Long, Dark Night of the Soul


It is time for another episode of “Eric Does Something Stupid Just Because He Thinks It Will Make for a Good Story.”

Picture it: Portland. 2006. I was browsing the candy aisle when an elegant-looking wrapper caught my eye. It was a candy bar called “Hershey’s Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate.” Now, I was familiar with Special Dark, though it occurred to me that I’d never seen it in bar form, only as a miniature in those bags of tiny candy bars you pass out on Halloween. But this was full-sized, a little bigger than a regular Hershey bar, and it wasn’t just Special Dark; it was EXTRA DARK and PURE DARK.

On the back was this paragraph:

“The natural antioxidants found in tea and certain fruits like berries and grapes can also be found in Hershey’s Extra Dark. This is good news; however, like most indulgent treats, Hershey’s Extra Dark should be enjoyed in moderation. A serving of Hershey’s Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate is 3 blocks (37 g) and has 210 calories and 13 g of fat.”

This was unusual for two reasons. First, I had never seen a candy bar make a claim at being healthy before. Second, I had never seen a candy bar that came with a WARNING LABEL!

I bought one, obviously; I’ve been thinking I should start eating healthier. Plus, I like my chocolate the way I like my women: extra-dark and potentially deadly.

They said a “serving” was three blocks, or 3/8 of the entire bar, but the serving sizes on junk food are always ridiculous. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s is allegedly four servings, but I’ve often eaten the entire thing in one sitting, usually while watching TV and sometimes while crying.

I did some calculations: The entire bar of Hershey’s Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate had 560 calories and 35 grams of fat. That’s almost exactly the same amount of fat and calories in Burger King’s Bacon Double Cheeseburger, which I’ve eaten numerous times, often accompanied by fries and a soda and several Altoids. And here Hershey is trying to tell me to eat no more than 3/8 of that amount at one time! I think I know how much extra dark pure dark chocolate I can handle, Mr. Hershey, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Later, when I was throwing up, I began to doubt my ability to discern how much chocolate I ought to eat in one sitting.

The chocolate tastes delicious, that much is clear. It’s smooth and mildly bitter and very sweet. One square of it is perfect. Two squares and you think, “OK, that’s probably about enough.” On the third square, your mouth tastes like you’ve been eating spoonfuls of cocoa straight out of the canister. Square four makes you headachy and over-stimulated and a little sick to your stomach. That’s when you take a break and watch “Veronica Mars” for a while. Then, when you return to the chocolate, the fifth square is pleasant again but with an aftertaste of lake mud. The sixth square makes you question the existence of goodness in the world. Square seven? You don’t even want to know about square seven. While eating the eighth and final square, you realize that this plan to eat the entire candy bar at once had absolutely no positive attributes and that your stomach is roiling like a washing machine agitator. Then you lie down for a while and moan and wonder which will be worse: throwing up, which you hate more than anything but which will make the badness go away, or dying, which is more permanent but at least won’t involve throwing up.

In the end, the choice was not mine to make. My stomach took charge and issued an eviction notice to the offending chocolate. “Closing time,” my stomach announced in a stern voice. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” The chocolate, seeking to avoid a bum’s rush, dashed out willingly and speedily.

If you think Hershey’s Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate is dark in bar form, you should see it after it has been in your stomach!

What I want to know is, where did the corn come from? I hadn’t eaten corn in days. Does it just sit there in your gut, waiting for a chance to make a cameo appearance in some other production? Do you suppose the Indians warned the Pilgrims about that when they introduced corn to them? “Our maize is delicious and nutritious, but it will hide in your belly for many moons.”

Anyway. It is now my considered opinion that you CAN have too much of a good thing, and that when Hershey’s tells you not to eat more than three squares at a time, they’re not kidding around. Still, I think I’ll sue them.

[ Coincidentally, my friend Ken posted a blog entry about his love of sweets at the same time I was conducting my experiment. See, we’re such good friends, we’re even on the same candy cycle.
Also coincidentally (probably), a few days after the experiment described in this column, I got sick for real, some kind of cold/flu thing that laid me up in bed for a couple days. So whatever those antioxidants found in the candy bar were, they didn’t work. Or maybe I overdosed on them and that’s why I got sick a few days later.
The “Picture it: Portland. 2006” intro is reminiscent of the way Sophia would introduce her stories on “The Golden Girls,” except it was usually Sicily in about 1920. I find myself beginning a lot of stories this way. ]