The Delectably 'True Confections' Of A Chocoholic

True Confections: A Novel
True Confections: A Novel
By Katherine Weber
Hardcover, 288 pages
Shaye Areheart Books
List price: $22

Read An Excerpt

Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky, the antiheroine and narrator of Katharine Weber's wickedly funny new novel, True Confections, has a voice so incisive and tart that as soon as I finished reading the book I started at the beginning and read the entire thing over again. I savored it even more the second time.

This sly, engrossing narrative consists of Alice's 287-page affidavit responding to an unspecified lawsuit. Against the advice of her lawyer, Alice uses the deposition as an opportunity to tell her life story, which is also the story of the Ziplinsky family of New Haven, Conn., and their eponymous 84-year-old candy company, where she has worked for more than three decades. As the intertwined story lines unfold, the details of Alice's putative crimes gradually emerge.

Alice seems to attract trouble. In 1975, when she is 18, she burns down the home of a high school classmate. She describes the conflagration as a grotesque accident. Was it? As with everything Alice asserts, you'll have to read carefully and make up your own mind. Her admission to college rescinded, Alice takes a job at the Ziplinsky candy factory, and soon thereafter marries Howdy Ziplinsky, the feckless son of its cigar-chomping owner. From her first whiff of chocolate, working amid the "sweet mechanical ballet" of the factory, this articulate and tenacious young woman understands she's found her rightful place.

Although Alice's hostile and theatrical mother-in-law dismisses her as a "dumb goy," nothing could be further from the truth. Insecure, ambitious and shrewd, Alice has more in common with the company's hungry immigrant founders than their pampered heirs.

Katharine Weber i

Katharine Weber is an adjunct assistant professor in the graduate writing program in the School of the Arts at Columbia University. Marion Ettlinger hide caption

itoggle caption Marion Ettlinger
Katharine Weber

Katharine Weber is an adjunct assistant professor in the graduate writing program in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.

Marion Ettlinger

Weber has done her homework, and Alice's obsessive ardor for the candy industry yields fascinating and eloquent miniature essays on everything from the history of the Hershey bar, to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ("this tasteless, horrible book feels to me much more like covert S and M pornography than children's literature") and the erotic appeal of cacao: "true chocolate has a melt temperature that is almost the same as our body temperature. This I believe, is one of the reasons we love chocolate so much — it loves us back." Alice is a remarkable creation, a witty, engaging and thoroughly unreliable narrator who inspires amusement, pity and the occasional twinge of fear.

But while Weber grounds the novel in Alice's experience, it's bigger than that. The narrative delves lovingly into the history of a venerable immigrant industry, and brings to mind the elegiac mid-career novels of Philip Roth. Unlike Roth, however, Weber manages to celebrate the past without ever lapsing into sentimentality. Crisp and delicious, her novel is a true confection indeed.

Excerpt: 'True Confections'

True Confections: A Novel
True Confections: A Novel
By Katherine Weber
Hardcover, 288 pages
Shaye Areheart Books
List price: $22

On my first day of work at Zip's Candies, it took five minutes for me to learn the two- handed method for separating and straightening the Tigermelts as they were extruded eight at a time onto the belt that carried them toward the finishing chocolate- striping applicator tunnel. The necessary reach- shuffle- reach- shuffle Tigermelt- straightening gesture was demonstrated for me with condescending efficiency, with the belt running at half speed, by the irritable Frieda Ziplinsky, whose husband, Sam, had just hired me that morning, an impulsive act on his part that she would regret audibly every few weeks for the next thirty- three years. In the sixth minute, I had my first glimpse of my future ex- husband.

Across the whirring, clanking, chugging, sugar- caked Zip's Candies factory floor, there appeared Howard Ziplinsky, emerging feetfirst from the large, rotating drum used to tumble the Little Sammies in the thin hard- shell chocolate coating, just a little more brittle than a Raisinet's, that gave them their signature sheen.

That Little Sammies panning drum was one of the original machines still running on the Zip's lines that hot summer of 1975. It finally wore out beyond repair six years later, in late August 1981, an unforgettable time for me personally as well as a notable event in the history of Zip's Candies. I had just begun to be plagued with morning sickness, but Howard and I hadn't yet revealed to anyone that I was pregnant with our first child, Jacob. I was working long, exhausting, split- shift days that summer, supervising the first and third shifts to meet Halloween orders, when the Little Sammies panning drum seized up for the last time. We had shut down the line twice that week because of fruit- fly infestations (the eggs probably came in with a contaminated batch of peanuts for the Tigermelts), which had required cleaning every piece of equipment on the line, including internal mechanisms. The gear shaft on the drum motor was probably insufficiently relubricated when the line started up yet again, and it broke down irreparably on that last Thursday night of August, just as the third shift was starting, causing the disastrous Little Sammies shortage of Halloween 1981.

Replacement parts for that panning drum had been fabricated as needed for thirty years, but by 1981, the very last known functioning machine capable of making those parts had become obsolete and worn out as well. The fabricator— Bud Becker, an elderly retired machinist who operated out of his Hamden basement (by then he was the last living member of the original startup crew on the Zip's lines when Eli Czaplinsky opened his doors in 1924) — had thrown in the towel when he couldn't get the parts for his machine that made the parts for our machine. He was eighty- three, and for fourteen years Zip's had been his only customer.

A new panning drum, the one that still runs on the Little Sammies line today, was rush- ordered from Holland, making it the first- ever custom- built mechanism to grace the Zip's floor. (It would remain the most expensive single production- line element for several years, until the cost was surpassed by the overdue replacement of the entire Tigermelt line, from batch tables to wrapping machines, with some slightly newer used equipment, in 1989.) Those lost seven weeks before the new Little Sammies panning drum was installed on the line were a disaster. We even tried hand- dipping on jury- rigged enrobing frames in finishing trays, the way Little Sammies were manufactured at the very beginning, in 1924, in those first months when Eli was still developing and refining his cherished candy inventions, well before Little Sammies were distributed beyond New Haven. But there was no chance we could duplicate the finish and gloss of the panned Little Sammies, and all we did was waste product and man-hours, because it is, of course, impossible to get that thin, hard, chocolate- shell coating onto Little Sammies any other way.

Imagine trying to finish M&M's or Reese's Pieces by hand. What we produced was perfectly good candy, but they were just little fudgy chocolate- covered figures, probably a lot like the earliest versions of Zip's signature candy. So it was useless. They weren't remotely like what people expect when they open a pack of Little Sammies.

I don't know if it is obvious even now just how catastrophic this was for Zip's at the time. Little Sammies sales have carried more than half of Zip's annual gross for decades, and almost three quarters of annual Little Sammies sales occur in that allimportant zenith of candy- selling seasons, from back- to- school through Halloween. It was only the advent of the protein- bar contract work that changed Zip's dependence on Little Sammies. The Detox bar and Index bar lines have grown ever more significant for us in recent years. Every time I look at our balanced books I thank God for our nation's ongoing glycemicindex obsession.

That interruption on the Little Sammies line was a true crisis. Howard and I had been married for six years by then, and I had never before seen him cry, not even when his grandmother died just ten days before our wedding. We got through it, and I thought at the time that if we could survive the Little Sammies Halloween shortage of 1981, we could survive anything, but I was wrong.

I have been instructed by Charlie Cooper, my attorney, to tell my story in as clear and detailed a way as possible, from the beginning, though what a lawyer means by 'clear and detailed'and 'from the beginning' is probably very different from what I prefer to make of those requirements for this account. So my recollection of events begins on the humid summer day that was the twelfth of July, 1975, when I applied for the job at Zip's out of the blue.

I say 'out of the blue' because it really was just that, the consequence of picking up a discarded section of the New Haven Register to leaf through while I dawdled over my toasted corn muffin and coffee at the counter at Clark's Dairy, on Whitney Avenue, where I had taken to lingering each morning after I fled my family's house, my hair still wet from the shower. A classified ad with the heading 'Dat's Tasty!' in the 'Help Wanted' pages jumped out at me.

I had just been graduated from Wilbur Cross High School, where Miss Grace Solomon, my favorite English teacher, had instructed me in correct usage, which is why I just wrote 'been graduated' instead of 'graduated.' Because whether or not I have a college degree, I consider myself to be a perfectly well-read and educated person with as good a command of language as any college graduate I know, including a certain member of the Ziplinsky family who considers herself to be quite educated indeed after those four years in Providence at that university named for those slave- trading Brown brothers.

It is a deeply ingrained Ziplinsky family trait to place a little too much confidence in what it says on the label without full regard for quality control. Trust me, no Ivy League diploma on the wall confers an automatic ability to discern the correct uses of the words lay and lie, nor is it an antidote to chronic split infinitives and dangling modifiers. Let us not dwell too long on the habitual incorrect deployment of the word myself, the use of which is apparently believed to connote superiority and classiness. Out of that smug Ziplinsky mouth often comes the cringe-worthy phrase, 'On behalf of myself,' revealing, with those four inapt words, the truth of the matter to all literate people, whether or not they possess an Ivy League degree. I consider myself to be an autodidact. One definition of an autodidact is someone who knows what autodidact means.

I was in the top tenth percentile of my class at Wilbur Cross, I was the winner of the Senior English Prize, and I had already picked my courses for my first semester at Middlebury College, which had been my first choice. But I had screwed up so badly a few weeks before my first day at Zip's Candies that I wasn't going to be heading off to college after all, though Middlebury was willing to consider deferring my admission to the following year, their inevitable letter rescinding my admission concluded (with a certain calculated and smug coldness that was meant to discourage me from pursuing the option while simultaneously conveying a superficial gesture in the direction of fairness), with my deferred admission depending on a demonstration of 'sufficient growth of character in the interim, given the circumstances.' I already had a summer job, so there was no reason for me to be reading the classifieds section of the Register. But there was nothing else left to read in that particular lone, abandoned newspaper section after the horoscopes and advice columns and used- car ads, all of which I studied with a deep and pointless concentration each morning. (Plus, I had always enjoyed reading the want ads, starting in about third grade, when I would read them aloud to my mother while she made dinner, and together we would create stories about the people who applied for those jobs.)

I was at the end of my third week scooping cones at Helen's Double Dip out on the Boston Post Road in Milford, and I had come to dread putting on the claustrophobic, short, lime- green polyester uniform with its lumpy zipper and attached apron. I washed and dried my uniform every night, and it had already begun to pill. I dreaded everything about Helen's Double Dip. I dreaded the sugary slime of curdled cream underfoot, which had impregnated the soles of my bright new JCPenney sneakers. I dreaded the daily din of bratty children whining at their irritably indulgent parents, who rarely thought to tip as I labored to fill their orders while enduring a twinge in my elbow that was a direct consequence of scooping nut- infested flavors at an awkward angle with a bad scoop.

I took the job at Helen's Double Dip after three humiliating interviews for much nicer jobs had left me feeling that I would never do better and probably deserved exactly this punishment for everything that had happened. I had aimed much higher at first, when I applied for an entry- level editorial assistant position at Yale University Press. But when I sat down with an editor (a balding, middle- aged man with a stammer, whose scrawny polka- dotted bow tie heralded a vast collection of variously patterned bow ties, one of which he no doubt wore each and every day) and he leaned back in his chair and cocked one seersuckered leg over the other (exposing some hairless shin above a droopy sock) and asked me in a falsely avuncular fashion why I wasn't going to college in the fall, given that I had just finished high school, and I started to explain about the fire and the sentence and my family's money issues, he closed the file folder and stood up abruptly, even though I had been there only a few minutes and we hadn't yet discussed anything at all about the job.

My next interview was for a receptionist position at a big law firm on Church Street, but when I met with the human resources lady, before I could say a word about which job I was applying for, she took one look at me and shook her head, and then she quickly told me the job had been filled and then she started typing really fast and didn't look at me again. I stood on the sidewalk in front of the building in my dowdy interview outfit feeling waves of shame as office workers on their lunch hour brushed by me. I had just been intercepted attempting to pass myself off as a regular person.

I applied for a job at the bookstore on Whitney Avenue where my family had bought books my entire life, but the formerly friendly owner was abrupt with me and vague about actually needing anyone after all, even though there was a hand-lettered sign on the glass door advertising his need for part- time help. As I turned away I caught him rolling his eyes at one of his employees, a soft- spoken retired music teacher who had always been nice to me and who shared my mother's passion for Angela Thirkell novels. In the glass of the door, I could see her reflection, shrugging and grimacing in response as I made my way out.

At Helen's Double Dip out in deepest Milford, nobody asked me anything about whether or not I was going to college, and more significantly nobody seemed to notice or care that they were hiring a renowned pariah with a criminal record to work a daily shift from nine to six. All Freddie, the manager (with his Don Ameche mustache and his terrible acne scars), seemed to care about was my comprehension of the rules, which mandated showing up on time, thorough hand- washing, correct scooping technique, and the strict limit of three free samples per customer, no exceptions, not even for friends. I assured him I had no friends.

That morning, sitting at the counter at Clark's Dairy, I was drawn to the quaintness of the little 'Dat's Tasty!' ad declaring that Zip's Candies was seeking a 'hardworking and honest individual willing to be dedicated to learning old- fashioned techniques at a world- renowned candy factory.' Like the Clark's counter itself, the ad seemed to me like something from another era, an era so much simpler and nicer than my own. I wished I could make up a story about the person who applied for this job, to tell my mother while she made our dinner, but my mother wasn't speaking to me in those grim days, and it wasn't clear that she would resume speaking to me anytime soon.

Moments later, instead of driving a few exits south on traffic-clogged I- 95 and going straight to work, I found myself driving under the highway ramp and navigating the desolate Krazy Kat landscape of the old industrial waterfront of New Haven on the other side of the train tracks, at the edge of the Quinnipiac River. I had gone once with my father to this part of town, years before, to buy a replacement part for the old- fashioned crank- out awning that shaded our backyard patio. Yes, we have no bananas, he would always sing as he cranked, deploying the green- and- white- striped awning to shade the table and chairs on our back terrace. In my memory, voyaging to the awning factory on River Street had been an expedition, far more of an adventure than the five minutes' drive from downtown that took me to the corner of River and James streets.

Though I had intended, out of pure idle curiosity, only to take a quick look and keep driving, when I spotted the big, faded 'Dat's Tasty!' ghost lettering embedded in the worn bricks up so high near the roof that you wouldn't notice them once you got closer, I stopped, and then I parked my car in front of the nondescript three- story factory building with the number on the door corresponding to the address in the ad. Were it not for that 'Dat's Tasty!' declaration in old- fashioned italic lettering, which already felt oddly familiar to me as I gazed at it, I wouldn't have been at all certain I was in the right place. Was this worn brick building surrounded by boarded- up husks of long- gone industry at the baked edge of nothing really the home of a world- renowned candy factory?

I was not specifically interested in the candies themselves at this point in my life. Sure, I was always happy enough to find Little Sammies or a Tigermelt in my Halloween candy, who wouldn't be? Mumbo Jumbos were more problematic, as I was rather ambivalent toward licorice in those years, and I was always willing to trade away Mumbo Jumbos for something with chocolate (although my father liked them, so sometimes I would save them for him). And there was a family vacation on the Cape one rainy summer when my father used Mumbo Jumbos to replace some missing backgammon pieces in the set we found in a closet of the rental house.

But I had never gone out of my way to buy any Zip's candy with my allowance money in my earlier candy- buying years, when I would ride my bike to the newsstand on Whitney Avenue on Saturday afternoons. With my fifty cents I could buy three comic books, a pack of gum, and a candy bar. Frankly, I tended to favor Baby Ruths. I suppose I had a vague awareness that Zip's Candies was located somewhere in Connecticut, but I had no deep affection for boring and familiar New Haven, and my family was never one of those Chamber of Commerce, hometown pride kind of families. It certainly never occurred to me that I was destined to spend my life here.

There was a reason for the anonymity of the building, I would learn. Zip's had deliberately kept a low profile for a while at that point, although years earlier, especially in the 1950s, there had been a great deal of effort put into maintaining a very visible hometown identity, with local radio and television spots, sponsored parade floats, and lots of giveaways (rare Zip's memorabilia is avidly sought by collectors, especially the Zip's green umbrellas from the early fifties, a prize awarded to those willing to amass immense qualifying quantities of Zip's wrappers and mail them in, with a dollar for postage and handling; these occasionally show up on eBay for ridiculous sums).

Factory visits had never been permitted by Zip's, for reasons having to do partly with hygiene but mostly with keeping secret the specific manufacturing techniques for each line because of a not- unreasonable family paranoia about the potential loss of trade secrets. Plus, Frieda just never wanted to deal with groups of children. That woman didn't like people in general, and she really didn't like children, preferring to keep her distance unless she had a specific reason (like, if they were her own grandchildren) to tolerate them.

So, in my school years, I had experienced no class trips to the Zip's factory to see Little Sammies and Tigermelts and Mumbo Jumbos whizzing along the lines on their journey from raw ingredients to finished candies to wrapped products tightly packed into boxes for shipping. This is in distinct contrast to the way I had been marched through Lender's Bagels on three occasions by the time I was in sixth grade. In 1975, Zip's Candies was so low profile that there wasn't even an air of mystery about Zip's, unlike the fog of rumor and innuendo that has surrounded the legendary fortress that is the PEZ factory in Orange, which no civilians have been permitted to penetrate since PEZ began American operations there in 1973. I fail to comprehend the allure of PEZ, I have to say. Even as a child, I was PEZ- resistant, more interested in the PEZ logo and the word itself, PEZ being a sort of Austrian shorthand for the word Pfefferminze, than I was in the cheesy dispensers or the actual candy (where's the charm in a stack of compressed, toothpastey chalk bricks?). How many PEZ bricks in the PEZ logo? Forty- four.

The Zip's building had no sign. The original sign was in storage, I would discover later that summer when I was taking a smoke break out back by the loading area and spotted it beside a bin of old wooden shipping pallets. Not that the official company history would tell you this, but the truth, according to Pete Zagorski, the old- timer on the loading dock, was that it had been removed in 1969, in haste (by Pete Zagorski himself, who had been rousted out of a deep sleep before the sun was up by a call from Sam, asking him to hustle down to James Street and take down the sign, which is why he was so authoritative on the subject), on the first of May, because of a tip- off by a friendly detective with the New Haven Police Department. He'd heard a rumor that the charged- up mob on the Green protesting the Black Panther trial in the Elm Street courthouse was planning a march across town to the Zip's Candies factory, to protest a certain candy inspired by Little Black Sambo, even if the company had for a while tried to revise history with statements about how in fact the myth that Little Sammies were named for Little Black Sambo is just one of those erroneous beliefs that circulate, because the truth is that the candy was really inspired by the birth of the owner's son, Little Sammy Ziplinsky, born the same year Zip's Candies started production.

In 1921, the Curtiss Candy Company in Chicago changed their Kandy Kake bar into the Baby Ruth, claiming former president Grover Cleveland's dead daughter Ruth had somehow inspired the name. This was implausible at best, and it is most likely that the Baby Ruth bar was an unauthorized attempt to cash in on the popularity of baseball great Babe Ruth. It hardly seems fair that in 1931 Curtiss won their case to shut down Babe Ruth's own licensed candy bar on grounds that it was too close to their bestselling product.

Nothing happened to Zip's Candies during the Black Panther trial. There was no angry march from the New Haven Green across the railroad tracks, even in that season of turmoil when anything was possible. The whole city of New Haven seemed to be one spark away from a great big Black Panther conflagration. It was a potentially threatening time for a company known for making small, chewy, Negroid candies, no matter what the explanation for the name might be, no question. All it meant to me at the time, a couple of miles up leafy Whitney Avenue (named for that other ambitious and inventive Eli, whose ingenuity gave the world the cotton gin, which led to a vast expansion of cotton production in the American south, which of course increased the demand for the slave labor necessary to pick all that cotton), was that my parents watched the news on television compulsively and I wasn't allowed to leave our block on my bicycle.

I could see through the big mullioned windows on the first two floors that the factory lights were on. I turned off my Subaru before the engine could overheat, which it tended to do, which was why my mother was driving her new Volkswagen and I was driving this old wreck, and I sat there. I knew I needed to backtrack to the highway entrance I had passed on my way. I could get to work on time if I left now. Something kept me sitting there in the still car. I don't know what, beyond a general reluctance to face the day, to face the rest of the summer, and after that, to face the rest of my doomed life stretching out in front of me.

I harbored a hopeless vision of spending all eternity at Helen's Double Dip, where I would turn into an aging spinster furiously scooping triple Nutty Buddy cones with my by- then crippled arm while life passed me by. There's poor old Alice, people would say. The sad one, with the mustache. (I would have let myself go completely. Doomed felons don't pluck.) They say she's worked at Helen's Double Dip all her life. The truth is, that summer, that day, that moment, I had come to the end of something. I had lost my place.

Sweat trickled down my neck in the suddenly stifling car. I opened my window. A certain burnt sugar and chocolate aroma hung in the air, that marvelous, inevitable, ineffable, just- right aura of Zip's Candies, that unique blend of sweetness and pleasure and something else, a deep note of something rich and exotic and familiar that makes you nostalgic for its flavor even though you may never have tasted it before. I have loved that smell every day of my life from then to now. Some days, I go to work for that smell. When I travel, I miss it, I long for it. On Mumbo Jumbo days there is an added spice in the air, a dark hint of cherry and anise that adds a top note of danger. In retrospect, I believe this was a Mumbo Jumbo day. The aroma wafting through my car told me what I already knew I had to do. I went in and applied for the job.

My future father- in- law, Sam Ziplinsky, appraised me with a sidelong glance from behind his messy desk, never taking the unlit, moist stub of a cigar out of his mouth (he couldn't smoke on the premises, so he nursed a disgusting half- smoked cigar all day long instead) while barraging me with questions about my education, about my experience, about my family, about where I lived and what I wanted to do with my life. He didn't seem to hear my hesitant, evasive, contradictory answers at all as he rooted through untidy heaps of papers and threw out more questions, one on top of the next— Why did I think I deserved to work here, did I know it was like joining a family, am I someone who gets sick a lot, am I reliable, where do I live, am I good with my hands, am I in college, why not, do I want to marry and have children, am I a team player, do I like licorice? Red and black, or did I prefer red and hate black? Which do I like better, Little Sammies or Tigermelts? Until finally he interrupted me to exclaim in triumph, Found the sucker! as he extracted a ledger book from beneath a pile of folders.

I stopped trying to cook up plausible and attractive answers to each question, in order, since I was about three questions behind and I seemed to be talking to myself anyway, so finally I just stopped speaking altogether and waited to see what would come next. Was he listening at all to my replies? Was this a conversation, or a job interview, or what was it? I was now late for my shift at Helen's Double Dip. Freddie would be seriously disturbed that I was not there to start the morning flavor batches of the day and complete the daily inventory checklist before the lines started to form. Was I reliable?

Sam sat back in his creaking desk chair, holding the formerly misplaced ledger book in his lap, and then he looked me in the face for the first time, for a long moment. There was a metal bowl of deformed, uncoated Little Sammies on his desk, some of them undersized and missing parts, some of them all stuck together in a blob of limbs and torsos. He ate a clump absentmindedly while looking at me, and then he held out the bowl and I took a three- headed triplet cluster and nibbled on their heads while waiting for whatever came next. At last he said, with a wry smile, all at once, not pausing for my replies, the cigar still firmly planted in the corner of his mouth, You want to work here, kid? You're what, sixteen? Eighteen? You want a job at Zip's? You want to work? You a hard worker? Sister, this isn't just a summer job. It's hard work. You like candy, kiddo? What we make here are three great candy lines, true confections, that's what my father, Eli— he founded the company— that's what he called them, true confections. You like Little Sammies? That's me, you're looking at him, I'm the original Little Sammy. I used to be little, now I'm not so little. So what do you think? You know what? You're hired. I got a good feeling.

My future mother- in- law gave no indication of having any kind of good feeling about me whatsoever. Pearl Anastasio, Sam's secretary, a Zip's stalwart who had started at Zip's as a Little Sammies summer wrapper when she was in high school and Eli ran the place (in the era before he rigged up the first wrapping machine on the Little Sammies line), someone who would turn out to be a true friend to me as the years passed, though I hardly made eye contact with her that day, led me down a corridor. We reached a windowless office, where Frieda Ziplinsky sat at a desk piled high with stacks of envelopes she was stuffing with what looked like order forms. She would stuff a dozen, then seal a dozen. Stuff, seal, stuff, seal. Her hands were a blur. We stood in the doorway waiting for her to stop and look up, but she didn't stop and she didn't look up. She was a stuffing and sealing pro, a stuffing and sealing maniac. Finally Pearl announced loudly, Hey, Mrs. Z. Mr. Z said to say to you we've got our new hire. Okay, Mrs. Z.? Frieda finally glanced up and gave me a sour look. Pearl abandoned me with a friendly pat on the shoulder that was combined with a little push so I would step into that room.

You're not twenty- three, you look fourteen! You ever even worked on a line? You got line experience? You got another job? Frieda asked me, eyeing my absurd and too- short limegreen Helen's Double Dip uniform. I shrugged and shook my head apologetically, furtively yanked on my hem with one hand, and mumbled No, I had no line experience, and No, I was through with Helen's Double Dip, and today was my last day. She scowled. Not the racker and stacker from Entenmann's, from West Haven? I thought that girl was supposed to come in this morning first thing. I thought that was you. Sam maybe thought so too. He hired you? You have any idea what the job is? He say what the pay is? You know this isn't a summer job? You ready to train right now, while I have the time? I shook my head again, and then again, and then I nodded, feeling as if anything I said or did would further the degree to which I had inadvertently taken Sam's side in an ongoing argument and was now allied with him against her forever. Which was true.

Sighing heavily, clearly having already reached the conclusion that asking me any more questions would be useless, Frieda got up, went over to a white metal cabinet, and rummaged around on the shelves, and without looking in my direction she handed me a hairnet, which I put on, and then a white factory coat, which I also put on. As I buttoned it, she gave me a look that suggested that covering myself more modestly from now on would be a good idea in general, regardless of hygiene requirements. The lightweight white coat was a foot longer than the hem of the uniform I would never wear again after this day. I stepped out of my sneakers and pulled on, over my little pompom tennis socks, the pair of too- big, white, galoshy go- go boots apparently required before a civilian could set foot on the Zip's Candies factory floor, as Frieda wordlessly handed them to me, first one, then the other, with a look on her face as if I was putting them on incorrectly. She herself wore Keds.

She walked out of the room, and I waded down the hallway behind her, sloshing along in the boots, mimicking her when she paused to glove up with latex gloves from the wall dispenser by the big swinging double doors to the factory floor which have always made me feel as if I am about to enter an operating room, and then I followed her into the chaotic din and clatter of the sweet mechanical ballet of the Zip's Candies factory for the first time.

Even before my Tigermelt- handling indoctrination, I already knew I belonged at Zip's Candies. I knew it out on the sidewalk when I breathed in that burnt sugar and chocolate aroma. I knew that being here— hairnet, white coat, rubber boots, and all, forfeiting my job at Helen's Double Dip (along with my second and final paycheck, which I never had the nerve to go pick up), even as I was scornfully instructed on the nuances of straightening Tigermelts as they dropped onto the belt— was deeply, essentially right. Perhaps some people would call this destiny. Zip's Candies needed me, and I needed Zip's Candies. An inexplicable joy welled up in me as I realized that I knew that my life could start again from here, from this moment.

That first time I saw Howard, thin and dark, handsome like a foreign doctor in his white lab coat (despite the stray, uncoated Little Sammies clinging to a sleeve), his face and eyebrows were freckled with a fine spray of chocolate droplets. This was the thin, glossy chocolate used to apply the final coat to Little Sammies in the panning drum from which he had just emerged, having reamed a clogged nozzle with a pipe cleaner. He had been working on the Mumbo Jumbos blending unit just before that (it was one of those days when the summer humidity soaked into everything, despite the chugging air- conditioning system; it was overdue for upgrading, but Frieda didn't want to spend the money, which was foolish, as the humidity affected every piece of antiquated equipment on the floor), and he was already dusted with the powdered sugar that had caked and clogged the feed tubes on the big licorice- blending pot. I thought he looked confectionary, like a sugared angel, and I could feel Frieda glaring at me, wanting to keep her beautiful son all to herself. And so we met.

Howdy, he said, coming toward me, not in greeting but introducing himself, because that's what he was called, Howdy Ziplinsky, and this confused me for a moment, as I sensed that nobody in the Ziplinsky family was likely to be from someplace where people said 'Howdy' to one another, so I thought perhaps this was a Yiddish word I couldn't quite hear over the factory din, but at the same moment, through my confusion, I felt something completely new and profound stir in me, and I had to resist my unexpected impulse, as we shook hands for the first time, to lick him.

Reprinted from the book True Confections by Katharine Weber. Copyright 2010 by Katharine Weber. Published by Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

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