Candy, or How My Mind Was Turned to Mush by a Dangerous Book
August 19, 2014 by Larry Grinnell
When I was 12 years old, I was curious about a lot of things. In junior high school, in the locker room and other bastions of “maleness,” I often heard discussion of this mythical book, Candy, by satirist Terry Southern (also author of the Magic Christian, and many others) and Mason Hoffenberg, that it was supposed to be the dirtiest (and therefore, most exciting) book around; worthy of the prurient attention of typical preteen and early teenaged boys.
I was perhaps more emotionally mature than many of my peers. At least I wasn’t the one going all Neanderthal on my peers in feats of testosterone-fueled savage bullying. Instead, I was their victim for more years than I would like to think about. But this isn’t a story about those bad days. I’ve already written a lengthy tome about my life among the bullies, and to tell that sad tale again would only serve to take this story to dark places that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.
As in most things, I discussed my desire to read Candy with my mother. For all of her faults, of which there were many, the lack of intelligence and wisdom were not among them. In fact, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana, IL, for two years in the mid-1930s, at least until her father said enough was enough and that in no uncertain terms, it was time to stop defying him and come home to Chicago to either get married or at least get a job so she could pay the lion’s share of her younger sister’s wedding expenses (he was not about to sacrifice one penny of his drinking and gambling money for something as trivial as his daughter’s fancy wedding). But I digress…
My mother never restricted what her children read, but because of the notoriety of this book, I decided it would be a good idea to clear it with her first, because, having scoped things out ahead of time, I knew that our little Oakland Park Library, which only a few years earlier had been a single room inside the Oakland Park Women’s Club, had a copy of this book. I tried to leaf through it, but the librarian, Mrs. Weisel, a stern Briton, didn’t like the idea of children wandering through the adult fiction section, as there were, to her view, far too many dangerous books that could warp an innocent child’s mind. If she had caught me thumbing through such a book as Candy, there would have been no end to the harassment and exhortations of disappointment in me.
Anyhow, after discussing the whole issue with my mother, and explaining what I thought the book was (a biting satire of the repressive sexual mores of the late 1950s), she agreed with my assessment (I did my homework) and gave her approval for me to check it out from the library and read it.
A few days later, I rode my bike to the Oakland Park Library, went to the adult fiction section (the S row) and grabbed the book in question. I immediately took it to the front desk (no sense wandering around the library attracting attention by holding a filthy title like that) and presented it to Mrs. Weisel along with my library card (a cardboard rectangle with a small metal stamping that carried five or six digits that went into the “checkout” machine). I think the first word out of her mouth was No. She then amplified, telling me that this book was filth, and that a 12 year old boy should not be reading it. I countered with, if this book was indeed filth, what was it doing in this library? I think her response was the ever popular “shut up and don’t question your elders.” I told her that my mother had approved my reading the book. She countered that she knew my mother (true), that she was a member of the Oakland Park Library League (also true), and that she knew my mother would never permit me to read such filth (not true). I tried to argue, but ultimately, she told me that I would need to bring in a note written by my mother. I said, “Fine.” I went home, sans Candy, and explained the situation to my mother, who did not suffer fools or foolish behavior gladly. She wrote the note, teeth grinding away (no wonder she needed so much dental work later in life), and I brought it to the library the very next day. I went back to the stacks, got the book, and presented it to Mrs. Weisel with my library card, and my mother’s note. She read the note and immediately concluded that I had forged it. I countered that if she knew anything at all about my handwriting, it would be impossible for me to write such a note in her much neater hand. I told her to call my mother, which she grudgingly agreed to do. Mrs. Weisel went to the back room to make the call. I watched through the window into the back offices. She tried to explain what a bad idea it was and insisted that I must have forged the note. There was a long silence as my mother explained the situation and probably even used some bad words (one of Mother’s many skills was the ability to apply a vast vocabulary of blue language in many creative ways), based on Mrs. Weisel’s shocked expression, but in the end, she hung up, silently went to the front desk, put my library card in the machine, along with the card stored inside the front cover of the book, stamped them in the machine, and handed the card and the book to me.
She didn’t speak to me for some time afterward, and I think after that incident, she looked at me with a look of disappointment. She even did this after she hired me to work at the library after school and for a few hours on Saturday for the princely sum of $1.25/hour (minimum wage in 1968). I got the job, at least in part because of my experience working in my junior high school and high school libraries; and like far too many adults around me at the time, I think I was one of Mrs. Weisel’s “projects.”
I worked there off and on for a few years before getting a job in radio for a small station, coincidentally also located in Oakland Park. That story is also recounted on this site–click this link.
The book? Well, I did read it, and was very entertained by it, though being twelve years old, I really didn’t understand a lot of the satire and references to the social scene of the late 1950s (just as I was told I wouldn’t), but some of the adventures of the innocent, dauntless, and extremely adventurous (and flexible!) young girl, Candy, fueled my baser fantasies for a long time thereafter—which is exactly what Mrs. Weisel told my mother and me would happen.
Along that line, a few years later, my mother, in one of her many efforts to eliminate clutter, even clutter neatly hidden behind a closet door (frankly, I think she just enjoyed snooping on her kids–once, she even found something I had wedged inside the back of a picture frame of a Mona Lisa reproduction I had in my room–what that something was, well, you can probably guess), was going through my things one day when I was at school (her usual time to go through my stuff—the sneak!), and came upon my Playboy collection (stolen from my stepfather), and several paperback “pictorial” books, but nothing hardcore. I came home from school and she confronted me with my “booty.” “What’s all this,” she asked? I immediately came back with a witty rejoinder…something about reading the articles. Then, her coup de grace — out came the pictorial books. “What about these, then?” Nothing I could say could get me out of that, so I remained silent. She took my reference material with her, and I never saw it again, requiring me, of course, to acquire new reference material, which was also discovered, but not by my mother this time; instead, it was my kid brother who was seeking similar “reference material,” and figured I had some. He “securely” stashed it in a drawer in the bathroom. ‘Nuff said, other than that my mother probably silently regretted letting me read that horrid book just a few years previously.
Sadly, things did not go well for Mrs. Weisel. One evening in the late 1960s, her husband, an interesting and joyful man who managed a small bookstore that specialized in music-related merchandise (books, records, and open reel tapes), which was set up in a room in the large Hi-Fi Associates electronics store on the corner of Floranada Road and Federal Highway, was confronted by an armed robber. Something went seriously wrong, and Mr. Weisel was shot to death, leaving behind his wife and a nine year old son. Soon after, Mrs. Weisel and her son moved back to England, the place of her birth, mainly because its lack of guns made her feel much safer. I never heard from her again.