Lyle Rango wasn’t always the loneliest candy man in Maine. People the state over would travel miles to taste he and his ex-wife’s blue-ribbon maple fudge, prepared from an old family recipe. “That really was some fudge,” the 70-year old Rango tells me in the kitchen at the of his Ogunquit candy shop, which hasn’t had a visitor in four days. “But then, the fudge wasn’t the only thing that was smoother back then. I look back on Margot and I’s fudge years as the best of my life.” As he lets out a long sigh, tears well in the wrinkled corners of his eye. “I do a lot of looking back.”
Holding a drinking glass against his cheek, the old man’s tears collect in the cup, which he then gently dumps into a copper pot. The fudge years long behind him, Lyle Rango now uses his lonely tears to make salt-water taffy.
“When I first started, I used salty, salty ocean water to make the taffy,” Lyle tells me as he stands over his sink, washing the single plate and spoon that he owns. “But the ocean water gave everyone bad diarrhea. As if the world needed another reason to hate me. I’m always messing things up.”
The candy man points to the day that he got fudge all over the piece of paper on which the fudge recipe was written down as the day everything went wrong.
“My wife and I were both laughing at the idea of a bird president, but I laughed too hard and spilled the fudge mix right on the secret fudge instructions. I just couldn’t remember the batch measurements after that, and neither could Margot. Two cups brown sugar, two cups regular sugar… what was next? Was it 3/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup corn syrup, or 3/4 cup corn syrup and 1/4 cup maple syrup? There certainly wasn’t any laughing after that day.”
Lyle and Margot tried to fudge it themselves, testing new recipes. When they unveiled their newly formulated fudge at Ogunquit’s Seagull Days Festival that year though, everyone said it tasted like gritty cat shit. “That was literally the headline in the local paper the next morning” Lyle sighs, pointing to the framed clipping on the wall. “Seemed needlessly cruel to me then, but I guess they were right.”
Margot framed the paper the day she left Lyle, taking their dog to her new house in Rhode Island. “After the Seagull Days Festival fiasco, she told me she just couldn’t live with a fudge dud anymore. Still, I guess the fact that my wife had a secret house in another state that she never told me told me about also says something about the state of our marriage. I wish this fudge dud hadn’t laughed that day.”
Lyle’s attempts to laugh again were how he got found taffy in the first place.
“I hadn’t been in the candy kitchen for two months, when one day I was waiting for a prescription to be filled at the pharmacy — I took a walk down the candy aisle, and there I saw it: Laffy Taffy. I liked it’s rhyming name, and I thought ‘Hey, maybe taffy could make me smile again.’ As soon as my pills were ready, I got right to work.”
It turns out that cooking taffy only made Lyle feel worse because it reminded him of making fudge with Margot, and how everyone in town hated him now. After a stumble with tainted ocean taffy though, he found a way to literally sweeten his sadness.
“The first batch of tear-taffy wasn’t for other people. I sent it to Margot in Rhode Island as a trick, hoping that maybe she would taste it see how sad I was and come back to me.” That didn’t happen, but Margot’s new husband and their three beautiful children sent Lyle a thank you note.
“They loved it,” the old man whimpers, turning beet red and raising the glass to his cheek again. “They really loved it.”
“Taffy is already one of the saddest foods there is,” Lyle blubbers, really falling right the fuck apart now. “I’m just doing my part to carry on that tradition. Please tell people about my store, I’m really struggling.”
Unfortunately for Lyle Rango — the loneliest candy man in Maine — I got taffy on the piece of paper with the name and address of his store on it, and had to throw it away.