how sweet it is

My 2013 started like this:

Thanks to an incident involving a lethal combination of my own laziness and stupidity, I managed to break the screen on my month-old phone (on New Years Day!). I took it as a sign: was this a bad omen for the new year? Shattered screen; shattered hopes? It certainly seemed like 2013 and I had already gotten off on the wrong foot.

Fast-forward 10 days: Friday night in downtown Austin, I’d scored a plum parking spot right on 5th and Congress, thus using up all of my parking karma for the next 6 months. Before heading to the venue for the samba gig I was playing in that night, I decided to swing in to the CVS drugstore for a sugar fix. (Some people have booze; some people compulsively scrapbook; I eat sugar. Let’s not go judging one another based on our vices, shall we?) An endcap display near the entrance of the store held all of the usual Valentine’s Day suspects: small heart-shaped cardboard boxes of low-grade milk chocolate, various cherry-flavored gummy candies, novelty lollipops shaped like lips. My eyes drifted to a box of individually-sized boxes of Necco conversation hearts, and I got a bit wistful.  These used to be my favorite, I thought.

A few years ago, in an ill-advised move to transform their image and perhaps recruit a few more candy devotees to their brand, Necco changed the formula and look of their much-beloved Valentine’s Day conversation hearts, a minor Internet backlash ensued, and every Valentine’s Day since the change just hasn’t been the same. The ‘old’ heart formula was everything I wanted in a candy: smooth, understated flavors (the yellow banana-flavored ones were my favorite), a crunchy, satisfying texture, they were just… perfect. The crunchy, chalk-like texture of the hearts are actually what I liked best about them, and the hearts that came packaged in the little individual boxes always gave up the best crunch.  Although the hearts sold in the big plastic bags was ostensibly the same product, there was something about that little paper box that seemed to preserve that perfect texture. When the formula changed, the hearts went from perfection to just plain awful.  Necco added a blue color to the lineup (worked for M&Ms, but not for these) and changed all of the flavors to a tart, offensive repertoire reminiscent of children’s vitamins, the texture changed from the familiar satisfying crunch to a disappointing, chewy mouthful of fail, and the graphics on the box were now modern and cartoonish.  My favorite candy was ruined.

As I picked up one of the small boxes of hearts on that CVS display and gave it a little shake, there was a twinkle of recognition. Could it be? I wondered.  These sound like the hearts I used to know and love. (This is the mark of a true candy fanatic: when one can detect taste and quality through auditory cues alone.) When I cracked open one of the boxes and took a peek, I saw no signs of the dreaded blue heart: just the five original flavors, covered in a thin layer of telltale white powder that also coats the fingertips and everything else the hearts come into contact with. The taste test affirmed my hunch: the old hearts! They’re back! Glory be!

Sweet.

Elated having become reacquainted with an old sugary friend, I checked my local H-E-B the following day to see if their conversation hearts story was ‘in with the old’ as well.  No dice: new formula only.  Same story at the Target and even another CVS I visited. I panicked: had I stumbled upon the confectionery Holy Grail with the discovery of original formula conversation hearts? Was this particular CVS just backstocking unsold hearts from years past and trotting them out every Valentine’s Day?  I didn’t give a damn: beggars can’t be choosers, plus, conversation hearts, like a fine wine, get better with age. (And yes, I am self-aware enough to acknowledge how ridiculous that sentence is.) My next step was what any vintage candy enthusiast would do: after my Sunday morning run, still in my workout gear and probably smelling pretty ripe, I returned to the downtown CVS and completely cleaned them out of all they had.

This is what 18 dollars’ worth of conversation hearts looks like, in case anyone was wondering.

Obsessed, much?

Frankly, this kind of behavior is old hat for me, and if you’ve spent even a few hours with me, you know this.  I love sugar in general, and my favorite candy of all-time (which I completely own that everyone else hates) is back, if only temporarily.  Mostly, I love that this CVS store now has security camera footage of a woman in running clothes purchasing every last box of conversation hearts they had. Plus, I’ve always wanted to go into a store, bring an item to the register, look at the cashier and say “Gimme all of these you’ve got.” (It was as satisfying as I’d hoped.)

So… yeah. If the last two weeks are any indication, 2013 may be a year of ups and downs, but, personally, I’m willing to deal with life’s little ‘freak-cell-phone-breakage’ incidents, as long as there’s a few ‘discontinued-candy-discovery’ moments thrown in there as well. (Sidenote: in spite of my acquisition of a king’s ransom in old-formula conversation hearts, the search continues. If you see these while you’re out shopping, hook a girl up and let me know where you found them. Reward offered!)

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