple Carl’s simple story and my simple outrage.
I search for purpose and meaning in my life, even if I’m not always aware of that. I’m striving for something. I think now I just want a good story, a life that I can look at and appreciate the picturesqueness of. One with vignettes that can be plucked out like a chapter from a David Sedaris memoir, beautiful and baffling in its strangeness. I think Sour Candy may be one of those moments, an unusual and inexplicable slice of life. I think there’s more I can milk the story of Sour Candy for.
I knew exactly what candy Carl was talking about. It was Warheads. Carl’s story was profoundly relatable, although stated in the most basic way. In the summer of 1999, what kid hadn’t hesitantly popped one of those round candies with the mottled white surface into their mouth, immediately regretted it and spit it into their own hand? Or maybe they were determined to suck on those candies until they did become sweet, not their first time to the Warhead rodeo. If I think of Warheads I am immediately transported back to Summer Program, perhaps the summer of 1999, maybe 2000, on a field trip to the water park, sitting in the grass beneath the tall, tubular waterslides, eating a lunch of that particular smelling, hot, squished peanut butter and jelly. At the end of lunch, as dessert, we broke out some Warheads, and I tried hard to stand the purely sour flavor. In my swimsuit. In the shadow of the waterslides. With my summer friends.
If I dig deep, this is what the story of Sour Candy brings me back to. Beautiful vignettes of life. And I think, maybe I shouldn’t hate Carl so much. Maybe I love his story and how breezily he must have procured it, inscribing a pure experience into a little handmade paper booklet. I think that’s a good way to go about life. Create what comes to you. Use what you know. You don’t always have to reach so far or try so hard. You are only a seven-year-old, and the stories you tell don’t have to be masterpieces.