I was probably nine years old, covered in trash, because back then we played in the dump behind my apartment complex.
There were plenty of parks nearby, but the kids I hung with in my native Flushing at the time were dirtbags out of central casting, and to be honest, I kind of enjoyed spelunking through old rusted appliances. Every now and then we’d find a porno mag, and inevitably we’d rumble until somebody prevailed and claimed ownership of it. But best of all, when we finally dug enough change out of sopping wet couch pillows, we brought our shrapnel to the Asian grocery around the block and bought Slush Puppies.
The owner of the corner store was nice enough to let us in covered in filth, but he was also a notorious scoundrel and cheapskate. So one day when I showed up with 40 cents and asked him to spot me a dime for a 50 cent Slush Puppie, he rejected my proposal, but said that I could have the ice—only with no flavor. Not much of a negotiator, I accepted the deal with no argument, and walked out with my Garbage Pail Kid buddies, jealous of the sweet delicious neon swimming in their flimsy paper cups.
But then I sipped. Then slurped. Then gulped. Then gulped again. Then I ditched the straw—a risky move—and funneled the rest into my throat. Filled with a surprised enthusiasm, I looked up at my friends as if I had discovered gold but couldn’t believe it: “These things are better with no flavor!”
“Yeah right it’s better with no flavor, dickhead. Says the guy with a 40 cent cup of ice!”
They laughed in my face. But I knew that I was onto something, and frankly, I didn’t care if anybody else shared my enthusiasm for virgin slush. The joke was on them; not like anyone was counting calories in the ’80s, but as very few people realize, the ice in a traditional Puppie already tastes like rock candy before they squirt in the syrup. If you’re looking for a sugar shock to tilt your pancreas on edge, then by all means, go for Licious Lemon Limecicle or better yet, the Polar Purple Shiver. But on a blistering summer afternoon, whether following a day of scavenging through rubbish or of just shooting hoops, there’s nothing more refreshing than a naked Pup’, or as I have ordered it every time I’m fortunate enough to stumble onto a machine, “Just the ice please, no syrup whatsoever.” For me, even few savory comfort foods compare or conjure such sensual and vivid memories of preteen pleasure.
I’m not alone; all sorts of people worship everything from slush to shave ice—my family back in New York swears by the Lemon Ice King of Corona, while friends in Boston search for the legendary Slushie Man around Roxbury or smuggle tubs of Del’s delicious frozen lemonade over the border from Rhode Island. Among brain-freeze aficionados, though, there is an even smaller faction that appreciates an old-fashioned Slush Puppie, as opposed to the pre-mixed concoctions by that brand or any other, and a more elite club within that niche learned enough to “go clear.” A lot of people swear by Slurpees, and I respect the chemical concoction that enables my occasional frozen cola to remain chilled and fluffy in defiance of the sun and physics. But for me, the Puppie is the ideal rush. My crush, the perfect slush.
These days, I get my Puppies at Marascio’s Market in the Readville section of Hyde Park, about a block and a half from the home of former Boston Mayor Tom Menino. Better known to locals as “Johnny’s” for the longtime owner’s first name, the corner store is straight out of the 1940s, right down to the sausages they make in plain sight daily and a crew of regulars who occupy the back room. Going there, typically with my niece, throws me back to some of the best days of my youth. In a recent win, I even got her to start ordering Puppies with no flavor. “Just the ice,” she tells our friend behind the counter. The other day, I heard that Johnny sold the place, and word around the neighborhood is that the new proprietors are set to take over soon. It will be interesting to see what they do with the store, which could definitely use a makeover. If they move their perfect Pup’ even an inch, though, the city will be worse off for it.
SIX AREAS OF TOWN, SIX PLACES TO GET A SLUSHIE (AND IT’S MANY VARIANTS)
BOOZE POP: Night Market
48 JFK St., Cambridge
Did we say this was a booze-free feature? We hope not. If we did, we were lying, because you should definitely check out the frozen Sake slushies they’re slinging at Night Market.
READCHILL: Marascio’s Market
1758 River St., Hyde Park
As mentioned in the attached article. The original, the incredible Slush Puppie—remember to ask for one with no extra flavor.
DEL AGUA: Quincy Farmer’s Market
43 Dennis Ryan Pkwy., Quincy
Hard as it is to admit, the classic Rhode Island staple, Del’s Frozen Lemonade, out-cools all the competition. Yes, even Slush Puppie. Catch them on Fridays in the summer on this side of the Commonwealth border in Quincy.
SLUSH DADDY: Richie’s Classic Italian Slush
3 Garvey St., Everett
Don’t take it from us. Nah, take it from every guido who has ever proudly called the North Shore home. Or anyone else for that matter. When it comes to icy treats that require spoons, Richie’s has no peer.
ROYAL FREEZE: Slush King
Park St. and Copley Sq., Boston
We’re not sure how these guys keep all that cold deliciousness so, well, cold in the heat of summer, but we do know that seeing them posted on the edge of the Common is tantamount to finding an oasis.
ROX BERRY: Various Vendors
Franklin Park and Roxbury Mall
More of a shave ice than a traditional slush per se, you’ll want to look for a man or woman pushing one of those silver carts that blind you in the sun. See whatever flavor all the regulars are getting, and order the same for yourself.