It was never my intention to be a kingpin, if you will, of an underground candy ring in mid 1990s. I more or less just kind of fell into it, you know? I was ten years old, needed money to buy Blink 182 CDs and Dr. Pepper chapstick, and simply used my resources. My resources just happened to be free candy. Although, nothing is really ever free, is it?
It was after my mom closed her Jazzercise studio when she started working for a candy company. A perk of her position was receiving samples, lots of them. Our entire pantry was stocked full of Butterfingers, Crunch bars, Laffy Taffy, and my personal favorite, 100 Grand Bars. A highly underrated chocolate bar, if you ask me.
Those first weeks of having candy bar box upon candy bar box delivered to our front door were some of the happiest days of my life. It was like all of those prayers the Catholic nuns made me say had finally come true. I actually had a house full of candy. God was real, after all. I went into full Augustus Gloop mode, stuffing myself with chocolate every chance I could find.
And then I went to the dentist.
My enamel was disappearing, my cavities were getting cavities, and silver caps were threatened if I didn’t cut back on my sugar consumption. I had to kick the habit or else. So just I like did with my thumb sucking problem, I quit cold turkey. It was the only way.
The next day at school I started packing up my stashes when an onlooker asked, “What’cha gonna do with all that candy?”
“Take it back home,” I shrugged.
“Can I have it?”
Hard pass. I barely knew this kid other than the fact his nose was always crusty and I was always grossed out by it. If I couldn’t have my candy, neither could Crusty Nose. “Nope,” I said, like the cold hearted kid I was.
“I’ll pay ya for it.”
“How much you got?”
Crusty dug into his neon windbreaker pocket, pulled out a few dirty coins, and I scrunched my small judgy face together as I weighed my options. I could take the candy back home, hide it under my pillow for a tough day, or… or I could sell a quick dime bag and make a little coin.
I passed him a few fun size Butterfingers, he handed over his money, and thus a business was born.
It was all word of mouth at first. Kids would meet me in the tubes at recess, which for anyone born after 1989, a tube was a weird concrete piece of “playground equipment” shaped like a tube? Or a huge pipe? I still don’t know the purpose. But it could fit a couple of kids inside, a couple of kids on top of it , and it was great for playing King of the mountain and breaking wrists, or in my case, dealing candy.
“Heard you got some stuff?” They’d ask as they peaked their head inside.
“I might,” I’d say as I glanced behind their back, trying to see if they were a snitch or not. If they looked okay I’d invite them in and open up my coat pockets like a New York watch dealer showing off their “Rolexes.”
Business was booming in the spring of 1997. I walked around that playground in my Cornhuskers Starter jacket with a candy cig tucked behind each ear like I owned the place, because I did. I sat at the best lunch table and had access to as many nugs or bowls of chili as my hungry little heart desired. If someone crossed me, they’d have their face on the wall for all of recess. That’s right, even the recess guards were on my side. I’d go to the Sunset Plaza Mall and make it rain on all of the quarter machines for anyone that was loyal to me. Bouncy balls, sticky hands, and plastic frogs for all. It was a time to be alive.
And then I got greedy and wanted to expand my services to the portable classrooms so I made a menu, a few of them. Thought it would be easier for my customers. The cover said “Sweet Stuff,” and the inside listed my product and my prices. Little did I know, this would be the downfall of my business.
In hindsight I should have seen something was off when I got to school that day, but I was too busy barking orders at my gotchis’ nannies to notice.
“I don’t care if you were doing a deal for me, little Lexi Macintosh Jr had 7 poops on her screen and that’s just unacceptable. I’m gonna have to dock your pay–” I stopped mid sentence when I realized my desk lid was flung open and the inside was completely empty.
There’d been a sting. I looked around to my team for backup but no one was making eye contact with me, no one except my teacher. And in her hand she held the “Sweet Stuff” menu.
“Taylor, come up here, please,” she said and I instantly started to sweat.
I looked to anyone for help on my up but not a soul tossed me a bone. Even Crusty looked away. He still had patches of the tattoo I got him from the quarter machine on his hand and now he didn’t even have the decency to make eye contact with me? Wow.
“I bought you that eagle tat,” I hissed as I walked by and he instantly covered it with his other hand. What a piece of work.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened next. I know that some accusations were made, maybe a few bribery attempts on my end, and at the end of it I found my way to the principal’s office.
Since it was my first offense I’d get let off easy. Apparently it wasn’t so much the passing out of the candy that upset the staff, but the fact I was charging for it. I guess an underground candy market was “frowned upon” in elementary school.
My business was shut down immediately, I lost a few recesses, and my teacher advised my mom to enroll me in Girl Scouts since I had a knack for selling, and could possibly, “use my talents for some good.”
And so I did, and she was right. I was the top seller of my troop, but this ultimately did not last long when I realized I didn’t actually get to keep any of the money.
But as fate would have it, my mom would leave her candy job and start at a new company called Otis Spunkmeyer, a company known for their delicous cookies. And the samples started arriving on day one. And thus another underground business was born…
To read about my Beanie Baby ring click here.