It was early evening, with the unfamiliar city darkening around us, when we stopped at what appeared to be a hair salon. Two of us went in to ask for directions.
From the inside, it was clearly not a hair salon. Not anymore, anyway. There was no furniture of any sort inside, just shelves upon shelves of coin-operated candy machines. The cardboard advertisements behind the machines' glass fronts depicted things that looked like tikis or African idols, but rendered in garish, Saturday morning colors. And each one proclaimed the gum inside--it was all gum, not candy--to be named after one abstract concept or another. The price on every machine was 23 cents.
There was only one person working in there, a guy whose responsibilities seemed mostly about keeping the place clean and protecting the machines from theft and vandalism. He told us his mama made the gum, and that if we needed more after the shop closed or had any questions, we could call her up. I was surprised, because I'd have figured his mama--who I pictured as a fat, housebound voodoo lady--would be harder to get a hold of than him, not easier.
Anyway, I decided to buy some lilac-colored, M&M-shaped, candy-coated gum called Achievement. (Which is odd, because that's not really a word that's got a lot of resonance for me. It just makes be think of those idiotic motivational posters. Even at the time, I don't think I was particularly excited about it.) Pumping 23 cents into each machine was actually kind of hard, because instead of a slot, I had to put coins, one by one, into a metal frame with a hole in the side (like a square from a Connect Four game) and pull down a lever that lowered the whole frame into the machine. The coin fell out during this operation a couple times.
A couple stray pieces of Achievement fell out of the machine during this operation, and I tried them out before I finished with the coins. They tasted like Aspergum.
Maybe it was an effect of the Achievement active in my system, or the extra coins I ended up dropping into the machine, but when I finally pulled the lever for the last time, I received two plastic capsules full of gum instead of one. I think there was a rolled-up piece of paper inside each of them, too, presumably with information and usage instructions. Probably should have read that before I took some.