Saturday, September 4, 2010

East Side Story

While traversing the lower east side of Manhattan on this sunny but very windy first day of the Labor Day weekend, I was foremost struck by its general seediness—stretches of grunge and malodor commingling in an unsightly mishmash. It’s no doubt a few notches more habitable than it was in its storied past. For this area that I now trod hosted European immigrants en masse in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Millions of people lived in vastly overcrowded, filthy, and ramshackle tenement houses—hardscrabble first experiences for countless people in the land of opportunity.

Fortunately, I was in New York City, where discoveries and unexpected gems lurk around so many corners in so many neighborhoods. One encounter in particular added a little color to the mostly gray surroundings that I walked—a candy store called Economy Candy on Rivingston Street. While I didn’t purchase anything, I nonetheless traveled through time to the halcyon days of my youth—of bubble gum cigars and Sugar Daddies. In fact, many candy brands were here that I’d long since forgotten about, or thought had been consigned to the dustbin of history, including Bit-O-Honey, Turkish Taffy, C Howard’s Scented Gum, Candy Buttons, Charleston Chews, Charms, Chuckles, Double Bubble Gum, Gold Mine bubble gum sacks, Mallo Cups, Marshmallow Cones, Mary Janes, Milk Duds, Necco wafers, Nik-L-Nips, Pixie Stix, Pop Rocks, and Razzles.

If I were to place any of the aforementioned confectioneries in my mouth today, God knows what would would happen. I suspect these enchanting ghosts from my past would do a real number on me. All the chewing and sucking in my adult mouth would yank the fillings out of my teeth, break a few of them along the way, and give me a major sour stomach, too. I just can't abide heavy concentrations of processed sugar anymore.

One footnote concerning the Economy Candy stroll down memory lane: Bubble gum cigarettes and chocolate cigarettes are available there. Remember them. We put these faux weeds in our innocent mouths, blew, and white puffs of powdered sugar spewed out, simulating the genuine article: cigarette smoke. I thought political correctness had done away with these candies for all time. Hope Mayor Mike Bloomberg doesn't find out about this.

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