May 4, 2022–When I was a paperboy, every Christmas customers would give me a treat as I collected for their weekly delivery.
This surprised me at first, because at age 11 I was unfamiliar with the concept of tipping for service. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
I soon came back to earth, however, when I realized my treasure came in the package of 12 rolls of Lifesaver candies in an attractive box. It opened like a book, and with 6 rolls displayed on each side under crackly cellophane.
It was an embarrassment of riches. But there was a grinch hidden inside. After I plowed through the delicious Wild Cherry, Grape, and Assorted Fruit Flavors, I was left with tubes of weirdly-named torus-shaped treats:
Even worse, Butter Rum, and, believe it or not, Clove.
I couldn’t give those away to my mom.
There were other unpalatable treats that my customers pawned off on me, such as the dreaded Baby Ruth bar. One of my stops on my route was at a tavern that fronted a trailer park. The kind old owner didn’t wait for a holiday to treat me. Every single week that I collected he handed me a candy bar from behind the counter. It was usually a Baby Ruth. I imagined he gave me that one because that’s what he had the most of since not even his drunk regulars would eat them. I was touched and grateful, and never had the heart to tell him I hated that candy bar. The aggregation of nougat and nut, combined with the too-thin chocolate-y coating added up to a gooey log I just could not plow through.
He alternated it with another awful excuse for candy–the weirdly-named Bit-O-Honey. This was a wooden stick of pressed sugar that was impossible to chew and intolerable to suck. The flavor was a combination of artificial honey with a hint of unidentifiable nut. I called it the BitterHoney.
As an 11-year-old boy with access to my first discretionary income, I shopped for my candy very judiciously. Flavor was not the most important quality; value for investment was. I measured value by how long the candy lasted.
Snickers were the undisputed king of all candy, but despite the caramel, they went down pretty quickly. The leader in the longevity standard was the aptly-named Slo-Poke. It was some type of toffee on a stick. With judicious licking and careful rewrapping you could make that sucker last three days. That was a lot of Flavor Country for a nickel.
I did have standards, though. The Tootsie-Roll was another long-lasting candy option, but the texture was off-putting, and though it appeared to be chocolate, it was not. It was a flavorless mass that had been extruded. The bite-sized variety wasn’t completely bad, but when they introduced the Giant Tootsie-Roll, I simply couldn’t figure out how to attack it. You couldn’t cut it, squeeze it, or bite it. You had to hold it in your cheek until it reached body temperature when you could bite it into smaller chunks so it just sort of adsorbed directly through your mouth lining into your bloodstream.
Chocolate was my gateway drug. I never did care for the fruity, sugary varieties of candy that came along, such as the vile Pixy Stix which was just colored sugar packed in a paper straw.
Probably the pinnacle piece of candy was anything made by Hershey. As a kid, the Hershey bar was the summa cum laude of the candy counter. Customers who gave me a small bag of Hershey Kisses earned a clean newspaper laid carefully on their doorstep year-round.
I know there are better chocolates in the world–the Cadbury, the Toblerone, the dark chocolates from the Amazon rainforest, and anything Swiss. But nothing surpasses the emotional appeal of Hershey. To this day I can’t pass by a Hershey Kiss. It’s all about the presentation: the perfectly-tapered dollop, wrapped in dainty silver foil with the paper strip beckoning seductively to be torn open and popped in my mouth.
So next time I deliver your newspaper, consider slipping a Hershey Kiss inside my bag. I’ll make sure your newspaper doesn’t end up on the roof.