I Want Candy

by Mara

When I was a child, Saturday was my least favorite day of the week. The Jewish sabbath day is supposed to be a day of rest, but to a child, rest is boring and boredom is death. We couldn’t turn on the radio or computer, and TV was strictly off-limits. 1 We had to go to temple and listen to prayers in another language for hours, which hardly appealed to me: I was a conscientious kid, but apparently not a very spiritual one. There was only one upside, and that was that my mother’s loose interpretation of “rest” meant we could have candy. She was strict about our sugar consumption during the week, but come Saturday, candy, cookies, and sweets of all kinds were no longer off limits. Judaism’s laws against eating milk with meat also meant we were allowed to eat chocolate before dinner. Jelly beans and gelt were given out in Hebrew School, and going to a Bar Mitzvah meant getting to eat the gummy candies that had been thrown at the boy who had just become a man. Every Sunday was spent in a sugar hangover.

There was little I wouldn’t do for candy in those days, and my peers were similarly desperate. We lived for candy-rich holidays like Halloween, Easter, or Purim, and teachers regularly bribed us with Warheads (which were sour until they were sickly-sweet) and Blo-Pops (which were far superior to Tootsie Roll Pops). It was pure cruelty when a substitute teacher bribed my class with two caramels, saying she would give them to the two quietest, most studious students of the day. 2 My parents also didn’t allow me to have candy on set, for fear I’d get too hyped up on chocolate and sugar and then crash when I needed to be focused on acting. This meant that every night, as soon I wrapped, I would raid the Craft Service table. We filmed Matilda an hour away from Burbank, and I often spent the nightly car ride back home in a backseat sugar orgy so shameless and desperate Lou Reed could have written a song about it.

About a year ago, I saw a hipster couple in their twenties buying multiple giant bags of candy. It struck me as odd, and then it struck me as odd that it struck me as odd. It would have made sense if it had been close to Halloween and if they had been in a child-friendly neighborhood, but they weren’t and it wasn’t. I had never seen adults buy that much candy, and I knew I never would buy that much. Yet there had been a time, as a child, when the pursuit of candy was all-consuming. What happened? It wasn’t that I didn’t like candy or sweets anymore — I still love a good Bake Sale, and I’ll sometimes buy a box of chocolates for myself — but there was a time when I couldn’t pass the candy aisle without temporarily losing control of my mental faculties and grabbing everything in sight. Candy used to leave me helpless, and now I could live without it. When did that become possible?

My friends had similar reactions: they remembered candy being very important at one point, but noticed that while it was still a treat, it seemed to have lost its power. I began tracing it back: was candy still a big deal for us in college? It wasn’t, at least not for me. I remembered eating candy as an indulgence on a stressful day, or whenever I was focusing on an essay or project. 3 But it would be purchased on impulse: I never went out just to buy candy. Sometimes Exy and I would bake cookies, but that was more of a fun activity we did as a couple. Candy had lost its luster before that.

At boarding school, my very charismatic Comparative Religion teacher had told our class “Sometimes when I bite into a Snickers, all I can taste is chemicals.” Was that what turned me off candy? I thought back to my days at the Idyllwild Arts Academy campus bookstore, gossiping about who had been suspended and who had really deserved that part and who had been wait-listed at NYU 4 while the cashiers pretended not to be listening in on our conversations. I had certainly indulged there, but I only remember peanut butter pretzels and Amy’s pocket sandwiches, not candy. Besides, if (as my friends had led me to believe), this had happened to others, too, it had to be a more universal experience.

It seemed to have happened before high school. The last time I could remember really caring about candy was when I was about twelve. I would walk to the Walgreens by myself and buy as many Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as I could afford on my allowance. While I was filming Thomas in rural Pennsylvania, some extras told me they worked for Hershey. I told them about my deep love of Reese’s Cups, and the next day my trailer was filled with Reese’s Cups of all sizes and a Reese’s Cups T-shirt. It’s still one of my favorite childhood memories. Many of the grown women on the set joked that it would come in handy to have friends at such a company when I got a little older and started experiencing certain kinds of “stress.” They didn’t seem to understand: they might have needed chocolate once a month, but as a kid, I needed it all the time.

Somewhere between age twelve and age fourteen, candy stopped being important. I considered that maybe my tastebuds had just changed, and my palate became more refined. But as someone who will still gladly consume a whole bag of Goldfish crackers, I knew that couldn’t be completely it. What else had happened in those years?

That’s when it hit me: we had given up on the compulsive need for candy about the same time we discovered sex.

I do not mean when we started having sex. The timing does not line up, though I am told some people actually do have sex while they are still in their teens. 5 I mean when we discover sex, when it’s not just an absurd or vaguely appealing concept, but something that could potentially happen in real life. Friends confirmed that candy became less important when they realized there was something else to pursue, something much more exciting and stimulating. 6 Sex had taken up residence in our minds — knocking several other things out along the way — and refused to leave. It had become real.

For me and my childhood friends, that happened in eighth grade. We were thirteen and in that window of time after our bodies had begun changing, but before we knew what to do with them. We called the strange tingly feelings we were having “hormone rushes,” and they were far superior to sugar rushes. They didn’t cost money, they didn’t make us gain weight, and all we needed to do to get them started was tell a dirty joke or a flirty line. The physiological connection might have been clear to my male friends for some time, but it was a pleasant surprise to the girls. It was thrilling to have that kind of power over ourselves — we could give ourselves a rush just by thinking! — and was even more so when we realized we had it over other people. A well-timed suggestive line alone could cause a male friend to temporarily lose control of his mental faculties. It was glorious. 7

I don’t recall a single moment when the “hormone rushes” started, and I don’t think my love of candy faded away all at once, either. They must have overlapped at one point, and it’s not as though sweets and sex are a new combination. In fact, the first sexy book I read was Like Water For Chocolate, a magical realism romance in which cooking was a form of sublimation. There were several parts of that book I read over and over again, fascinated and titillated, even though very few of the recipes sounded appealing. When I was in seventh grade, the movie Varsity Blues came out, and all anybody seemed to remember about it was the teenage girl who wore a bikini made of whipped cream (which, in real life, is just a yeast infection waiting to happen). “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground had been a big hit shortly before I entered middle school, and Aaron Carter, who was my age, recorded a cover of “I Want Candy” not too long after. 8 These are just examples from my own youth, but it’s a trope that can be found throughout history: two basic human needs, quickly satisfied (though perhaps not in the healthiest manner) at once.

I’ve never been a particularly nostalgic person. Many people would have loved to stay young forever, but I always looked forward to growing up, and I never missed the power candy had over me. 9 The only moment of sadness happened when I was thirteen: the previous year, I had worn my Reese’s Cup once a week. But in the first week of eighth grade, a boy saw me wearing it, made a squeezing motion at chest level and said “Reese’s CUPS, huh?” I gritted my teeth, folded my arms across my chest, and vowed never to wear it in public again. Hormone rushes were exciting and all, but I remember wondering if anything was safe from sexualization.

Probably not. I do think I made peace with it, though. Two years later, when I jokingly asked my friends which they thought was better, sex or cupcakes, they just laughed. Regardless of experience, we all knew the right answer.

Notes:

  1. Any time Gentile friends reminisce about Saturday Morning Cartoons, I just nod and smile until they change the subject. I do remember sneak-watching a few episodes of Garfield and Friends, but that’s hardly something I want to bring up in public.
  2. It felt like a personal attack: no one could ever expect me to keep quiet! Who was she to deny me such bliss?
  3. Exy once ate a whole box of cookies to keep himself awake during an all-nighter.
  4. It was me.
  5. This was not my experience. I avoided teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections by being so awkward no one would have even thought of having sex with me.
  6. I suppose we cannot speak for asexuals or lifelong diabetics.
  7. Lou Reed probably had written a song about it.
  8. Interestingly, Bow Wow Wow’s cover of “I Want Candy,” which is probably the best known version, was also sung by a teenager. Annabel Lwin was only fifteen when she recorded it, and already notorious for having posed nude on an album cover the previous year.
  9. Even if what took its place had even more power.