If you went to school during the 1980's then you know all about candy selling contests. I still remember my first one-the glossy pamphlet filled with chocolate covered pretzels, nuts, and all manner of sugary confections, and the most important part of any candy-drive: the prize manual. I remember it seeming so fantastical, this great book of toys and games and that could all be yours, if only you sold enough candy to pay for the prize about a hundred times over.
But since that part of the deal was lost on me, I found the concept of this contest exhilarating at first. The night I brought the catalogue home from school I remember being so excited about the next day that I colored a map of my neighborhood and drew out the route I planned to take. I fell asleep and dreamt of all the wonderful toys I would soon have, covered in chocolate no less, never once thinking about Katie Keeney.
The next day, Saturday morning, I got up and dressed and ate my breakfast quickly. I gathered all the appropriate candy drive materials-the manual, the order form, a pencil, and a backpack to put it all in-and I was on my way.
My route started off by crossing the street and going down the cul-de-sac across from my house. So after being extremely careful to look both ways, lest my mother never be able to eat a piece of candy again, I headed down the street.
To my chagrin, Katie was already up and outside playing on her bike. I could tell this almost immediately because her bike had those little plastic beads that slide up and down the spokes as the wheels turn (I could probably Google what these are called but I'd rather do a half-ass job of explaining it and make you read it instead), and I could hear her tassled pink monstrosity of a bicycle about a mile away. She was peddling around her driveway moving an assortment of stuffed animals and dolls in what I could only surmise was some rudimentary form of public transportation.
I should point out that I wasn't terribly fond of Katie by this time in my life. As a young child I had considered her a good friend of mine, but as time went by I lost the naivety that made me feel like every friend was a good friend. And something else had happened: I made other, male friends. With these differentiations readily apparent, I had on some level come to understand that playing with Katie wasn't very fun. The toy taxiing kind of thing only reinforced that feeling.
Katie preferred mindless sorts of games with lots of repetitiveness, so it was almost impossible to play with her. Believe me, I tried everything. She was no fun with G.I. Joes, Transformers, or Legos. She would build indiscriminate Lego formations with the brightest colored blocks or transform the robots in disguise back and forth and back and forth. I even tried playing dolls with her once, but she would just bop the little fuckers around like they were in some sort of fucking ho-down. There was no rhyme or reason to her play, no characters, no plot, and as far as I was concerned no point either.
So walking out of my house that day and seeing her randomly moving these animals and dolls around was just the sort of scene I had come to expect, and want no part in. But as I crossed the street she immediately dropped off the frog she was carrying at the stop nearest to me and rode over.
"Jonafan, werr arr uu goang?" she asked me, stopping her bike on the patch of grass in the corner of her yard adjacent to the sidewalk where I was walking.
"I'm on my way to start my candy drive!" I exclaimed, barely able to hold back my excitement, even if Katie wasn't my most favorite person. Hearing this, a smile exploded across her face, so magnanimous in nature it struck me as somewhat awkward.
"Well, goode lukk Jonafan!" she said, still smiling ear to ear, not moving from the corner of her yard.
She watched me walk by with my backpack, not moving until I rounded the corner and disappeared from sight. The whole episode was slightly creepy for me. Even though I didn't look back, I could feel her watching me and it just didn't seem right, even at the tender age of five. But, as they often do when you're young, the feeling passed quickly. Soon I was by myself again, on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, embarking on as grand an adventure as I'd ever been on!
Sometimes when I wake up on Saturday mornings these days, usually extremely hung over and hating life, I try and think back to this young man who, while only exploring the confines of the cul-de-sac in front of his house, couldn't have been happier to do so. This usually helps me to not murder any of the more upstanding members of our society on their way to church or the gym while I try to figure out where I parked my car the night before.
I got to the first house in short order, walked onto the porch and rang the doorbell. After a minute Mrs. Klempton answered the door in an apron, drying her hands with a dishtowel.
"Well hello, Jonathan! What brings you over here so early on a Saturday morning?" she said in the grandmotherly fashion that only grandmothers can pull off. And here it came, my moment to shine. I had practiced this line what seemed like a thousand times leading up to this moment:
"Mrs. Klempton, my school is having a candy drive to raise money for the new library. Would you like to take a look at the catalogue?"
Whew! I had nailed it, my moment in the sun and I had taken it down like a falcon attacking its prey in one fell swoop!
"Oh…well…I usually buy my candy for the candy drive fr-from the Keeney's," she stammered. "I've been buying candy from those girls since Katie's sister Linda was in grade school…and…." She trailed off, still smiling. I don't know if I really answered her, but eventually she ended up closing the screen door and that was it.
The rest of the walk around my cul-de-sac is a bit hazy, but I do remember that only one person ended up buying anything from me: an old man with a penchant for chocolate covered pretzels. I think he would have bought them from a third or even fourth child given the chance.
I don't remember the rest of the candy drive at all, probably because it was humiliating. Walking around the neighborhood asking all the people you and your family know if they would like to buy some candy when it's plain to see that Katie and her diabolical bitch of a mother have been laying roots in this hood since the 19-fucking-70's was borderline traumatic.
I realized then why Katie had been smiling that morning. I realized why she was out on her bike playing taxi when I came out for the candy drive. She had known what was going to happen even before it occurred. This line of logic washed over me in an instant, like a wave taking down a new surfer.
The critical distinction mentally as a child for me was the fact that she had wished me good luck on the way to my humiliation. It was truly unfathomable to me that someone would behave this way, and it took what I thought was the apex of anger and frustration in the world at large and pushed it into another echelon. I couldn't even make a noise that expressed my anger, I just clenched every muscle in my body until I couldn't hold it anymore, the whole time thinking about Katie fucking Keeney's smile.
I barely sold any candy that year and all my dreams of telescopes and monster trucks faded away on one hot spring morning in Pennsylvania. I ended up picking from the 10-point section, a small assortment of the shittiest toys imaginable, including a top, a Chinese finger trap, and a ruler. Meanwhile, Katie cashed in over 2000 points in candy sales for the most glorious symbol of victory possible-a red and orange kite shaped like a phoenix, which she flew high and proudly over the neighborhood.