Thursday, April 30, 2009

School Days

As a junior in high school, I was known as the "candy god." Not because all candies counted me as a deity, but because I seemed to produce the stuff in this jacket I used to wear all the time. I didn't tell anyone, but the only creation story that happened with me was the one where I would stop at the drug store each day before school. They had a lot of candy there. I am uncertain whether some higher power produced it, or whether it was large, faceless corporations. I suspect the latter, but it is exciting to try to envision a candy god. I call him Fructor, and his body is composed of every sugary sweetness imaginable. Created in his own image and all.

Imagine this guy, but with jolly ranchers for fingers and licorice for hair.

To come to the moral, I was the de facto supplier of candy for most of the student population my junior year- at least for those in the know. I was like the corner dealer-- everybody gets a taste, but the second time's a dime. Tell a friend.

One day I was chomping on some of the individual SweeTart rolls modeled after Smarties. At around a dollar per sack and 27 rolls per sack, we are talking a 100% profit with 7 rolls for personal consumption. Individual packaging: one of the gifts that Fructor has bestowed upon us.
Smarties ain't got shit on these.

Anyway, being a gracious dealer, I was also sharing a bag of gummi bears with some of my best clients. Keeps em coming back. As if by divine intervention, I threw a handful of gummis into my mouth while still working on a full roll of mini-SweeTarts. Maybe it was like the moment when someone dropped their Hershey into a vat o' peanut butter, or maybe it was like the synergy achieved when good timing meets good planning - whatever. Point is, at that moment, I pre-saged the coming of a gummi* SweeTart. Long had I considered the two entities to be at the apex of candy production (despite the fact that at that point I was eating Brach's gummis-- ah, youth!). Their union would represent, I thought, one of the greatest moments in the history of sweetkind. Those in attendance that day can tell you that I even drew sketches of the new product; it was as if the very hand of the Creator reached into my brain and implanted the image of what would,
just weeks later, emerge on the market.

The irony , of course, is that though the Gummy SweeTart is a fine product, and the world is better for them, they do not live up to the sum of their parts. A good gummi or SweeTart far outstrips the combination of the two. I often bemoan the fact that I had not the foresight or resources to research the development of the Gummy SweeTart myself; perhaps then the product would be the transcendent experience I envisioned lo those many years ago. As it is, each time I eat a Gummy SweeTart now, a little pang shoots through my body. "If only," I say to myself. "If only." This is what lost dreams look like.

*NOTE: You may note the inconsistencies in the spelling of "gummi/gummy" in this post. While SweeTarts and most American candies prefer the "y" spelling - "gummy" - I, except when referring to branded products, prefer the more whimsical, European "i" spelling - "gummi."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eroica: A Stroll through Bonn

I gazed up at the parapet at Sterntor, and I felt I could hear a thousand Roman footsteps advancing on my position. It was comforting to think of a time in history when things were so black and white. Though they sacked, pillaged, and raped their way across Europe, the Romans represented the sincerest form of order: absolute power. For centuries, none could oppose the strength of Italy, and none dared even think it. Now, all that remains of so massive a force is a set of ruins here or there, or reproductions like this "Star Gate" spotting the modern cities of Europe. I guess Robert Frost was right: nothing gold can stay.

I walked for miles, lost in reveries of Rome. I remember thinking that Napoleon would have been a Roman were he born to an earlier era. He brought the spirit of Rome back to Bonn and inspired the best of men to stratospheric heights. I walked without direction as I imagined Napoleon as a legionnaire. I never once looked at a map or a road sign. I had no true sense of where I was going, but I knew I was going somewhere. It was as if I could hear the distant strains of some melody, and I ambled toward it until it became palpable. When the sounds became discernible instruments, I looked up to see the the facade of Beethovenhaus.

Beethovenhaus seemed stately and austere on its facade, but once I stepped inside, the warmth of the home, even preserved as a museum, hit my chest like a closed fist. The only sounds were the steps of our shoes on the hardwood floors, but as I wandered through this monument, I sensed the C minor of Pathetique build from a melancholy musing to a hurried jaunt.

By the time I walked back out the front door, the horn of Eroica's first movement blared in my ears. It had always reminded me of the first, unsteady steps of a new relationship. Stella and I had stumbled our way through those first few months, swept away by the novelty of each other. We listened intently to the details of each others' days, of family histories, of childhood traumas, sure that we were building something unique. But it turns out that the horn blasts were only a theme, one that would play out over and again, sometimes with variations, but always recognizable. For a time, there was comfort in the regularity. We drifted through Europe, living the carefree lives of two ex-pats with money in our pockets and romantic ideals in our heads. But somewhere along the way, our footfalls fell too easily into unison. Our playful skipping became a metered funeral march. Horn gave way to orchestra, and we couldn't hear each other through the din. She looked one day at me and turned to walk into a little patisserie in Aix. I did not follow.

After that, I traveled by train, a velo, taxen fliegen, na stopie. It was freeing to flit away the weeks, touring others' histories, ignoring my own, but, eventually, I began to crave a return to order. I needed a standard, a place to fit in, something that would never let me down or bore me, whose repetitive rhythm was not droning or commonplace. As I turned to look once more on Ludwig's birthplace, I grabbed a handful of Haribo Gold-Bears from the pocket of my backpack. The waxy, firm texture felt at home on my teeth. The gelatin squeaked on the enamel and fell apart into manageable chunks on my tongue. "Apres moi, le deluge," I thought to myself, a broad smile on my face as I skipped back to the hotel.