Friday, May 2, 2014

The Cough Drop Wars

"Get that out of your mouth.” The nun demanded.
"Wha?" said the kid.
"The candy."
With lots of lisping,"It'ssss not candy, it'ssss a cough drop," 

Silently with pointing directions only, the nun made the boy take out his hanky and drop the drop into the snot rag.

"No candy in class!"
"It'sssss not candy!"

The nun hit the kid. 

In 1962, at St. Stephen's, the grammar school sold candy at lunchtime then confiscated it if you ate it in the schoolroom after lunch. Come on? Reminds me of states that have liquor stores on the highway. They sell you a bottle with a smile, and then expect you to keep it in the bag until you drive home.

There was one controversial foodstuff that caused an uproar in class. Cough drops. Depending on the nun, cough drops weren't considered candy if you could prove you were about to expire. Symptoms of death or a parent's note that your throat was sore could do it, but only after the note passed analysis in comparison to a previous note from the same parent, sometimes authenticated in consultation with other nuns. Some infamous forgers of the late 20th century developed their talent on East 82nd Street. If they were born a generation earlier, they would've been in the O.S.A. crafting passports for the Allies.

A key part of the strategy to hold onto your cough drops was to place Kleenex tissues on your desk and hack when the nun was facing the blackboard. If you could position a line of phlegm under your nostril, better. Rubbing your eyes a lot was risky. It was a sure allergy signal but could drive certain nuns crazy and sometimes they'd take the cough drops away even if you were sick because they didn't like the way you looked at them. Keeping your Smith Brothers or Luden's brand supply was a constant struggle requiring vigilance, cunning and endurance.

As you can see from this photo taken in St. Stephen's first grade in 1962, my brother, Rory, was a master at deception and candy retention. See the Kleenex pack on his desk? Seconds later, the nun turned towards the blackboard and Rory released his “Hound from Hell,” practiced cough. The pack of Smith Brother's Wild Cherry flavor cough drops in his pants pocket were ready for roll call.

This is my current column in Ask a New Yorker.

Our next "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts"storytelling show is Tuesday, May 13 @ 6pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe. This month's artists: Alfonso Colasuonno, Robin Eisgrau, John Lewis and Marie Sabatino. I'll host and tell a yarn. Admission is $8 and includes a free drink.

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