JJ’s Refreshments

 

When I was no more than seven years old, my brother Joshua, and myself decided to become entrepreneurs.  The failure of the bug museum did not dampen my hopes for accruing untold amounts of wealth if I just utilized my noggin.  I wanted sweet success, and it was my father who pointed out how true this phrase could be.

“Sell candy,” he told Josh and me.

“To who?” my brother asked.

“Whom,” my father corrected him.  “Anyone,” he continued, “you could sell it to the neighborhood kids.”

I became excited.  “We could be candy men,” I exclaimed.  “We could go door to door and sell it to everybody.  Who doesn’t like candy?!”

“Me,” Josh said.

“Well, you’re weird,” I rebutted.

“Jimmy,” Dad warned.  “Watch what you say to your brother.  Apologize.”

“Sorry, Josh,” I said obediently.

“Good boy,” my dad said to me.  “Now, I don’t think going door to door is going to be very fun, and I doubt people want to be interrupted by candy men.  I think it would be in your better interests to build a stand and sell the candy from there.”

“We could make it out of cardboard,” I offered.

“You’re stupid,” Josh replied.

“Joshua,” Dad scolded.

“Sorry,” my brother apologized.

“That’s better.”

“But cardboard’s a stupid idea,” Josh said picking up the reins on his earlier thought.  “If it rains, the stand will get soggy and probably collapse.”

“That’s true,” Dad said.  “No, you’d need to have a wooden stand, a nice, wooden stand.  Preferably in white.”

That weekend my father holed up in the garage.  Prior to his being married and having kids, thus becoming a business man, he had been a carpenter, a roofer in more descript terms but wood working was a passion that extended past the gutters.

When Sunday evening rolled around, my brother and I were outside expanding our fort.  We had added two new lumps of leaves we called rooms, off of the main entrance -a large lump of grass clippings.  The Georgian sky was beginning to darken and with it the humidity was sending lightning bolts back and forth above us.  My brother and I watched the atmospheric display.  We both knew rain was soon to be upon us, but neither of us was overly concerned.  Beside the unexplainable fact that our au natural fort was water proof, we were ten and seven, respectively, and as such were far from dismayed by the idea of a down pour.  Usually, we jumped for joy at the opportunity to ruin a shirt and pair of shorts.

“Jimmy!  Josh!”  The voice of our dad boomed over the back yard.  We turned around and saw him standing on the back porch of our house.  He cupped his hands around his mouth and called us again.

“We’re coming!” my brother shouted back as rain began to fall from the lightning clad clouds.

Josh pushed me to my feet then began walking back to the house.

“Head to the garage,” Dad yelled before he walked back inside to escape the precipitation.  My brother and I walked through the rain.  By the time we reached the garage, we were soaked.  Our hair dripped dirty water into our eyes, and wiping them clear was pointless as it allowed more dirty water to enter.

The garage door was shut when we reached it.  The Georgia clay was splashing against the white paint, creating red rivulets which drained back to a ground.  Josh and I began jumping in the larger pools, creating sludgy splashes that barely reached ten inches at their pinnacle.

The garage door opened from the inside.  Dad manually lifted it with a creak along the dry tracks the wheels followed.

Josh and I stopped jumping.  Our attention was grabbed by a large object directly behind our father.  His body partially blocked our view, but as the door finished opening and he stood back we saw, clear as day, JJ’s Refreshments.  Our jaws dropped.

“Cool!” Josh and I shouted in unison.

“Yes, yes it is,” Dad agreed with a chuckle.

JJ’s Refreshments was a candy stand, a really nice one.  From the front, the stand looked uncannily similar to a carnival booth, minus a back.  It gleamed with white paint, and a nice lacquer coating which looked like it could trap sunshine.  The white paint bled up two poles on either side of the counter, but was striped in a barbershop fashion of swirling red.  The barbershop swirl held up the stand’s sign.  It was a long rectangular piece of cardboard that ran the length of the counter beneath it.  The cardboard had a base paint of white, but was rimmed in a beautiful bright red with an inner lining of blue, just for style, my dad told me.  Held tightly between the precise border, JJ’s Refreshments was written in a stylish looping calligraphy, that seemed cartoonie enough for Josh and I to read it.

To a casual candy lover, I am sure it looked quite delectable, as far as stands go.  To an addict like me, it was heaven, a sugary sweet one.

“We’re gonna make hundreds,” I said to my brother.  It should be noted, I thought a person could live their entire life on one hundred dollars.

Josh nodded as he stared dumbfounded at our father’s handiwork.

Maybe it was the rain in my eyes, but I thought it looked totally awesome.

“Can’t set it up today,” Dad said to us.  “It’s too late in the evening, the rain’s kicking up fury, and,” dad took a pause, “you have no candy.”

The rest of the night was spent by my brother and I walking circles around JJ’s Refreshments until our feet could have dug a dry moat infinitely deep.

I woke up the next day with sore legs.  To ease the pain, Josh and I rode our bikes down to the neighborhood pool.  It was at the bottom of the hill, and our mom was the head of keeping the water clean.  This meant we had nothing to worry about.  She was fantastic about cleanliness types of things.

We swam until my freckled skin was an ugly shade of pink.  A little girl walking by asked if I was made of Chinese pork.

“No,” I said.

We got home in the afternoon.  Dad was pulling into the driveway in his green, company Toyota.

“How’re my little millionaires?” Dad asked with a smile before gasping at my cooked lobster disposition.  “Jesus, Jimmy,” he exclaimed.  “You have to put on sunblock.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Tell ya what, I was gonna suggest we buy you boys some candy for your stand, and seein’ as how Jimmy is going to be in agony without Aloe Vera, I suggest we go tonight.”

“Ok,” I said.

“Ok,” Josh said.

“Hop in the car,” he said.  “Looks like you guys have dried off enough.”

On the way to the store, Dad kept talking strategy for our business.

“You’ll want to buy individually wrapped candies, for health purposes,” he said.  “Better to buy it in bulk as well.  Save money buying it, reap a higher reward.  And diversity.  Get a hershey’s for the chocolate lovers, and hershey’s almond for those who’re feeling nutty-” he chuckled to himself “-You’ll want something fruity for those who aren’t a fan of chocolate.  Oh and gum!  Can’t forget about bubble gum.  That’ll be a high seller.  You can buy a pack of trident and sell the individual pieces for a penny, or a nickel.  Probably best to go with a nickel.  A penny probably won’t cover the cost.  Always keep the cost in mind.  Bulk, will help with that, like I said earlier-“ and so it continued until we reached Sam’s Club, Wal Mart’s bastard brother.

Two hours later, with a shopping cart loaded up with forty dollars of candy, we headed back to the car.

“Darn,” Dad said.  “We forgot the Aloe Vera.”  He looked at me.  “How’re you feeling?  You’re skin burnin?”

“Naw,” I replied.  “It’s not that bad.  I’ve had worse,” I boasted.

“We’ll skip the Aloe Vera then.  No telling what type side effects it might have anyway.  Probably safer to let the burn take its course, but let it be a reminder to wear sun screen next time.”

“Ok,” I said as I climbed back into the car.

It was close to five in the afternoon when we returned home.  Jess was at a friend’s house, and mom was preparing the evening meal, meatloaf with a mashed potato frosting.  When the three of us walked into the house, she stopped cooking.  Her mouth dropped when she saw my well done skin.

“Jimmy!” she said in anger.  “You have to put on sunscreen.”

“Sorry, mom.”

“I just had a mole removed last week, and there was one a month before that.  No telling how much you are putting yourself at risk for melanoma.  Lord give me strength.”

“Sorry, mom.”

Then she noticed we each carried two bags overflowing with candy.  Her face crunched in confusion and she looked at Dad to find an explanation.

“JJ’s Refreshments,” he said.  “The boys are the proud owners of a candy stand.”

Mom nodded then said, “Jim, can I talk to you in private for a minute.”

Dad’s face cringed.  The tone of Mom’s voice seemed less than pleased.  They left the kitchen, heading up to their parental pentagon, the master bedroom.  Josh and I made use of the time by emptying the six plastic bags of candy.  When we were done, a diabetic’s hell lay in front of us.  A high fructose landscape dotted the living room carpet. Hills of Mounds bars, streams of Twizzlers, roads of Hershey’s with rumble strips of Kisses, dotted with modest houses of Bubblicious and ponds of York Peppermints with Pop Rock gravel all led up to a beautiful Peanut Butter Cup steeple surrounded by a Fun Dip fence.

By the time we unloaded the contents of each bag, Mom had returned to cooking with a simple “It’ll be trouble,” comment to my father.

Dad came into the living room with a “they’ll be fine.”  He looked down at our candy town and nodded his head.  “That should be a good start,” he said to Josh and I.

“Dinner’ll be ready in a few minutes, so no eating candy,” Mom called from the kitchen.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Dad replied.  “These boys wouldn’t eat their inventory.”

The next morning, Dad woke my brother and me up at seven a.m.  He was getting ready to head to work in his suit and tie.  It was July, so Josh and I had intended to continue sleeping.  I was especially looking forward to it, due to the fact I had slept little on account of the sunburn keeping me awake last night.

“Come on, my millionaires,” Dad said shaking both of us awake.  “Today’s your grand opening.  We gotta get your shop into place.”

When I told him I was too tired to get up, he left the room and returned with a glass of water.  He took a sip and commented on its refreshing nature.  The water was then dumped on my head.  I got out of bed.

It took fifteen minutes for the three of us, Josh and me in our pajamas, dad in his suit, to move JJ’s Refreshments to the cul-de-sac curb in front of our house.  Once it was set up, dad told us to put the candy in our cooler to keep it from melting.

“Can’t sell liquid chocolate,” he said.  “Well, you could, but it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.”  Then Dad left for work.

Josh and I stared at the lacquered candy stand as it trapped sunlight by the side of the road.  A few cars drove by us, as the neighbors began their commutes.  Josh and I waved at them as they passed.  Five minutes later we went inside our house.  Being ten and seven, respectively, we went back to bed.

It was nine a.m. when Mom came in to get us out of bed for the day.   She was dressed, showered, and done with breakfast.  “Get up,” she said, so we did.

By ten o’clock, I was showered and full of cereal.  I got dressed and walked downstairs.  The candy town greeted me.

“I expect this will be cleaned up,” Mom said, not bothering to specify a time.  I knew she expected it done before she even mentioned it.

Josh came downstairs as I was picking up the peanut butter cup steeple.  My bottom rested on my heels, and in general I figured I looked piously poised.  Josh pushed me over.

“I guess we should try and sell it,” he said.

“Alright!” I gleefully exclaimed.

He picked up a Twizzler river and threw it into the Sam’s Club plastic bag.  It took us five minutes to eliminate the candy town clutter.  We crammed our merchandise into half as many bags as it took to bring it home.

The heat of the Georgia day began to descend onto the streets of our neighborhood.  Josh went to the basement and dragged our red beach cooler up the driveway.  He left it behind JJ’s Refreshments’ counter.

“We can use it as a seat,” he said as I brought the candy bags outside.  I emptied them into the cooler and stared longingly at a York Peppermint Pattie.

“Better get some ice to keep the candy from melting,” Josh said.

“I’ll get it,” I replied.

It took us an hour before we felt set up with our merchandise safe.  It was getting close to eleven, forty-five, and the afternoon heat was beginning to become ripples in the air above the black tar of the cul-de-sac.  Josh and I sat.

“Did you put on sunscreen?” he asked.

“Yes,” I lied.

“You’re really red,” he added.

“I’ve been worse,” I said.

“When?”

Our first potential customer came up to the candy stand at twelve, fifteen.  It was Carrie Doogen.  She was our next door neighbor, the oldest of three children, but only my age.  Josh looked bored.  I sat up tall.

“What’re you two doing?” she asked.

“Welcome to JJ’s Refreshments,” I began.  “The home of candy,” I finished.

“What types of candy do you have?” Carrie asked.

“Every type,” I responded.

“Can I have a Whatchmacallit?”

I squinted my eyes.  “We don’t have that type,” I said.

“How about a Milky Way?”

“Nope, don’t have that either.”

“Can I get a S’more?”

“That’s not candy,” I said.

“Uh huh,” Carrie replied.

“They don’t sell them at the grocery store, so it’s not a candy,” I argued.

“They do too sell ‘em at the grocery store,” Carrie fought back.  “My mom buys them.”

“They’re candy,” Josh said.  He looked bored.

“Well, we don’t have ‘em.”

Carrie gave me a quick look up and down and seemed to notice for the first time that I had a sunburn.  Her eyebrows scrunched for a second before they released like a loose spring and shot up.  “Do you guys wanna go to the pool?”

“Yes,” Josh said.

“Can’t,” I said.  “I’ve got to sell the candy.”

“Why?” Carrie asked.

I didn’t know how to answer the question, so I looked to my brother for the answer.

“Cause he thinks he’ll get rich,” Josh said with a nod of his head to me.

I nodded in approval of his answer.  That was why I was selling the candy.

“You can’t get rich selling candy,” Carrie said.

“Why don’t you go to the pool already,” I shot back.

“Maybe I will,” she retorted lifting her nose at me.  She turned to Josh.  “Wanna come?”

“Let me grab my bathing suit,” he said.

It was forty-five minutes before another potential customer arrived.  Josh had abandoned me for the pool, but I was alright with that.  If I sold any candy, I would keep the profit for myself.  His being gone, also meant I had free reign on the merchandise, and decided it was in JJ’s Refreshments’ best interests for me to sample a piece of each product.  I was snacking on a twizzler when Clayton Dubois walked up to the sun drenched counter.

“Hey, Jimmy,” he said.

“Hey, Clay,” I responded.

“Wanna play kickball?” he asked.

“Can’t,” I responded somewhat irritated.  “I’m selling candy today.  I can’t leave.”

“Looks like you’re just eating it.”

My eyes flashed with sudden inspiration and I smiled to myself.  “Of course, I’m eating it,” I said.  “How could I not eat it?  It is so good.  This here,” –I held up the half eaten twizzler – “is one of the softest, sweetest twizzlers I’ve ever eaten.  To think it is so amazing, and only ten cents for a single one, three for a quarter.”

“Right,” Clayton said.  “Do you think Josh would play kickball?  Is he home?”

“Naw,” I replied refusing to let another sale slip by.  “He… decided to walk around the neighborhood and let everyone know we got the best candy in town up here.”

“It’s just a twizzler,” Clayton said.  “I bet he’s at the pool.  I’ll go see if he wants in.”  Clayton started to walk away.

“Wait, Clay,” I blurted out.  “How about five cents for a twizzler?”

“No, thanks,” Clay said.  “Too hot out today for candy.”  He looked me up and down.  “You look like a fire ant,” he said then walked in the direction of the community pool.

By one-thirty in the afternoon, the heat was nearly unbearable, and I hadn’t sold a single piece of candy.  The bag of ice Josh and I had placed in the cooler was now a bag of warm water and I took it out in fear it might melt my product.  I emptied it onto the front lawn and walked inside to get a more ice.  I heard mom cleaning up the living room and cut through the dining of our house to avoid her seeing me.  I felt tired, ready for a nap, but I forced myself to go back out side once I had the ice.  I held the bag to my forehead the whole walk back, and grudgingly put it into the cooler.  I pulled out a few pieces of candy in exchange.

Clayton, Carrie, and Josh walked up the street towards me.  A kickball was being bounce passed back and forth between them.  It got loose for a second and Clay chased it onto a downward sloping lawn.  He almost ran into a house trying to catch it.

By the time they reached me, the ball had been knocked away a handful of times.

“I’ll be the catcher,” Carrie said.  “I don’t think Clayton’s very good at it.”

“I can pitch,” Josh said.

“We’ll just take turns,” Clay said.  “I don’t think I should be at bat the whole time.”

“Does the pitcher have to be the fielder as well?”  Carrie asked.

“I suppose so,” Josh answered slowly.  “Unless, we find a fielder.”

All three turned to look at me.

I shook my seven year old head no.  “I have to sell the candy,” I said.  To emphasize my point I pulled out a twizzler and showed it to them.  Once I felt my point was made, I ate the twizzler since it was out anyway.  As the strawberry flavored corn syrup hit the pit of my stomach, something seemed to feel off.  My tummy grumbled and my head gave a throb.  I tried to shake it away.

“How much of the candy have you sold?” Josh asked.

“A bunch,” I lied.

“To who?” he asked.

“Whom,” I corrected.

“You haven’t sold a piece,” he said.

“Uh uh.” I shot back.

Clayton and Carrie wandered away from the candy stand.  Josh and I were prone to disagree and our conversation was steering into the sibling rivalry arena.  Carrie threw Clayton the ball and he missed it, but was quick to chase after it.

Josh walked behind the counter.

“Hey, employees only,” I shouted.

“I am an employee,” Josh stated.

“Uh, uh.  You stopped being an employee when you went to the pool.”

“My first initial is on the sign.”

“You didn’t even want to sell candy in the first place.”

Josh opened up the cooler.  He looked at me.  “You liar,” he said.  “You’ve eaten half the candy.”

“Uh uh.”

“You didn’t put on sunscreen.”

“Uh uh.”

“I’m getting Mom.”

Josh turned and walked toward the house.  My stomach gave a throb, I ignored it and chased after my brother.  I tackled him on the front lawn.  Despite our three year difference in age, Josh was only two inches taller than me.  It made our fights slightly more even.  But Josh was an older brother, and there must be a cosmic constant that in any fight the older brother wins, even if he is smaller.  Josh pinned me to the ground, his knees holding down my biceps.  His two pointer fingers were placed behind my ear lobes, and Josh pressed down on two pressure points.

I began to wail and scream.  My lower body thrashed about as my head grew more and more cloudy.  My stomach churned as my brother bounced his buttocks against my abs to settle me down.  It worked to the same effect as a punch to the gut.  My whole body quivered then my head cleared, my screams stopped, and I pushed at Josh to move him off me.  He didn’t move though, his face hung in the air above mine.  His mouth was slightly open with a hint of a smile on each side of his lips.

I vomited, profusely.  Chunks of every color flew from my mouth and pummeled Josh’s face and chest.  He screamed in horror and disgust as he jumped away from me.  I rolled onto my side and shot another spray of my high fructose landscape onto the front lawn.  I crawled onto my knees as my body hacked up what must have been ten twizzler rivers.  Josh continued to scream behind me.  I collapsed on the ground.

When I woke up, I was on the couch in nothing but a pair of tightie-whities.  I had a god awful taste in my mouth, and my head swam like a drowning seagull.  The room was dark and I heard Mom talking on the phone.

“Sunstroke,” she said.  “He didn’t wear sunscreen again.  I picked up some aloe vera and left some water beside him… no no, he’s still asleep.  …  yeah threw up all over the place.  Josh helped me get him upstairs into the tub and we washed him fully clothed.  I got him into some underwear after that, I’ve got the fan on high above him…. Yeah, it might be a good idea if you grabbed some more aloe vera on the way home.  I only had a little bit left.”

I tried to sit up, but couldn’t.  I closed my eyes in hopes it would stop making the room spin, but the darkness behind my eyelids seemed to spin even faster.  I began to cry softly until I passed out again.

Dad shook me awake.  I looked out the window and saw it was dark outside.  My head felt a little better, but my skin felt like it was covered in flaming gasoline.  I tried to sit up again, but Dad stopped me.

“Hey there candy man,” he said.

I wanted to bury myself in the couch cushions.  “Hey,” I said back.

He put his palm on my forehead, I cringed at the added body heat.  He moved his hand to rustle my hair.  “The candy melted,” he said.  He stood up and looked sternly at me.  “And you’re grounded until you start wearing sunscreen.  We’ll talk about replacing the chocolate coated cooler when you’re feeling better.”

JJ’s Refreshments was never put on the curb of the cul-de-sac again.  Dad took the ornate sign he had painted and hung it in the garage above his parking space.  The stand he knocked apart and used for firewood that winter.  Josh rarely pinned me in a fight after that.  If he did, I would start making retching sounds until he scampered back to a safe distance.  I would then use the lead to run away as fast as I could.

I never tried to sell candy again, although Clayton gave it a go.  He bought a bike with the money he was able to make selling his high fructose real estate.

I was one of his regulars.

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