A few days after Halloween of this year, I sat with a Snickers Peanut Butter Bar squared alongside the keyboard of my work computer. My eyes flicked back and forth between the screen and the candy bar, which was introduced in 2011 but hadn’t blipped onto my mental radar until minutes earlier, when I stood in a sliver of a bodega, next to The Producers Club on West 44th Street, debating which of the novelty junk foods seemed least likely to induce instant-tooth rot.
It had been more than a decade since I stopped eating candy. At the age of 18, the decision arrived on the heels of a visit to my childhood dentist, during the winter break of my freshman year of college. I had cavities in an unsettling large percentage of my teeth—nine in total—and my jaw was sore from staring at the good doctor’s perfectly patterned hair plugs, as he propped open my mouth with some sort of rubber gag piece. He was trying to save my pearly yellowish-whites. It wasn’t that I didn’t brush—I did, morning and night. But perhaps I had underestimated the decaying effect a daily packet of Tropical Skittles was having on my enamel. Either that, or I needed to stop brushing with Fun Dip.
It’s not unusual for college freshmen to test their limits: to drink beyond coherence, to eat late night grease bombs, to fuck without meaning. And my first semester was a good one, virtually without consequence, as my body displayed some sort of superhero’s metabolism for life, as I gauged my newfound freedoms. Drunken blackouts were never followed by hangovers. The freshman fifteen proved a myth. And my make-out sessions, including one with the woman who would one day become my wife, were (miraculously) STD-free.
But then came the cavities.
In Donald Antrim’s, The Hundred Brothers, 93-year-old Hiram, the oldest of the brothers, schools a younger sibling, “Your teeth are your greatest possession. You probably think your greatest possession is your johnson. But it’s not your johnson, it’s your teeth, especially your two front teeth.”
Only 75 years his junior, I suddenly understood what Hiram meant. My two front teeth had already suffered serious traumas. The front-right tooth had exploded in thirds, when a baseball met my face at full speed. The front-left had chipped along its bottom surface, when some neck-muscled MMA type decided to put me in a chokehold at a punk-rock show, and I decided that only pussies tap out. The cavities were a wake-up call. From then on, I would vow to protect my molars. And my johnson.
In the intervening years, I have remained almost entirely loyal to that winter-break pledge, while constructing a Catholic-inspired diet and lifestyle, built on guilt and the stifling of desires. But in the last few weeks, I have found myself lingering by my bodega’s counter-landscape of chocolates bars and gummy snacks, an array that seems to have remained virtually unchanged.
When I finally made my selection—a decision only slightly less difficult and life-defining than settling on a Netflix movie or a tattoo—even the store clerk understood something momentous was happening. He nodded and offered me a brown paper bag for the candy, like I were toting a tall boy back to work.
Back at my desk, I peeled open the wrapper and took a bite. It was dry, like the worst case of cottonmouth. The candy bar felt like caulking glue inside my mouth, the overhyped peanut butter substance overpowering all of the other factory-processed ingredients—nougat, peanuts, and caramel. This is what I’ve been missing?
I love peanut butter. But this was a different, dehydrated breed. Still, I ate on, finishing the first of the two squares. (And for the record, this has to be the greatest injustice in candy history: the two truncated segments in lieu of a single, unbroken bar. Think of 100 Grand or Take 5, two of the all-time greats—and not just because they combine alphabetic and numerical characters. Now think how much better they would be if they didn’t rob you of candy! Or if they had exclamation points!)
Snickers bar via.
As I bit into the second square, I held it upside down, by chance, and that actually turned out to be a beautiful accident. Suddenly, the candy was no longer a crumbling sandcastle. Instead, as my tongue hit the top layer of caramel, the whole taste experience became coated with a sugary lubricant. I honestly didn’t even want that second square, when I started in on it. I was basically full, and the first one had created no echoing craving for more. When I finished that second square, some long-dormant corn-syrup demon stirred from within my soul. The candy’s objective flaws in flavor and texture were demolished by the fat-and-sugar soup that now sloshed through my digestive passages. I could feel myself losing control, thinking a little too earnestly about whether my coworkers would find it weird should I lick the chocolate shrapnel out of the wrapper. Just like when I was a teenager, my thought-logic had been dumbed down to the world’s simplest math problem: when there is candy, I will eat candy, because: it’s fucking candy!
But that was on me, and I don't want to reproach the Willy Wonkas of the world after eating just one half-way dry Snickers Peanut Butter bar. Candy has already been saddled with a bad enough rap.
When you eat candy, you know you’re choosing a non-optimal food source. If you can’t show restraint, maybe you actually deserve your self-induced diabetes and your mouth full of cavities. But if you can indulge in moderation, maybe—just maybe—eating candy is the most adult thing a person can do… so long as you don’t lick the wrapper.