Remember When Twinkies Disappeared? …and Came Back?

I held the box defiantly out of my car window. As I raised it higher in the air, cries of approval echoed between the cars around me. “Woohooooo!” screamed the hot toddy in the passenger seat of the car next to me (I half expected her to twirl her bra in the air as if I were a rockstar). A more distant “Fuck Yeah!” leap-frogged the cars behind me just to grace my ears. Had I been half the libation-enlightened man I was that evening, I might have shared; or even negotiated a trade for some intimate apparel. But the time that had passed since Twinkies filled the shelves of grocery stores, where they towered in monumental tribute to the post-apocalyptic food source, had been too long. For some bizarre reason, their unexpected return from corporate limbo filled my heart with warmth. As I pulled the box back into my car, I realized just how important Twinkies were to me.

It was especially hot and muggy that Sunday afternoon. My brother and I ran as fast as our legs could carry us. The bike path that led from church to our grandma’s house was deceptively longer than it looked. Like every Sunday, we are running to the Twinkie drawer. If we could reach grandmas before our parents, we could eat as many as we could fit in our mouths. Grandma would never say a word; she’d just smile and light another cigarette off the one she was just finishing. Four was my record, and I’m sure the day I got that record I looked something akin to Pizza-the-Hut from the movie Spaceballs (when he had a dozen or so hotdogs half-way in his mouth). Not to be outdone, my brother stuffed six Twinkies into his mouth; we laughed so hard that bits of Twinkie and cream shot out from his nose. I honestly think it was the first (and only) time I’ve ever seen a Twinkie make someone’s nose bleed.

Sunday Twinkies were the highlight of my childhood. They draw a perfect picture of my chain-smoking, diabetic grandmother who, despite her health, used me and my brother as an excuse to keep the Twinkie drawer filled. That summer we moved from the nether-reaches of Appalachia, to the wide-open grasslands of Arvada, Colorado. As I stood on the porch of our new-providence, turning my gaze from the ominous mountains looming in the west to the nefarious thunderstorms obscuring the horizon of the east, all I could think about was my grandma and her Twinkie drawer. I was only six, but I could feel the vast expanse separating me from the life I had just left.

It took the sum of two-months’ worth of allowance to buy my first box of Twinkies. But now it was different… the church food banks didn’t have Twinkies, and my brother and I savored every spongy cream-filled bite. My brother would look at me, tilt his head back and point to his nose (he wanted me to check for Twinkie bits). But we didn’t laugh; we smiled at the memory and continued to partake of our Twinkies in a somber silence.

Twinkies became my “happy place” when the times were tough. I kept a stash under my bed that I would sparingly eat when hiding there. Each nibble brought me back to my grandma’s house, to happier times. This became the trend over the next 30 years of my life. Feeling blue? Have a Twinkie. Have a bad date? Have a Twinkie. I never ate two, just one. That’s all it would take to put a smile on my face. Even eating one carefully by holding it delicately in the clear, noisy wrapper, would sometimes result in cream and Twinkie bits on my nose; and inevitably bring me full circle to my brother bleeding Twinkie bits out of his.

November 22nd, 2012—I had just quit my job, and in the shadows of domestic squabbles on the home front, it was one of those days where a Twinkie was desperately needed. I moped my way to the snack section of Safeway only to find it devoid even of the faintest sign of any Hostess™ product. After a few seconds of staring indignantly at the empty shelves, I whipped-out my phone to Google what had happened. My heart sank with the first result; “Hostess closing OK’d by judge” (Isidore, O’Toole). The news had caused a mad-rush on all Hostess™ products. Every store sold out in a matter of hours. Even as disappointed as I was, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony; Colorado had just legalized marijuana 10-days earlier. I slumped and walked Twinkie-less back to my car.

Empty shelves (Isidore, O’Toole)

The ensuing months were filled with the testing of Twinkie-like snacks. The shameless money spent on Twinkie-wanna’-be’s would have merely bought one or two of the genuine article online (via one of the more popular auction websites). Some of the stand-ins were worse than spreading frosting on a Scotch-Brite™ sink-sponge. “It tastes like despair,” my mind jumped back to a short-lived TV Series, Better Off Ted, where those words were painfully uttered by a subject eating a steak that had been created in a lab. Was the Twinkie recipe really that secret?

July 16th, 2013—I ran in to King Soopers on a mission for Gatorade and Pringles. I was capping-off a night of binge drinking; The Gatorade was definitely intended to curb the hangover I expected the next day. The Pringles… well, who needs to explain Pringles? My neck snapped and my shoes squealed as I brought my full 260lbs to an abrupt halt. The inertia nearly buckled my knees. Out of the corner of my eye I had spied something out-of-the-ordinary. Now there in front of me as after I turned, illuminated by some other-worldly radiance, was a Hostess™ display. Was I dreaming? How much did I have to drink? Somebody surely roofied my Stranahan’s… I stood there blinking in disbelief. I may have looked like a jackass drooling over Twinkies at 2am, but the response was involuntary. Every bad moment since Twinkies had left the shelves were immediately consoled.

I grabbed a box, and as I was bumbling through the self-checkout, I triumphantly announced to the clerk “They’re Back!” I’m still not sure if the look she threw my way was that of pity or disdain; but I didn’t care. Her inability to grasp the magnitude of their return was smothered by the joy I felt inside.

As I sat at the stoplight with a Twinkie in-hand, I glanced at the car next to me. My only response to the hot toddy watching me stuff my face was to hold my Twinkie box out the window. It seemed the obvious choice of action at 2am, but hindsight has me feeling fortunate there were no five-0 nearby. As they shared in my victory, all my happy moments fluttered back in to my forethoughts. Grandma’s house suddenly seemed closer than ever. That is when I realized that Twinkies were a connected representation of all the good experiences in my life. So the next time you unwrap a Twinkie, think of how that little golden cream-filled snack is not just junk food for the wayward drinker at 2am, it’s someone’s happiness.

References:

Isidore, Chris, and O’Toole, James. “Hostess Closing Gets OK from Judge.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 21 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 July 2013.

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