Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Reflections of the A&P and Other Candy Fantasies
I'm not sure why the thought of the A&P popped into my head while my chiropractor was crunching my spine and needling me up today but it did and now I must address all those remote memories of safe, warm places in my heart and mind.
When I was a child in Albany, our local neighborhood A&P was the focus of my daily routine, whether I was buying luscious Mallow Cups, store brand pecan swirls or stealing the plastic cap protectors off the 409 bottles, I visited that store everyday till it closed when I was in the eighth grade.
The dirty, outdated grocery store that billed itself as a "Super Saver" was directly across the street from my Catholic grade school, Blessed Sacrament, a place of higher learning or at least that's what the powers that be called it. I called it my own personal hell hole but I'll save that for future flashbacks into my wild, rebellious years at BSS. A time I'd like to forget, along with most of my classmates, give or take a few. Being chubby in Catholic school was torture, although it made me strong and steadfast. I often wonder if those horrible days spent in that jail has something to do with my inability to trust people. I wear my earned armor well. Maybe one day, someone else can break through it other than my wonderful husband... a completely trustworthy human being.
The A&P represented a sense of neighborhood and community to me and my friends, a group of shady misfits from the mean streets of Albany. There was Sue Sue, the bullying Brut who lived a few houses down and enjoyed tripping me while I was running full-force during a competitive game of Run the Bases, laughing uncontrollably when the wind got knocked out of me, as I fell hard on my chest. That worked only until I figured out how to flip the bitch flat on her back. I heard she's living in a ramshackle house in Rensselaer, divorced with two boys. And God says revenge isn't worth the wait! Then there were a few others who will appear in later tales from the crypt but I'd rather not reveal all my characters so soon. She was the bane of my existence and I thanked heaven everyday that she didn't attend my school. Her parents were fed up with BSS and pulled all their children out, making them attend PS #16 several blocks away. I was more than elated, I was ecstatic.
During the school year, I'd pop in the store, say hello to my Aunt Jeanne, the jolly customer service manager, and scout out the detergent aisle for store workers. My pals and I would snap off the plastic discs on any cleaner we could locate, but the 409 bottles had the best protectors. Using them as slugs in Jawbreaker machines at Chucks Bun N' Burger lasted for an entire summer till we got caught by Chuck himself, banning us from greasy spoon forever. My friends and I were devastated for a time and then realized the chocolate shakes were far better at Jack's Diner across the street and the shoe string french fries at Mike's Luncheonette weren't soaking in lard but were crisp and fresh unlike anything we ever tasted outside of McDonald's, the go-to restaurant of the 1970's.
I had a mouthful of fillings after that summer of Jawbreaker's and had my mother wondering why I was getting so many cavities, until she discovered the bowl full of stash under my bed. That was an ugly late August morning as my mother screamed at me for what seemed like an eternity but probably only lasted 10 minutes. I watched as she flushed my gum collection down the toilet and wondered if I'd ever mass another large medley of confections again.
My mother dragged me off to the local dentist/butcher later that day for a six month cleaning and x-rays. The news wasn't good and I ended up getting drilled in three separate locations. I never got Novocaine till I was in high school, listening to my mother who scared the be-Jesus out of me in regards to "the needle." When I finally did take the plunge and got shot up, I was pleasantly surprised at how it barely hurt but then I quickly grew angry at my mother for prejudicing me to the easy, slightly painful procedure. No pain could be worse than having your dental root exposed, while a drill sliced through tough tartar and enamel, leaving me breathless and blinded from that all-annoying dental spot-light. And let's not discuss the dentist's breath, which could turn my stomach in one exhale, hitting me like bag of burning dog shit. I couldn't decide which was worse, the lack of drugs, the drilling or the doc's foul breath of life that smelled like death, with an extra shot of rigor mortis rot thrown in there for good measure. I was paralyzed with nausea and fear while I lay there in that Naugahyde chair contraption, finally realizing that brushing and flossing were as important as noshing on layers of candy, chocolate and Hubba Bubba bubble gum. I figured if I brushed twice a day, I'd have little to worry about in years to come. I was miserably wrong since I now set off metal detectors in airports with all the amalgam in my candied puss.
As long as my smile looks good from a distance, I'm satisfied. I suppose if I had missing teeth, graying caps and stinky breath, I'd feel more guilty about my flavorful, sweet treats that I enjoyed back then but I luckily don't suffer from "Yuck Mouth" syndrome, a disease known to many inhabitants of the Appalachian region as a result of boozing it up on Moonshine.
Now, let me smile pretty for the camera and I'll be on my way.