This treasure came in the form of three connected paper pouches, filled with what was essentially colored and flavored sugar, and then this long, flat “stick” that looked like somebody had stepped on a piece of chalk. You took the stick, tore the opening strip off the pouches, and you shoved said stick into a selected powdery goodness until it was nicely coated. Then you went after that stick with your mouth like you were trying out for the sequel of “Debbie Does Dallas”.
This was great fun until the powder levels got too low in the pouches, and then your stick would present you with increasingly-disappointing levels of pure energy. Which meant, of course, that you would then have to up-end the pouches into your desperate mouth, because we were not about to waste any of that mess. Trouble is, being children, we were relatively uncoordinated and the powder would get everywhere, all over our faces, making us look like clowns on crack.
2. Now and Laters
These were like little squares of especially- resilient taffy that came individually-wrapped in a little row of packaging which advertised that the contents contained candy jewels that would last forever. This was a fascinating concept to the childhood mind. Something sweet that you could eat for the rest of your life? I must immediately snatch up one of these packages and pester Mommy about it until she gives in or takes another Valium and doesn’t care what I throw into the shopping cart.
And, somewhat true to the promised duration of the sugary pleasure, it did indeed take some time to get these things down, unless you happened to have jaws of steel or simply didn’t bother to chew things before swallowing. You would chomp for a bit, suck for a bit while your aching baby teeth rested, and then chomp some more. Sometimes you would eventually succeed with consumption; other times you would get bored and just chunk the gooey wad under the couch.
3. Wax Lips
These little items were exactly that, hunks of “edible” wax manipulated to look like human lips. Well, lips that had taken a dip in the collagen pool a time or two. We would shove these things in our mouths and then run around pretending to be somebody else, like movie stars or cheerleaders. Trouble is, you couldn’t really talk when you had the wax in your mouth. Or breathe, actually. So the entertainment factor was somewhat limited after about three minutes of near asphyxiation.
Yes, you could theoretically eat them, but no one really enjoyed this angle very much, as the flavor was comparable to chewing on an unscented candle, and just as pointless. More castoffs for the candy graveyard under the couch.
4. Pop Rocks
Despite the enticing rumors, Mikey the Cereal Boy did not perish whilst consuming this treat, although it was great fun to contemplate candy that could kill. And while the candy, once placed in the mouth, did not quite reach the supposed explosive results that were hinted at in advertising, there was definitely some type of minimally-lethal radioactivity taking place. The sparkly bits of Kryptonite would create a mildly-startling semblance of crackling and movement, thusly keeping children occupied for a good five minutes so Mommy and Daddy could work on repairing their broken marriage.
Unless you were one of those little urchins who suddenly discovered that you did not care, at all, for the sensation of something unholy squirming about on your tongue. Who knows how often the insides of a wood-paneled station wagon were rudely coated with Pop Rocks residue when an unpleased child could not get the window rolled down fast enough.
5. Gold Nugget Bubble Gum
After forking over your coinage, you were presented with a little white fabric pouch, with its very own drawstring, containing bits of coated chewing gum that had been processed by some machine to make said nuggets look like something somebody found in one of those gold rushes back in the day. This was a win-win situation, as not only did you get something you could chew annoyingly for an extended amount of time (something children cherish), but you also had a clever tiny satchel wherein you could later stash small objects of great value to your young mind.
Downside? There was something wrong with the flavor of that gum. And some of the “nuggets” were tiny little bits of relative nothing, so you often had to use up half the bag to get a decent chew. And since now everybody had a treasure bag for holding miniscule cherished keepsakes, bags that looked exactly the same, mistakes would often be made about which bag belonged to whom, thusly resulting in intense, heated sibling altercations that would last for years to come.
6. Laffy Taffy
Yet another entry in the “how many ways can we make a buck with essentially the same candy” line of product promotion. I was personally disappointed at this particular effort. Yes, it was candy, so of course I would eat it, because God wanted me to do so. But still, the advertising for this product, in the form of jovial cartoon fruits, gave the impression that I would laugh hysterically with each bite. This did not happen. Instead, I just chewed. A lot. (Side note: Despite the allure, do not accessorize your sister’s hair with a gooey wad of sun-melted Laffy Taffy. Nobody wins in this situation, especially you and your plans to leave your bedroom in the foreseeable future.)
7. Candy Cigarettes
This one is kind of a shock, reflecting back. But these things were all the rage in the decade of plaid polyester. Hey kids, guess what? You can have your very own pack of cigarettes, just like Mom and Dad! Okay, yes, you can’t actually light these little tubes of compressed sugar, but we took the time to add a little bit of pink coloring to one end so you can pretend that they are burning. Now run out and buy a pack so you can psychologically train for a future addiction!
These were basically square gum drops, although they did have a more robust sugar coating and a somewhat stronger flavor. And they were certainly colorful. But again, I was disappointed at the advertising promise of instant jocularity, this time in the form of a manic clown who would later have a career resurgence when Stephen King wrote that creepy “It” book. Sadly, I did not laugh whilst consuming, I only gained weight that forced Mom to shop in the “husky” section of Wal-Mart.
9. Bazooka Gum
These little squares of long-term chewiness were accompanied by your very own tiny comic strip, a little thing you could fold out and peruse as the sugar hit your bloodstream and eventually convinced you to act inappropriately and get yelled at by adult people. Most of the jokes in the strips were amazingly lame, but as a budding scholar, I appreciated any gift of literature I might receive. But what the hell was up with that weird chalky coating on those little squares of gum? Something wasn’t right there.
This was a mind-blowing creation at the time. Listen up, you screaming and hyperventilating little urchins, we have a double candy for you. We start off with a lovely flavored sucker. Yes, it’s a little big for some of your mouths, and it has that odd, protruding band around the equator that feels a little strange on your tongue and can catch on your teeth. But that’s because we’ve hidden an extra special prize inside. Sugar-drenched, chemically-altered bubble gum!
So get to suckin’, tiny tater tots. And eventually you will reach the treasure within. Sure, we should have realized that some of you wouldn’t be able to wait, and you would start chewing on the sucker before the proper time, making it feel like you’re trying to ingest broken glass in a tar ball. But hey, bad things can happen when you’re unsupervised because your parents are stoned and watching “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in the other room. The room with the swag lamps, the shag carpet and a TV that only has three channels. And a crushed-velvet couch with an amazing amount of discarded candy globs underneath it, a dusty Island of Misfit Sugar Toys.
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 03/02/12 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 07/18/14. Minimal revisions were made for this post. Story behind the photo: This is the backside of one of my Bonnywood Manor business cards, a stolen but fitting quote that I thought appropriate when discussing the allure of evil candy. (Yes, Bonnywood Manor is a registered company in the state of Texas, shocking as it may seem.) But all that aside, now is the time for you, dear reader, to step forward and comment below about your own favorite childhood candy. I know you all have stories. Unleash your sugary secrets…