Have you heard? Pine Bros. Cough Drops are back. OK, maybe you never knew what they were in the first place. Maybe you weren’t lucky (unlucky?) enough to be a teenager on Long Island in the 1980s and stop in the Blackrock Pharmacy on the way to your daily after-school rec-center basketball games to buy two boxes of their best flavor, Wild Cherry, to eat before dinner.
Before I reveal more details, I should provide this disclaimer: Pine Bros. Cough Drops had nothing to do with coughs. They were candies disguised as medicine, and they were as addictive as any opiate (and believe me, I know). Fourteen “medicated drops” would come in a box, and that box wouldn’t last very long. Each shiny piece, maybe a half-inch in length and quarter-inch deep, was a chemical wonder: the perfect mixture of corn syrup, glycerin, and deep, rich cherry flavor. Each hard-but-still-kind-of-soft bite inflicted a feeling on the incisors best described as sweet, mild pain.
My parents bought them. My grandparents bought them. It’s possible that their parents bought them, too.
And then, maybe while I was at college in the late ‘80s and early 1990s, Pine Bros. Cough Drops disappeared. I spent five or six years checking drugstores, newsstands, candy shops, pharmacies and then, of course, the burgeoning mega-stores like Target, Walmart and K-Mart, before giving up. I’d see tons of Ricolas and Ludens and Halls and Brand Z options, but they never interested me. I only wanted Pine Bros., and I began to think I’d never see them again.
In 2009, I found a random website containing a thread devoted to desperate Pine-seekers. Still no luck, though. Some weirdo had purchased some honey-flavored drops (OK-tasting, but I always preferred cherry) made in the ‘80s off of eBay for fifty dollars a box or something nonsensical. And there was a hipster shop in Brooklyn with a few boxes from back in the day that I assumed were stored atop dust-riddled shelves, but some freak snapped those up, too. And that was it.
Until last year.
After a trip back to New York and a drunken nostalgia session with my sister that included the questions, “Do you remember Pine Bros. Cough Drops?” and “Whatever happened to them?”, in succession, I remembered to check the web again, and somehow someone had come to their senses. The rumor was that the company name had been purchased, the recipes were being cooked up again, and sooner or later Pine Bros. would be back in the hands and mouths of people like me. Like I do with most internet findings, I forgot about it until recently. I checked and learned that they were out and in stores.
Like a man beaten down by adversity — cold, deprived and withdrawn — with nothing left to lose, I sped off to Walgreen’s. Nope. Just the usual, familiar boxes and sacks of drops that actually medicate coughs but don’t taste or feel nearly as good as Pine Bros. did.
Target. Nope. Just Ludens and generic brands and miles of Halls. Jesus Fucking Christ Halls has a lot of flavors.
Rite-Aid? Wrong-aid. Goddammit this was getting annoying.
I checked the new website (pinebros.com) and found out that CVS carries them. Awesome. I couldn’t wait. I plugged in my location at the CVS.com store locator. Oh yeah, that’s right. I’ve never noticed a CVS around here for a good reason: there are none!
Once again, feeling beaten, I forgot about it. That is, until my son’s dentist appointment last week. As chance would have it, I had forgotten to grab the parking ticket for validation, so while we were in the waiting room I went back down to the lobby and began walking to the parking-garage elevator. I turned around and saw the Subway sandwich shop and Bartells Drugstore connected to the building.
I had to at least look, right?
It was a good thing I did, for there, atop the cough drop rack, in new round plastic containers, were Pine Bros. “Throat Drops.” No longer is the company silly enough to print the word “medicine” on the front of the package, and no longer do the containers hold 14. These canisters contain 26 “softish” drops and go for about three bucks a pop!
Like I gave a shit about money.
I bought all six canisters of Wild Cherry and one of Honey, just for the hell of it. I floated above the marble lobby tile all the way to the 12th floor, forgetting the validation ticket yet again. I beamed as I thrust the bag in my wife’s direction, saying something to the effect of, “I found Pine Bros.! I found Pine Bros!” over and over until she told me to shut up.
I bit into the Wild Cherry and was taken back to my childhood. The texture was perfect. The flavor was pretty fucking close. I was in heaven. The honey flavor was still OK, but it’s not as close as the way it used to taste as the cherry flavor. They’ll need to keep working on that one.
On the drive home, I realized my life has been changed once again, and I basked in the rediscovered glow, munching one Wild Cherry drop after another, blowing through the first canister and blasting right into the second one. By the time I unlocked my front door, I had consumed what had to be a personal record of 37 drops.
That night, at the end of this rainbow, I found out another secret about Pine Bros.: When you eat too many of them, they cause gas that can strip the paint off an aircraft carrier.
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