The Bus Hustle

The year was 1994. I was in third grade.

I had just started going to a new school. New neighborhood. New life! I had a chance to start over and boy, I was going to seize that chance in my tiny little sticky fists, because GOOD GOD I needed it.

You see, I was never a popular kid. In my previous school, social advancement opportunities were sparse. I was never invited for team sports. Birthday invitations were non-existent. I lived a block away from the school so there wasn’t even the chance of sitting down and making a new friend on the school bus. I was doomed to stagnate. My personal brand of “quirky but a bit of a crybaby” wasn’t a winner.

But all this was going to change.

My new school was further away from home and thus required a school bus ride. 15 minutes. 15 minutes to roll out PHASE ONE: HEARTS AND MINDS.

I tried desperately to make new friends by sitting in any ol’ seat. But I quickly learned that the bus had a specific social dynamic.

The front of the bus: goody-two-shoe types, so eager to arrive at school with their smiling faces and pigtails. This often is where the pretty, popular girls sat, clinging to their seatmate to ensure no new and totally harmless stranger in town could score a seat.

Back of the bus: Generally where the boys sat, all rough and tumble, with their spitting and their yelling of the word “PENIS” loudly because it is not a swear, but generally pretty inappropriate to throw around in public.

This left mid-bus. The misfit and drifter kids sat here. I usually ended up in the emergency exit row, since the driver knew I was too timid to ever mess with the door or any of its latches. Phase one had failed.

My solitude in the exit seat gave me time to reflect and plan PHASE TWO: LEVERAGE AND INCENTIVISE.

What do kids like? Candy. What do I know best? Candy.

In the 90s, fruity, waxy taffy Airheads were where it was at. Caramel Apple Pops probably resulted in a great many dental visits, but we still braved it for the deliciousness of that lollipop. There were tiny juice cartons filled with fruity bubble gum that would lose its flavor in five minutes, but you’d shotgun that whole thing anyway. Warheads were so sour you thought your tongue would never recover. So many wonderful candies, usually available at Albertson’s for about 10 cents.

My plan was simple. I might have been young, but I knew that supply and demand was a capitalism… thing. And while a school bus wasn’t a candy store… it could be.

I went to Albertsons and stocked up on all my 10 cent favorites. I would take advantage of the whole “trapped on a bus” situation and sell my candy for 25 cents. Brilliant. The kids would love me and I’d make a profit. Just brilliant. PHASE TWO was looking great.

That first day I opened up shop I sauntered right to the back of the bus. I knew my demographic. The boys were sure to have cash, as they’d never had a “stupid sack lunch”. And boys loved candy.

“What are you doing back here?”

“I’d like to sell you some candy.”

Eyed with suspicion, the boys looked at my wares before offering up quarters and dollars left and right. PHASE TWO was working! We laughed, I made money! Everything was coming up Lauren! I had a good thing going. The next few days marched on like a montage from a tinier, dorkier version of Wall Street, with all of my cash and prizes going into a coveted Hello Kitty drawstring bag.

Monday, the next week, the tides changed. I boarded the school bus with my candies, ready to make some sales and maybe cement these budding friendships when – shock – I failed to remember the other constant in capitalism: competition.

My brother, specifically.

“Hey man, this is my turf.”

“But we don’t want your candy.”

“What – why?”

“He’s selling it for a dime.”

HURK. Undercut. By my own brother.

And almost as soon as it had begun, PHASE TWO quickly dissolved into PHASE THREE: SADLY EAT CANDY ALONE AT RECESS.

I later asked my brother why he did it. Why sell the candy at cost to run me out of the bus candy business?

His reply? “Just to mess with you. I wanted to stop you.”

 

Ah. Well. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

I was a trash bag raisin.

As a long time semi-professional candyologist, I have always been a big fan of Halloween. Filling a pillowcase with FREE CANDY?! WHAT COULD BE BETTER. Wait – we’re dressed up while we do it?! YES!

I do recall being excited about the costumes, especially when we could wear them to school, but I can’t really remember any of mine. I know at one point I was a princess with that plastic princess mask. At my parents’ place there’s probably a series of three photos pertaining to that: 1. I’m in a pretty princess dress and the mask on my face, 2. I’ve taken the mask off my face because it’s hot and uncomfortable and I’m now wearing it like a hat 3. I’m crying because the elastic broke and my mask has fallen off.

Other than that, I don’t really remember any others costumes…well. Except the raisin. I remember being a California Raisin. If you could call it a Halloween “costume”.

I was probably about five or six, which put us at the end of the 80s. There were probably lots of hot costumes for boys: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Alf… We likely didn’t have a lot of money, so those high dollar name brand costumes were out of our price range. If we had opted to do something like them, we would have probably been some off brand characters like Super Transformed Samurai Tortoises, Skymanbat, and Dorf.

My brother probably cried about having some lame knockoff costume. I probably cried because I didn’t want to be a princess uh-gain. So my mom had two kids who needed to have costumes to go Trick Or Treating and was just about at her wits end.

I’m not sure if she read about it in a magazine or perhaps saw a commercial on TV and was divinely inspired… But soon my brother and I would be transformed into… California Raisins.

Here’s a refresher if you didn’t live in or remember the late 80s/early 90s:

The California Raisins were a claymation R&B group that started with a commercial (for raisins) that captured people’s hearts. It grew into bigger and more elaborate commercials, albums with R&B songs, and I seem to recall watching a TV special with the Raisins. There were toys, too. I’m pretty sure I had a dancing raisin and an FM/AM radio housed in the body of a raisin. They were a big deal.

My mom got the idea to take trash bags, cut out leg and arm holes, fill them with newspaper, and to give us white gloves and sunglasses.

Yes, my brother and I were trash bag raisins.

I have no photos of this, dear reader, but instead I have elected to recreate this for you as an ‘It’s Casual Friday’ exclusive.

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I know that’s a lot to take in. Give yourself a moment if you need it.

Now, understand, I was not a popular child. And when I went to school dressed like this, there was a slight issue. Not one made readily apparent in the photo above. You see, raisins start as grapes, but as they dry they take on a dark brownish hue. My mother, wanting to be accurate (but also likely because they were on hand), used these blackish brown trash bags for the costumes. She stuffed mine full of newspaper and sent me to school.

When the children had to guess my costume, they did not guess that I was a raisin. No.

They guessed I was a poop.

With sunglasses and white gloves.

I can just remember bawling and crying, “I’m not!! I’m a California Raisin!” over and over. Not even candy could fix this injustice. From then on, I hated the California Raisins. I gave away my toys. I howled when they were on the TV. I actually buried the memory of this incident pretty deep, until a coworker was talking about bad Halloween costumes. Then it all came flooding back. Maybe those other forgotten costumes have residual traumas attached as well.

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I do look rather raisin-y there. Happy Halloween, everybody.

How To Make Your Own Barbie Candy Dress Cake

I used to make candy cakes: Styrofoam cakes with candy hot glued to the outside. The candy simply pulls off the styrofoam and you take off the wrapper and enjoy. My Barbie Candy Cake is by far the most popular thing I’ve posted on Pinterest. It’s a cake with a REAL BARBIE DOLL INSIDE. No weird disembodied torso, OH NO. THE REAL DEAL. Here she is, in all her purple glory:

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Pretty neat, yes? The advantage of creating these cakes at the candy store was that there was professional equipment at our disposal, like a heated styrofoam cutter, and literally hundreds of sizes and shapes of candy. While you don’t have an entire candy store at the ready, this Barbie candy cake IS possible to make in your own home. And hey – I needed a birthday present, so now is just as good a time as any to make the tutorial.

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I will say that the equipment makes or breaks the “doability” of this project.

Supplies:

  • Hot glue gun
  • Hot glue
  • A hot styrofoam cutter OR serrated knife (a bread knife is cool)
  • A vacuum
  • A drill with spades*

*This is to drill the hole Barbie will go in. If you don’t have a drill you’re going to end up just hacking away a hole in the middle of the styrofoam so Barbie can go inside. Is this easy or safe? Not terribly. The wiser investment might be plunking down a 20 at Michaels for that hot styrofoam cutter.

Shopping List:

  • Anything from the above list you don’t have
  • (2) 8” Cake Dummies (they will be 4″ tall)
  • 1 9” Cake Round (Cardboard Circle)
  • Tissue Paper (to cover the cake round, so maybe in a coordinating color)
  • A chunk of cardstock 4”x8” (we literally used a chunk of a cereal box)
  • A Barbie, with a short skirt or bathing suit outfit
  • A giant pile of candy in your color scheme

 

Lets discuss the shopping list. The cake dummies are just round styrofoam chunks. Cake decorators use them for practice. You will use them to create the dress. They, and your cake round, can be purchased from any cake decoration store. Support a small business; shop at a local one!

As for the candy, I’d get a color theme in mind. Match it with your Barbie. My Barbie and candy was from around Valentine’s, so that’s why we’re working with a lot of red and pink. You want to make sure you’re picking things that will glue on easily. Anything like a Tootsie Roll isn’t ideal because the hot glue and the wax wrapper aren’t friends. It will just fall off. I love Air Heads candy because they’re a. delicious and b. get good coverage. Laffy Taffy in all it’s wonderful shapes and sizes is also a plus. The purple Barbie has a fan in the back of her dress made of a lollipop with more candy glued to it. My red Barbie just had a few small lollipops in the back. I like the tiny pops because they help fill weird holes and sometimes you can use the sticks for gluing (more on this below).

When thinking of where you can buy the candy, I’d look to local candy stores and bulk food shops first. I made the mistake of trying a Party City first. I went to three before giving up on them. A lesson in taking my own advice. Shop local!

A note: Please keep your kids in mind when picking candy. Allergies are always a concern and sometimes tiny candy is a choking hazard. Be mindful, be safe. Okay, you have a pile of tools! Lets GET TO WORK.

MAKING THE BARBIE CANDY CAKE:

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1. Glue the two cake dummies together using hot glue, one on top of the other. You don’t need to hot glue the thing to death, just enough to create a solid bond, so you have a cylinder that is 8″ tall and 8″ across. While the glue cools…

2. Mark center on both the top and the bottom. That’s 4” in. At this point you’ll pick out your wide spade for the drill or if using a foam cutter, measure a 2” circle to be your guide for cutting out the middle so Barbie can fit. Barbie has booty.

3. Oh yeah, secure Barbie’s skirt, if she has one. I used the rubber bands from her packaging.

4. Get your vacuum ready and drill/cut your hole, working from the top and bottom so you meet in the middle. Our spade was 1.5”, so we wiggled it around a little. Styrofoam will fly and stick to everything because of static electricity and science. The vacuum will keep you from going crazy trying to clean up. The hot cutter will be cleaner and might not need the vacuum. If the edge is rough, that’s okay. You’ll cover it with candy.

 

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Look! Barbie has a very couture minimalist wedding dress now. It’s a statement about the wedding industrial complex. She’s writing her thesis on it.


5. Take Barbie out and grab your cardstock. This is going to be a guide for the slope of your dress curve. Draw on the cardboard approximately what you want your curve to look like. Cut on the inside of the curve. This will give you your guide. You can see it below in the action shot of us cutting down the foam.

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6. Take your bread knife or foam cutting knife and start shaving chunks away. Use the guide and check your progress, by holding it up to your cake. This will help you keep a consistent curve. Otherwise her dress might be weird and lumpy. Again, being exact isn’t 100% necessary because you are covering it with candy. I made a gif of that cutting action for you.

Another note: for the love of all candy, please be careful cutting and drilling and gluing this all together. There are so many exciting ways you can hurt yourself working on this. Take your time and be cautious. I will say it is most likely you’ll burn yourself with the hot glue gun. I’ve done it myself. Careful. Please. Thank you.

7. After cutting away the sides, do a height check. We found that Barbie’s hips were at about 7.5” so we cut a final half inch slice off the bottom.

Ooo dang it’s looking like a dress now!

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8. Now we assess our candy situation and think about how to design our dress. I completely just make up a dress. I use bigger candy as poofs and try to make layers. The nice thing about the hot glue is if it sucks, you can rip it off and start over. So play around. I like to use the rope Laffy Taffy to define my poofs. The two tone thing (like the purple Barbie) takes more design savvy to pull off, but I think it looks really cool.

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When looking at coverage, I’ll sometimes lay out my candy so I can see how I’m doing. You want to make the front and sides as symmetrical as you can. It looks crummy if it isn’t. The back is the back, so it’s kind of fair game to kind of have it a little messy. But for the front and sides? Yeah. Matchy matchy. It also helps, I think, to establish a pattern.

9. Start slapping glue on there. Apply some, not a lot, of glue to your candy. Press it to the foam and hold for maybe 5 seconds.

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Sometimes you end up with weird little holes peaking out inbetween your candy. My recommendation is to take some of that tissue paper and dab a little glue on it. Use a lollipop stick to poke it inbetween you candy to cover up the styrofoam. Honestly, you’ll see the gaps and no one else will, but this is a cheap and easy fix. You could also use small candy like the Jolly Rancher. My finished dress also has zots turned on their sides glued in. I think it make it look like little bow/tufts on the side.

10. Once you’ve filled in all your gaps, your dress is complete! Give it a once over and see if anything is loose. A little extra gluing won’t hurt, especially if it needs to travel somewhere else. Once this is done, take the cake round, hot glue the tissue paper to it, and glue it to the bottom of the dress, tissue paper color side up. Make sure you leave the center 2″ free of glue so Barbie’s shoes don’t get glued down. This is your base.

That’s it! At this point, you have a finished Barbie cake! Ta da! You did it!

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Once the candy is devoured, Barbie can be slipped out and played with separately and the cake (if not too beat up) might live to be another dress. Play around, see what kind of color patterns you like and most importantly – HAVE BACKUP CANDY. You might get hungry while you work. It’s part of the design process. Happy crafting!

Speaking of cakes.

Update: I normally don’t update posts, but since so many have requested a how-to for the Barbie cake, I have made one. You can check it out on this blog post. Thanks for your interest, everyone!

As I have mentioned, I worked for a time at a candy store. Well, candy store slash gift shop. It was GREAT. It had a ton of kitschy little gift items, with which I was well acquainted and very much a fan, but also had tons of candy.

I’ve been a candy fiend since I was a kid. We’d spend our allowances exclusively on candy. Airheads. Warheads. Big League Chew. Jolly Ranchers. Snickers. Reese’s… Anything. The list went on and on. I loved it all. We ran a small candy ring out of our bus when we were in elementary school. We’d buy Airheads at 10 cents at the grocery store and sell it for a quarter. Not bad! It was well-known that they cost 10 cents but we’d start yelling about supply and demand and that was that. Some Christmases ago my parents gave me a Costco case of Airheads as a gift. I ate all 75 of them in a day and a half. In the 8th grade I was in a class where our algebra teacher brought in supplies once from his side business as a vending machine operator. What was a loosely academic discussion of how a business operates turned into selling us candy twice a week in the middle of class. The school eventually asked him to stop.

Candy was my thing. So it was only a matter of time until I worked for a candy store.

Splenda, goddess of sugar

The above photo is from Halloween, sacred holiday of the candy store. I am dressed as the Greek goddess, Splenda. My sandals are Tootsie Roll brand, my scepter a large lollypop, my laurel wreath accented with both fake greenery and small apple and watermelon Laffy Taffy.

The job was great. I love small business retail and I was very knowledgeable of the product. I met so many people like me. We were down the street from Houston’s main medical center, so there were stories related to that, too. People buying ginger chews for family members doing chemo (it helps!), kids running around like tiny terrors because this is the only fun they could have before heading back down the street… One time a guy ran in out of breath looking for a certain licorice for his wife, who was IN LABOR (!) in their car. She wanted him to get “her candy” before they were stuck in the hospital.

And my favorite part of the candy store job? Making candy cakes.

A circus tent made of Wonka candy

Jesus is my lifesaver

We would take foam cake rounds and hot glue on candy. The cake above was a custom order done for a church tea. They said they wanted it Lifesaver themed because, “Jesus was their lifesaver.” They were very pleased with the results.

Barbie Cake

There were other non-round cakes, too. These Barbie cakes were from the mind of my old manager who would buy Barbies and insert them into the Styrofoam mold. The dress design was all me, though. Cool thing is that once the candy was all ripped off and eaten, your kid got to keep the Barbie.

Number Cake

Here you can see this number cake in progress. The uncovered Styrofoam peeking out… Perfect for an 8th birthday.

I really do miss the candy store some days. These cakes allowed me special creativity. Creating something with my hands. Something that starts without a road map that slowly comes together to form something I could take pride in.

8 Cake Finished

I suppose that’s what this blog is, now. A place to store and share my creativity.