#965: Candyland

August 10th, 2018

Overhead, Michael Jackson is starting with the man in the mirror.

It’s a Saturday morning in April. The day’s starting slow in the windowless warehouse on a frontage road alongside the highway. Only a few of the shoppers have ambled into the store. The homeless who gather to solicit loose change haven’t yet arrived, taking a slow jaunt in because the spring feels too nice to start their shift that early. The off-duty cops in Sox caps joke as they arrive for their own shifts working the door as a side hustle.

And Jackson plays overhead in the grocery store.

I’m gonna make a change,
For once I’m my life
It’s gonna feel real good,
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

The warehouse store’s first aisle hews closer to what I would consider a “normal” grocery store. Glass-fronted freezers of pizza, tamales and other foods to warm up and throw down the gullet. Between separating the aisle, freestanding racks of discount bread.

Passing through a small opening between two freezers takes you to a different world. Candy.

Not just any candy, loads of candy. Oodles of candy. Candy by the yard, candy by the mile. Giant sacks of off-brand gummy sharks and specially licensed Spongebob Squarepants gummy Krabby Patties. Racks of Kit-Kats and sacks of gumballs, the latter denied even a trademarked name, just “gumball” and the flavor.

There are all manner of bulk items at L&P Wholesale Candy alongside the highway in Greater Grand Crossing. Massive two-gallon jars of pickles, vats of liquid soap to be tapped for industrial workers. Gallon jugs of barbecue sauce and rows and rows of jugs of snow cone fluid.

They’re all strewn together. Jugs of bleach next to suckers. Boxes of Hugs Fruit Barrels next to $22 man-sized sacks of charcoal lumps. And only a few early-rise shoppers picking through the endless aisles of sugar bombs and industrial plungers. A few look at me. We nod.

The counter is a barricade. No outlet, no entrance, just a stainless steel expanse protecting the high school kids waiting for the customers who, in a few hours, will form a conga line of commerce up to the registers.

They have to get their change from an older woman sitting behind bulletproof glass.

I walked up with my purchases: a jug of cashews and a box of racist bubble gum, one that decided if it was going to package cookie-style fortunes among the sticks, the box needed to feature a yellow smiley face with Fu Manchu mustache, slanted eyes and conical Chinese farmers’ hat. When I try the gum months later, I find it of the hot pink variety where the flavor lasts seconds.

“A thrilling time is in your immediate future,” the hate crime of a smiley face tells me once I open the stick.

But I’m months away from getting that message. Now I’m just buying cashews and racist gum.

A tall, handsome black kid with neck tattoos and keloid scars jokes with the two fashionable young Hispanic girls working with him. They hang on and giggle at his every word as he flirtingly threatens to spoil the end of “Avengers: Infinity War” for them. It had come out the night before. He and some friends waited in line for it. The girls hadn’t.

“You’ll cry when you see it,” he said.

Michael Jackson had long since trickled away, leaving nothing but a scene from the South Side of Chicago, from a neighborhood where the news just talks crime and treasure troves of gum and chocolate stay, if not ignored, unsung. The kids smile warmly as we talk movies and bag cashews. I head out into the day.

Another scene from that same morning

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