This work first appeared in Yemassee 21.2.
When I remember the Ding Dong, I remember a girl. This girl and I were young, still in college, said, “I love you” too soon, good practice, but otherwise, words to fill the air. She hailed from Pennsylvania, was distinctly proud of being not Midwestern, and said “forest” like “farrest.” She also knew “Ding Dongs” as “King Dons.” I didn’t believe her, that there were two names for the same thing, and without anyone to ask or the Internet yet to check, I told her to have her parents mail some.
Weeks later, we passed the Hostess display at the White Hen and I asked her if the King Dons ever came. She said no, smiling, and after prodding her all the way back to her apartment as to why, she told me her father refused, that when she asked him, he said it was ridiculous, a waste of his time and hers. She agreed. “Did you really think my dad was going to drive to a store, buy a package of donuts, drive to the Post Office, and mail it to us, just to settle a bet? He’s a doctor, you realize. He has a practice.” I played it off as her making it all up: Ding Dongs were Ding Dongs in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Paris, and King Don was the name of the Ding Dong mascot with the crown and scepter, friend to Twinkie the Kid, Captain Cupcake, and Fruit Pie the Magician. Today, I know it was the first sign of the end, but back then, my feelings were just hurt.
That winter, over semester break, I traveled east with this girl, stayed in her house, met the honorable Dr. and Mrs. Ridiculous, and on a trip to a drug store, saw the King Dons on the shelf, right there between the Ho Hos and Sno Balls. She elbowed me in the side and bought me a pack, but I didn’t eat them. I wanted to take them home and show my family, people who would appreciate the humor of the other name as much as I did. They were good-humored people, and any one of them would have mailed anything to me I asked, to prove a point to someone, for a joke, or to give them something to do. They would have driven a packet of mayonnaise down to my dorm at a moment’s notice, just for an excuse to take me to dinner and check the oil in the Suburban. When this girl and I left her parents’ to go back to school, I forgot the King Dons in the room where I slept, but it didn’t matter. On the drive across Pennsylvania, we decided to break it off. We’d be graduating that spring and if we weren’t planning a wedding—and we weren’t—there was no point. We drove the last eight hours listening to mix tapes, and when we got to her apartment, I picked up my toothbrush and never talked to her again.
When Hostess went under last year and everyone was crying the death of the Twinkie—Twinkies somehow became the only worldly concern—I took my daughters to the Kroger and emptied the shelves of Ding Dongs, eight boxes of twelve, seven two-packs, and some Ho Hos because they were close enough. We all ate one Ding Dong in the parking lot and I told them about some states calling them King Dons, which they didn’t believe, and for some reason, made a point about these Ding Dongs being the last in existence. My youngest, four years old, started to cry. She’d never lost a grandparent or even a goldfish, and before then, may never have tasted a Ding Dong, either. But she was hysterical. My older girl, six, started crying, and then I started to cry, too, all of us in the van, at a stoplight, crying over Ding Dongs, over a hundred of them right there. The light turned green and I didn’t move, cars behind me honking their horns, and I reached into the open box on the seat and offered my girls another. “No, Daddy,” my youngest said, pushing my hand away. “These need to last the rest of our lives.”
Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three collections of stories, Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009), Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012) and the forthcoming I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside Splendor, 2015), as well as the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 2010. He is an assistant professor at Missouri State University and Editor of Moon City Review.