“What was the last piece of candy that you gave someone else?”
Candy isn’t something I give to other people. I rarely buy it for myself, so it would never occur to me to give it to other people. Not even Easter candy – we never actually did the Easter-Bunny thing in our house. When you have the sumptuousness of a Russian Orthodox paschal meal – the kielbasa! the kulich! the pascha! – who needs candy?! (For the uninitiated, “kulich” is a sweet bread baked in a high cylindrical form, and “pascha” is a very rich cheese concoction made of farmer cheese, heavy cream, butter, and almonds, among other things.)
But I did once work with a man who would distribute mini-candy bars at break time, and he was a character.
When I started out with this company, they had just expanded from twelve workers to thirty-six. We all sat around long tables, ten or twelve of us to a table, and we read compositions written by fourth-, eighth- and eleventh-graders. Or we reviewed their efforts in Math, Reading, and Arts and Humanities. Yes, I worked for one of those firms that does standardized educational testing for a variety of states, and I can tell you, that work is both entertaining and phenomenally boring at the same time.
There was the Best Friend of the Year Award prompt: “Nominate your best friend for the Best Friend of the Year Award. Be specific.” The goal was to make sure they could put together a coherent composition in standard English. After awhile, “She brings me up when I’m feeling down” and “He’s always there for me” become so routine that you find yourself dreaming about them, and well-written but unimaginative compositions begin to look like they were written by William Faulkner.
We had three breaks: two 15-minute breaks, and half an hour for lunch. Half an hour for lunch isn’t much, but you would not have wanted to combine all the breaks into a one-hour lunch break; your mind really needed to relax from so much mediocrity. Coffee worked for the 10:00 a.m. break, but by 2:00, you were at the climbing-walls stage. This is when George would bring out his bags of candy, and distribute miniature Snickers or Three Musketeers bars to each of the scorers.
George was a short, very thin man; over time I learned that he had picked up celiac sprue in his travels around the globe for an Unspecified Government Agency, and was unable to eat anything with wheat. He spoke a number of foreign languages, including Arabic and Farsi, and was very well read in all the languages he spoke. It’s tempting to ask what on earth such a man was doing at a job like ours, but the thing about this job was that it wasn’t steady work, and if you were unable to show up for a project, you had the freedom to turn it down – or to leave in the middle of it, as George did during the Gulf War of 1991. Hmmmm.
He had Sources for any number of things; many of us bought stamps from him in rolls of 100, for example. Hey, it saved us a trip to the post office. If we’d been working in Russia, I’d have suspected him of being a black marketeer. But his specialty was candy. I don’t know where he got those bags of candy from; it can’t have been the supermarket, or he’d have gone bankrupt. I mean, every afternoon there was a candy bar at each place, and you’d see him wandering around, distributing it. We’d make pro-forma protests, for the sake of our Girlish Figures (!); but we knew, and he knew, how desperately a sugar burst was needed to get us through that last ninety minutes till the end of the work day.
George passed on some time ago; I guess all his adventures caught up with him, and he is now beyond needing to read empty-headed compositions written by children who would rather be doing anything else. I picture him standing at the pearly gates, bag of candy in hand, scanning entrants for small, bewildered children and handing them a treat instantly recognizable as the one guaranteed consoler of small, bewildered children: candy.