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Memories from the company picnic stick with a man like cotton candy

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For 27 years, I had the pleasure of working in various capacities for the Cantol Chemical Co. We were a small manufacturer of specialty and industrial chemical products such as cleaners, degreasers, drain treatments, weed killers and a variety of products for other industrial and commercial needs.

Aside from living the adventures of a commission salesman and later a sales manager, it seemed like I experienced even greater thrills and chills as I attended our yearly company picnics.

The picnics were always a great production. We would rent a nice facility that would accommodate the staff and their families, complete with picnic grounds, baseball fields and other areas to keep both adults and kiddies occupied for five to six hours. Our corporate sales manager, Lamarr Dobbs, would do the bulk of the planning and always did a wonderful job.

I remember my first picnic in 1984. It was held at the Shark River Park, a beautiful facility in Wall Township, N.J., which is about 45 miles east of Trenton and just about 5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Being very kid conscious, Lamarr decided to set up various games and other amusement rides that he included as part of the rental package. A lot of the salesmen, me included, had young children and to keep them happy for the length of the picnic was quite a difficult task. One such amenity provided to help in this regard was a dentist’s dream … the cotton candy machine.

Of course, Lamarr needed someone to operate the thing and, being the new guy, I was drafted. The temperature was about 90 degrees and being in that little booth was both uncomfortable and claustrophobic. However, neither of those conditions compared with the feeling you got when you tried to spin the cotton candy onto the stick as the machine twirled around producing the sticky, sugary mess. I was wearing a T shirt and my right arm was coated with cotton candy as soon as I tried to produce an edible amount on the stick. Only some quick thinking on my part got me out of there after about 20 minutes of dealing with screaming little kids who loved that stuff almost as much as the bees loved landing on my arm to have their taste. I asked one of the mothers to fill in for me while I went to the men’s room. As I walked away, I looked back and she was actually enjoying the job. Who was I to deprive her of such happiness? I shuffled off to another venue, never to return to that gooey den. Later, she actually thanked me for “letting” her handle the job. God bless her.

A few years later, I was a district manager for the company and had hired one of my Temple University baseball teammates, Jim Walker. Aside from being a good salesman and a wonderful guy, Jimmy had a great pair of hands. One of the events of the day was the highly competitive egg-catching contest. The guys would pair-up and the team that caught the most eggs without breaking one would be declared the winner. Naturally, I chose Jim to be my partner. At first the two lines would face each other from a distance of 10 yards, throw the egg underhand to the partner and see what happened. After each throw, the lines would move farther apart, until there were only two pairs of contestants remaining. They kept going until one team dropped and broke the egg or the egg splattered in one’s hands as it was being caught. Now you can see why Jimmy’s “soft hands” were such an asset. My being an ex-infielder used to handling a baseball quickly and softly, proved to be a winning combination. We won, beating my buddy from New York and his partner. Bragging rights were ours for at least one year. However, the victory was not without some controversy.

When we were down to three pairs of contestants from the starting group of 12 teams, I was standing in line waiting for our turn when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a projectile heading my way. It seems a smuggled egg was thrown at me by our boss, in an attempt to disrupt my concentration. As I juked to the left to avoid being splattered, I slipped on the damp grass, falling on my left shoulder. After all of the chuckles and guffaws of my beloved co-workers, I toughed it out and we won. My shoulder was aching so much that the boss, in a moment of penitence, drove me to the local hospital where X-rays were taken and my arm put into a sling for the remainder of the day. The good news was that there was no separation but the bad news is that I am the only guy I know who was severely injured in an egg-throwing contest. So much for machismo at the company picnic!

But, if I had to speak of the most hair-raising event at one of our picnics, it would have to be in 1989, when I represented our Philly office at our Midwest division event. It was our practice to send one of our local managers to join in the fun and this year, I would go along with our comptroller. Our plan that evening was to fly to Indianapolis and then pick up a commuter flight to our destination only about an hour away. Naturally, the weather was awful. The rain was coming down in sheets and we arrived at Indy about an hour late. Our commuter flight was on time but the weather was so bad that I was having visions of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. My flying companion was more shook up than I was and we considered renting a car and driving the rest of the way. However, being tired, we decided to take the flight and walked outside, in the pouring rain to the small 20 seater with its whirling propellers. As I climbed the portable stairs to enter the plane, I looked inside and saw a young kid, in a baseball cap, who looked about 18. Next to him was another young guy who wasn’t much older. My first thought was, “Oh my God, are these kids going to fly this thing?” The answer was a fateful “yes.” As we took off, bouncing into the rainy night, it seemed like it took forever to get to cruising altitude. But, I must say, we both calmed down once up there and the pilot seemed to be quite capable. As we were about to land, that feeling of relief all changed as smoke began to rise up from under the 20 seats. Amazingly, no one on the plane seemed concerned. Obviously the regulars on this commuter flight were familiar with the condensation “smoke” caused by the air conditioned air as it came in contact with the warmth of the floor and the exhaust system.

After that flight, the cotton candy and egg trauma didn’t seem so bad!

Charlie Sacchetti
Author: Charlie Sacchetti

Charlie Sacchetti is the author of three books, “It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change;” “Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch,” and his newest, “Savoring the Moments: True Stories of Happiness, Sadness and Everything in Between.” Contact him at worthwhilewords21@gmail.com.

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