MIDDLEBURY - Talk about a curiously strong reaction to a box of breath mints. Several weeks ago, Becky Dayton, owner of the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, got a phone call from "an angry customer" complaining about a line of popular mints she sells at her register. The candies, which are packaged in assorted tins under such names as "Impeachmints," "Indictmints" and "National Embarassmints," feature unflattering illustrations of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and other White House officials. According to Dayton, the customer was offended by the satirical cartoons and said they were "inappropriate" for a small, independent bookseller.
The irate customer, Frederick Fritz, didn't mention his position in the community. He didn't have to - Dayton immediately recognized him as chair of the Middlebury College board of trustees.
"The thing that was most offensive to me was his scolding attitude and his claim that booksellers are held to a higher standard," Dayton says. "He made some comment about how our mission should be to have 'a free exchange of ideas.'"
Fritz, who describes himself as a "longtime, enthusiastic customer of the Vermont Book Store," acknowledges that he lodged a complaint to the store clerk, then later to Dayton. However, he insists that his objections were raised "as a customer and local resident," not as an official representative of Middlebury College. "Left, right or center, I didn't think a political statement belonged right there at the checkout counter," Fritz says. "I thought it was inappropriate. Others may have a different opinion. That was mine."
The Main Street bookseller, which has been in business since 1949 - Dayton has owned it for the last 2-and-a-half years - isn't affiliated with the private college. However, the store occasionally orders books on behalf of faculty members when they can't get them through their campus bookstore. She also stocks books by some authors who are scheduled to speak on campus.
"I did feel very intimidated because of who [Fritz] is and the attitude he took with me," she adds. "Because he was offended, I should change how I do my business?"
The sweeter side of the story, Dayton notes, is that ever since this incident was first reported in a Middlebury Campus op-ed, she's sold about four times as many of the mints. Incidentally, the candies are a product of the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, a company founded by two brothers from Brooklyn, New York, who couldn't find jobs in academia.