"I was running the business on my own," she says. "I was so stressed out, people are constantly trying to take advantage of you. And he was back home sleeping with other girls and taking my money."

Oh, but it's even worse than that.
"He and his mother were stealing my money, and I found out from one of my friends," Candy fires out. "When I found out, I was in Montreal, and I flew back and said, 'This is it. I will not be taken advantage of.'"

Exit Mr. Thoughtful.
So why didn't Candy quit the business at this point? Well, it takes money to go to college, and it had to come from somewhere. Back to the spotlight. "I saved my money, made my goals, and I want to get out," she clarifies. "Now I can."

Miss Cantaloupes may be getting out, but she's leaving with a few memories and some lessons learned, to say the least. Once she met two dancers on the road, helped them move here from St. Louis and let them stay at her place while she traveled. "They gave my bird drugs. They killed my parrot when I was out of town. I had an autopsy done, and it was crystal methamphetamine."

She's done all the talk shows, so many she can't remember them all. ("The dancers that get in and want to stay in are the ones that remember every little detail.") And guess the themes of the programs she's appeared on.

"'Breasts,'" says Candy. "'Large breasts.' 'Men who love them,' 'Women who hate women with large breasts,' you name it."

You can probably name current taste sensation Howard Stern's attraction to Candy, too, but the experience on his show "wasn't one of the better ones I've had in my life," she admits.

"He has a huge following among men because he says stuff that a lot of men think and feel and want to say to women, and I don't think it's right. I don't agree with degradation."

Yet nobody put a gun to her head to get her on the show.
"Oh, yeah, I'm not complaining," says Candy, shrugging. "That is the persona that has made him popular. Everybody has their thing, like my breasts. I can't sit here and be dogmatic on myself--you know, screw Howard Stern and his attitude--when I've done what I've done to my breasts to make money. He's the way he is to make money."

And, finally, she has learned a bit about men.
"I hear all the complaints of a lot of the men who come in here, and I understand how to make my marriage much better, when I get married again. Most of the time, they'll complain about their wife, say she's gotten fat, she's out of shape, and I say, 'Oh, what are you?'

"They're like 50 pounds overweight, no hair, missing a couple teeth. When men look at themselves in the mirror, they overlook half of their flaws. You don't marry someone for the way they look, you marry them for what they have inside."

I wonder if, for the past four years, she hasn't been providing some kind of fantasy image, a ridiculous standard by which all those foolish men are measuring their poor wives.

Candy sucks in a long drag. "Yeah, that's what's wrong with it."

By the time you read this, Candy Cantaloupes will be history. According to her plans, she will be in New York City, close to her current boyfriend. He's a sock manufacturer--"Everybody's wearing them!"--who lives in Montreal; they met at a disco.

"His family loves and accepts me," she says, beaming. "His mom loves me, his brothers and sisters, everybody. They make me feel so comfortable. I go to pool parties and wear bikinis; nobody says anything. My ex-boyfriend's family, his mother told him that my boobs were grotesque and disgusting. She also said, 'Do you really want to get involved with a girl who has so much baggage?'

"Why should I have to pay for being abused? Baggage you go and buy, you choose what baggage you want. When you get abused, nobody asks you if you would like to get beat or abused today."

And somewhere between here and New York, Candy will become Valerie again, a girl who got married at 19, had a surgeon giveth, will have one taketh away, and, hopefully, will come out the other end of this whole thing to live happily ever after.

Or, at the very least, have this come true: "I can hardly wait to go into a room and have people say, 'Look at her, she's attractive,' and not, 'Look at her boobs.'

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