Michele Cardella in Building Operations on August 23, 2019
I didn’t intend for the bowl of candy outside my apartment door to become a permanent attraction. I put it out there as a one-night-only welcome for guests coming to a dinner party. Then, after rewatching To Kill a Mockingbird, I decided to take a turn as my co-op’s Boo Radley, leaving gifts for my neighbors by refilling the candy bowl.
The bowl then became a seasonal addition to the multicolored, sparkle-sprinkled display case that my super and I up-cycled from a wooden box my daughter had made in elementary school. To mark holidays, birthdays, Oscar night and royal weddings, I decorate the box with ribbons and doodads. The bowl was added to hold candy canes and gelt in December, red-foil-wrapped kisses in February, and mini chocolate eggs in the spring. At some point, my husband decided to go big and keep the bowl filled year round.
Now neighbors, visitors, and building workers stop on my floor to grab a candy, then go on their way. I can’t actually see this from inside my apartment, but by monitoring the contents of the bowl I’m able to draw conclusions about its users. “It’s like tending a bird feeder,” someone said. I disagree. I learned the hard way that it’s not even close.
Years earlier, a relative who, unfortunately, never comes empty-handed, showed up at my country house with another of his unique gifts. I looked at the large bag of seeds and the clear plastic dome with the same misgivings I’d had the summer before when he tried to strap his gift of saddlebags on my dog Honey. Before I could sneak the new gift down to the basement, next to the saddlebags, my relative had the dome hung in the backyard and filled with seeds. “You’re going to love sitting here watching the birds eat,” he said.
Unlikely. The animals in my yard were already well fed, as evidenced by my chewed-up vegetable garden. But at least they ate in silence. Within days of the feeder’s arrival, my quiet yard had become a suburban jungle. Squawking big birds batted away crying smaller ones. Squirrels sprinted along branches, bullying away anything with wings to stake their claim to the new snacks. Oblivious to the chaos he had caused, my relative topped off the feeder before he left.
No way was I getting close enough to the melee to take the feeder down. Instead, I drove back to the city, figuring that once the food ran out and tranquillity returned, so would I. In the meantime, the bird food turned the animals in my yard into beasts. While I was gone, they tore apart the porch screens and clawed through a wooden cabinet looking for a refill. Before I shelled out $3,000 for repairs, the feeder went into the trash, next to the saddlebags.
Back at my co-op, the candy bowl has been far more enjoyable and definitely less expensive. I’ve learned that most people don’t like sugar-free fruit drops, which can remain untouched in the bowl forever. They prefer miniature versions of regular candy bars, which go the quickest. But they are also overwhelmingly self-moderating – on only two occasions has the bowl been cleaned out in a single day.
And they are tidy, having never, ever dropped a candy wrapper on the floor. They are honest – or undiscerning – because the candy bowl, an expensive piece of crystal, is still there. And they can be funny. Guests at a fund-raiser elsewhere in the building left their party favors in exchange for their candy.
The biggest surprise is the one that hasn’t occurred: complaints. In a downtown neighborhood where parents chased away the ice-cream truck from a local park because they didn’t want to have to deny their children’s requests for pre-supper sweets, I thought surely someone would launch an objection to the candy bowl. Instead, caregivers and their charges in my building seem capable of controlling themselves, and each other.
As with Boo Radley’s gifts, no one talks to me about the candy bowl. We seem to have an unspoken pact simply to enjoy, for our own reasons, having a small treat nearby when a boost is needed after, say, coming in from the rain with a wet dog, leaving a grueling study session, heading up to the roof to fix a pipe, or delivering the millionth package of the day.
Back in the country, the animals in my yard are once again quietly content with nature’s bounty. Deer feeding off the apple tree don’t even look up when they see me. Squirrels, moles and woodchucks pick up their leftovers. Birds eat the worms that weave though my long-fallow vegetable garden. And sitting in a comfy chair inside the securely screened porch, I read a summer book, nibble on a mini candy bar I brought from the city – and ignore them all.
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