When I Reached Out for the Candy the Little Monkey Made Me Cry (A Prayer for Frankie)

February 5, 2005

I haven’t felt, for lack of a better term, in synch with this blogging deal for a few days. I had a strange or different experience the other night. And since then I have felt bottled up somehow as far as communicating. That’s likely why I have been playing with pictures so much and not words. I knew I would write it out, for better or worse. I’m not going to keep tweaking it. It’s been inside too long as it is and I need to just get rid of it, in some sense. So, here it is. And not to belittle it by any means, but I hope I can move on and get back to writing whatever it is I may feel like writing without feeling like there’s this boulder in the middle of my road holding back a lot of thoughts and feelings.

Most of what I post is posted with readers in mind, somehow. This post is for me and for Frankie. Someone I may or may not have gotten to know better in life. But that’s irrelevant because there never was the chance.

When I Reached Out for the Candy the Little Monkey Made Me Cry (A Prayer for Frankie)

I didn’t know why. I couldn’t come straight home tonight because a man like me doesn’t come in the house crying for no reason and I couldn’t stop crying no matter how far or aimless the drive. That isn’t usual, or expected. It took hours before I realized I was crying for the monkey, though it was the candy that started it all. If I hadn’t been laughing so hard all day at the candy the monkey wouldn’t have gotten in the car with me as I drove and cried myself to and away from home.

There were two good penny candy stores in my childhood. I can still see and hear their narrow paper brown bags crackle, crumple, fold and swallow meaty young fingers digging in – always for the kind of candy that I taste in my older dreams. My older dreams seem to come before my nightmares. In those old dreams a child’s hand plucks candies with delightful, focused joy, and even if it is a joy I remember to forget, it’s still a very damn fine thing to experience. Besides, in my old dreams the monkey rarely makes me cry.

There wasn’t much chocolate that I recall. Wax lips, pixie sticks, sugar-watered little wax soda bottles too flat to be bottles were sucked dry by greedy moist lips and chewed up like my many ever quickening years. And several years have passed since I’ve seen the kind of candy store that exists in those dreams. Family owned, dusty shelved sugar dens carved out of unused living rooms with TV’s not off in the distance, heard but never seen in kitchens that are used but somehow seem to be forgotten. Who needs a kitchen when the living room is full of candy? I think back now and you’d probably always smell old people in a place like that if it weren’t for the candy, of which I know the little monkey never really got his share. But then what should be the ration for old candy mostly dissolved and barely edible in dusty corners of old dreams? And how could a poor little monkey ever get enough candy, or anything for that matter?

Maybe he stole some; I don’t know. If he did, it wasn’t because he was a thief, but because he had so much never given to him. That’s the real tragedy; the one that makes me cry when I reach for the candy. Inside I know I’ve already had so much more than he could have dreamed of in his silly little monkey dreams. Ha! See how quickly I forget. The monkey certainly had nightmares. I’m unsure if he was even aware of them, let alone what they might mean: Probably not. But everything I know tells me he had nightmares, though I really would prefer we get back to the candy.

Banana and Strawberry Taffy Bars cooled hard and slammed against tables fragmenting into manageable bits, with Chocolate being the best of the lot to me, opinions vary. Yes, there was chocolate, just not much. Licorice whips, nips and twists that tasted deep and unprocessed – not like today, somehow. So much processing done – and to do. Too much processing. Too much. Jaw Breakers that broke jaws unsuitable for aged teeth, great big bubble gum cigars licked, chewed, sucked but never swallowed, the bubble gum of old dreams is too big for swallowing, it’s only suited for blowing bubbles so real they floated around your face and might have carried you away if they didn’t always explode in some comical messy mask of over-indulgence. Did I over indulge in the candy, little monkey? Probably I did, I know. I’m sorry. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really you, or me that makes me cry. But I’m getting off the track.

The secretaries joined in along with some of the managers, though I confess to leading the charge. We marched through candy stores, over boardwalks, down streets from our pasts describing the thoughts, feelings and sensations of well-candied childhoods spent, here, and there. We laughed, God how we laughed – and glowed. Certainly anyone can relish some special delectable treat they had known as well as their own bubble, colored-sugar or maybe even chocolate covered candy eating childhood face. But I didn’t tell them about the monkey. I couldn’t. I had forgotten about the monkey, at least until he decided to catch a ride home with me.

Frankie was the little monkey’s name. He was a poor little white trash kid whose parents drank too much and could only afford to always pay too little of everything, from rent, to dollars, to attention to the little monkey. Or, so I imagined. His ears flopped. Well, they didn’t flop so much as stand out; likely I remember them as I do everything, even penny candies, as bigger than they were. Frankie’s T-shirts were always dirty to complement his face. But his energetic spirit glowed with the pure, clean shine of a young impish God with a sense of humor and he seemed to see the hard knocks of life as bumps to be bounced off of in an explosive ball of laughing energy. I think only the young with very little can learn to do that so much, and so well; because they have to. He was coy that way for his all of seven, eight or so years. It was an adorable cuteness that didn’t know itself; it just knew that something worked for it, somehow.

And I don’t know why I loved him in the platonic way I did. I don’t know why I still do love him. At that age I hadn’t really thought much about loving anything, let alone someone. He was just … lovable, I guess. Maybe it was the innocence in a face born to but not from hardship that I admire so much. I’m still a sucker for it and the underdog even today.

High-topped black converse knock off sneakers always sprang him from his house across the street, down off the porch in one clumsy endless bounce. He wasn’t graceful but the little monkey was always running – off somewhere. At 13, I was enough older so that I had just begun to purport to swagger as I made my own way down the same streets, to the same ball fields, along the same base paths of the same games all of us played together in the mostly lower-middle class neighborhood.

We were driving with my Mother on the way home from a football practice for one of those then under-organized overly uniformed junior league football teams for which I had actually somehow begun to star. Touchdowns, tackles, yardage records, they piled up like so many adolescent boys given a ball and told to play, and play hard. I have to admit I started to feel hard somehow myself. I think it was the uniform. Hell, if you put a quick big kid in a padded uniform and tell him to crash into other kids and he knocks them down enough, is it any wonder he might not come to feel that way, just a bit? I did, before we passed the school.

There on the street was the strangest damn thing I had ever seen in my life – just a single black high top sneaker standing straight up and fully laced in the middle of the road as if it had been placed or left there somehow on purpose. I guess bounding off all those too hard knocks of life had finally thrown the little monkey clean out of his shoes. I heard the car had caught him clean and there on the same streets as my candy stores lay Frankie the little monkey after having careened up and off the hood of some still invisible to me unknown car.

His head had cracked solid against the pavement like a God damned taffy bar but with a far more disastrous result. He was bloodied and broken, lying in the street and all the world’s innocence seemed to go away with him for me, somehow. Because he was gone. And until then I didn’t know that something or someone you loved could just leave you like that, alone, having no answers and no longer feeling safe, or innocent.

My uniform went, too. I could feel the shoulder pads sinking weakly back into my bony frame as I just sat in the car and looked straight ahead without having the slightest idea what I was seeing, thinking or feeling. Boys my age, especially from my neighborhood, we didn’t have feelings, tried to ignore much of what we saw, and did better when we tried not to think too much, if at all.

In one overwhelming instant I learned that records don’t mean so much because there were far more significant things that could happen to a young boy that had nothing to do with keeping score. Like any young athlete, keeping score was just starting to mean a lot to me at that point in my life.  Until I found out there were other things – things that we should never have to imagine, keep score of, or dream about. But I still do, dream about them, that is  – in my older dreams; the ones before the nightmares.

My bubble blowing childhood mask of invincibility exploded in my face in an instant that I have never been able to forget. And sometimes no matter how much I want to laugh and tell people my childhood was filled with almost magical paper candy bags stuffed with sugar, I also know that somewhere there’s still an empty sneaker. I know that because tonight when I was driving home from work, I could see it sitting there, in the middle of the road. And I couldn’t drive but I had to drive and I had to cry but I couldn’t cry and I fought with everything I had just to find my uniform because I needed my shoulder pads. I needed to go home because there’s always and only one place you can go when you’ve lost things you don’t understand and want things you can’t have. You always have to go home if you’re lucky enough to have one to go to. And Frankie doesn’t and maybe he never really did and it’s so unfair and then I got lost three blocks from my house because I couldn’t see the road for my tears

And all I wanted to do was to give the little monkey a piece of candy but I didn’t have any candy. I’ve eaten so damn much candy in my life I feel like a pig. And that somehow makes it all my fault but I know it wasn’t my fault it just feels that way. And I’m sorry Frankie, I’m so God damned sorry because I never knew or cared enough to tell you to stay out of the road any more than anyone else ever did and that’s why you died and that’s why you haven’t had any candy as far as I know for longer than any seven or eight year old kid should have to go without candy but it isn’t my fault. I swear to God it isn’t my fault. But sometimes it still feels that way. And that’s why I need my shouldpads because I have to go home, Frankie. I have to go home. And I’m sorry because you never did.

Anyway, that’s why today when I reached out for the candy; the little monkey made me cry.

God bless you, Frankie. It’s been over 35 years and I know that if there’s a God and he really does have infinite wisdom … he has great candy in heaven. And I pray you’ve finally been given your share.

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  1. Pile On® says:

    Fer crissakes, I think I am going to be ill now.

  2. Cassandra says:

    I know you don’t want or need it, but right now you are getting that moment of hushed silence that comes at the end of an incredible performance. You know, just before the thunderous applause?
    That was damned fine.

  3. Rae says:

    Wow, Dan. That was very good. Very good, indeed.

  4. danie says:

    Nothing to say, but a sincere thank you…can’t tell you the last time i was speechless…danie

  5. absynth_minded says:

    I highest compliment that I can pay anyone is that I am seldom left at a loss for words.
    Until now.
    R.I.P Frankie

  6. Sly2SmoothieNJs says:

    There, there Dan, don’t cry, he is safe in heaven smiling down on you now, chewing the biggest, yummiest, neverending piece of candy now. He knew you loved him, he had to.

  7. newswatcher says:

    Thank you, Dan.

  8. k.jeanne says:

    Thank you, Dan, for showing us the best part of you.

  9. Karen says:

    Thank you, Dan. I remember those same candies in the dusty glass case of the “corner” convenience store besides Mike Lalli’s house. And the skinny boy in third grade who tortured me by sneaking behind me and pulling out a strand of hair every once in a while. And the teacher who wouldn’t punish him, because he was “different” (retarded) and didn’t know any better. Kids can be cruel, and I think of all the times I did or said something mean. If I could only see those kids again and apologize. But would they remember after all these years? Maybe best to confess to God and ask forgiveness and leave the pain in the past.

  10. moey says:

    Thank you Dan!
    I grew up in the 40’s in the country so I didn’t have any neighborhood candy shops. We did visit friends in Minneapolis in the summer and one of my fondest memories is walking a couple of blocks to the little store with a nickle in my pocket to buy a brown paper bag of candy, oh the variety of stuff we would get in our bags and we took forever to make our selections, one by one.
    Thanks for bringing up memories, they are our make-up and we should remember to pass them on to our children and grandchildren, otherwise they will be forgotten forever.
    Thanks again for a beautiful piece. I’m at work and it is difficult answering the phone right now.

  11. Trish says:

    What a wonderful piece.Dan you are one fabulous writer.
    I found your site when looking for info on Taylor and I must admit I am a true fan of your forum and writing.I can only hope Taylor has a loved one who can write a story of this magnitutde to honor her one day,but until then, I will just hope she and the little monkey both get their full share of candy dreams.

  12. dadreamer says:

    Dan, thanks for sharing such a personal and revealing story. I too lost someone at age 11, and the memory of the person dying has not, nor will it ever, leave me. Even thought it might have been my fault…like I could have or should have done something. Though as an adult I know there was nothing to be done by me that medical science couldn’t figure out. There are some things children should not see and feel. In a way that part of me sort of stayed as a little child that still lives in me today. Anyway, thanks for sharing this. It was very moving.

  13. dadreamer says:

    One more thing too…someone taught me that people don’t leave us, but that in not remembering them, we really leave them. It is a beautiful thing you do in honoring Frankies memory. I am sure he is smiling a big, bright smile right now because of you.