My brother was one of those kids who loved camp. He started young, went for years, and, when he was older, returned as a counselor. During the school year, he and his friends would periodically meet up at an Outback Steakhouse in Midtown. He still attends the weddings of those friends.
There was one kid in his bunk who was the camp outcast: a physically uncoordinated know-it-all who, in the grand tradition of nerds, managed to maintain an inviolate sense of wounded superiority. His response, when taunted, was to say—with an irony that was surely intended to be devastating—“You’re so kind.” You can imagine how effective this was.
I guess my brother was nice to him, in an offhand sort of way. Maybe he just wasn’t actively cruel. All I know is, when we went up there on family visiting day, this kid wouldn’t leave him alone. Mostly he stood around, nearby. But several times he appeared at my brother’s shoulder and held out a hand, silently proffering candy: Airheads, Pop Rocks, those long, flat Jolly Ranchers. While I found the whole thing kind of weird, my brother seemed to take it as his due.
As kids, we are told to avoid grownups bearing candy. Presumably that’s because they’re using it as a lure, or maybe because the candy itself is tainted. (Or, in some cases, because it’s propaganda.) To kids, candy is currency—precious, limited, usually out of reach. No wonder it’s so appealing, even when we’ve outgrown those sugar-craving juvenile taste buds.
For grownups, the exchange of candy is less straightforward. There is implicit in such transactions the tacit understanding that the adult recipient could, if he so chose, purchase candy for himself, and this complicates matters. Also, we don’t tend to want it as much.
Kids are not wrong in thinking that adults have ready access to sweets. There is much free, impersonal, dish candy in a grown-up’s life—Tootsie Rolls on desks, Nips and Starlite Mints at grandmas’ houses, those delicious little liquid-centered strawberry things at the dry cleaner, a jelly-filled mint by a diner register. This is not weird. But in these cases, the choice is yours; there are no strings attached other than those of straightforward commerce or simple hospitality.
Then there are people actively offering candy: even putting aside the risks of abduction and poisoning, this is never, ever not suspect.
The other day, I was sitting with a friend at a bar in Brooklyn. A random dude plopped himself down next to us and then, with no warning, abruptly slapped two peppermint patties down on the table in front of us with a confrontational air.
“Thanks,” we murmured nervously, and pocketed them to be polite.
A moment later, he smashed his phone down on our table.
“Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein!” he said, with the same vague air of menace. We looked at the screen; there they were.
“Wow,” I said. “What were the circumstances of their meeting?”
“I have no fucking idea!” he shouted.
Later, we saw that he had a really big box full of peppermint patties in his bag.
If only human connection were this easy.