assault water taffy
(originally posted 5/28/2021)
To most people ‘intrepid’ is just another word. To Sarah J. Jay, recent graduate from a low-ranking school of journalism and an even-more-recent hire at the local newspaper in Ocean City, New Jersey, it was her highest aspiration.
She wanted to be considered an intrepid journalist more than just about anything else she’s ever wanted. Since she was a little kid. Her friends and family tell stories of her walking around in grade school with her notepad, taking notes and interviewing both students and faculty. A veritable Louis Lane, sans the Superman.
So when the paper gave her her first assignment she threw herself into it.
In Ocean City there are two salt water taffy establishments that vie for the title of Ocean City’s best taffy. They both sit on the boardwalk and for decades the owners of these two businesses maintained both a healthy rivalry and a close friendship.
Recently that ended. They no longer speak. The readership of the Ocean City newspaper demanded to know why (or so she was told).
That was the story that intrepid reporter Sarah. J. Jay was asked to deliver. “Get to the bottom of it” she was instructed.
She began the article with a quick history of taffy. The recipe was created in nearby Atlantic City in the late 19th Century by either Enoch James or Joseph Fralinger, depending on which of them you believe. It got the name salt water taffy after a candy-store owner named David Bradley had his shop flooded during a major storm in 1883 and his taffy got soaked in salty Atlantic Ocean water.
Salt water taffy was born.
Fascinating stuff and things were off to a flying start. The problem, as Sarah was soon to learn, was neither of the individuals in question would talk to her about their falling out. Both men not only refused to provide any insights into what happened between them but, ironically enough, they were downright salty about it.
Definitely an obstacle to completing the assignment for all but the most intrepid of reporters.
After spending hours on the boardwalk speaking to local shop owners and other interested parties she was able to pinpoint the exact day that their friendship seemed to come to an abrupt end; the day of the annual fundraising bike ride.
All of Ocean City seemed to take part. A ride to Atlantic City and back again. Forty miles roundtrip. Beautiful weather. Witnesses said there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when the two of them set off together. They always rode next to each other as they were starting to get up there in age and there were some difficult parts to the ride.
Hours later they rode back separately and not a word has passed between them since.
Her journalistic juices were really flowing. What could have happened that caused them to end their friendship?
She’d never felt more intrepid in her life. Downright plucky. Her mind swam with possible explainations. The glamorous and the far-fetched, Occam’s razor be damned, her entire life had led up to this moment. Everything had led her here. Ready to deliver the unvarnished truth to the good people of Ocean City, New Jersey.
Then she found out what happened. Someone had witnessed the whole thing. Someone who didn’t know either of the men beforehand. Someone who had never spoken a word of the incident to anyone.
To try and forget what he’d seen.
He was changing a flat when one of the two, he had never met them so he couldn’t say which one was which, pulled over.
“Probably better I’ll never know who was who. As it is I’ll never be able to eat salt water taffy again. I heard the whole thing. I saw the whole thing.” He then shook his head as if trying to get the images to depart.
The eye witness went on to describe the following scene; an older man getting a terrible cramp in his leg which caused him to stop pedaling. Dutifully his friend stopped with him. “Suddenly the cramps got worse and the one guy collapsed in agony.” He described how the friend was clearly flustered and trying to help. “He was looking around wildly for assistance but we were pretty far away from the pack.” At this point apparently the friend remembered something he’d read in an Ironman magazine about cramps. “He told his friend that the only way to stop the pain of cramps is to stick a finger in the ass. Something about relaxing the muscles.”
The intrepid Sarah J. Jay leaned forward, scribbling away on her notepad.
The witness continued with the story, telling her about how desperate the man in pain was becoming. “Desperate enough to try anything.”
Sarah’s pen stopped moving and she slowly looked up at the eye witness.
“Yep. Except… he misunderstood. Apparently his friend was supposed to stick a finger in his ass.”
The quickly-becoming-less-intrepid reporter’s mouth fell open. “So the man suffering with cramps… stuck his… in the…” she began but couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.
The witness simply nodded.
Later that night the formerly-intrepid reporter Sarah J. Jay filed her first and last article with the Ocean City newspaper. It was a short piece about how salt water taffy got its name.
The next morning she started looking through the Help Wanted ads.
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