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The not-so-sweet by and by

February 17, 2012
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

There's no way around it - I am a choc-o-holic.

I never knew it when I was a kid because I went gonzo over anything sweet. You name it and I devoured it - cakes, cookies, sodas, and of course candy of every ilk.

In my childhood, the candy store was king, and penny candies fairly flooded My Home Town. I ate 'em all. Jujubes, lollypops, Sweet Tarts, Sugar Daddies, Chocolate Babies (which contained no chocolate), and most freakish, those sugar-coated things that looked just like hot dogs but were made of marshmallow and food colorings that had to be poisonous.

Only two things stopped me from eating candy 24/7. One was my mother; the other was a severe cash flow problem.

As I entered my teens, a change took place with my candy preferences (as it did with everything else). I no longer ate the real garbage. Oh, maybe an atomic fireball from time to time or a stale licorice twirl (a redundancy, since for some strange reason, all the candy stores' licorice twirls were stale), but mostly I'd gone on to more adult fare -?M&M's, Smith Brothers cough drops, Mars Bars, and the like.

As for chocolate? Of course I liked it, but being the thrill-seeking and frugal lad I was, I wanted more bang for my buck (or in that case, my nickel or dime), so chocolate was a rare treat. Besides, while chocolate might've been a classier confection, I wasn't a very classy guy: I could still pretty much eat anything dosed with sugar.

Still, chocolate loomed large in my desires, if not my actual fare. When I had my options, it was chocolate cake with chocolate icing, chocolate brownies, chocolate ice cream, chocolate chip cookies - and only chocolate chip cookies. Sadly, I didn't have those options very much.

Then sometime in college my choc-o-holism went into remission, and stayed there for quite a while. In fact, during my entire 30s I ate no sugar whatsoever. I got into that whole health food mishegas and cut out all sins of ingestion - cigarettes, meat, bleached flour and of course the White Killer itself.

After my decade of absurd purity, or perhaps pure absurdity, I started eating sugar again, but there was one big difference. This time the only sugar I ate was chocolate. I didn't plan it; just is, no other sweets appealed to me.

My tastes in chocolate ran the gamut - puddings, pies, cakes, chocolate bars, milkshakes, chocolate bars. The only restriction I had was no dark chocolate. Somehow, that stuff never did it for me. To me, it was so bitter that its darkness went beyond the color itself. As opposed to the sweet soothing nature of milk chocolate, dark chocolate seemed grim, ominous and sinister. To use a music metaphor, milk chocolate was a Strauss waltz; dark chocolate was a Wagnerian opera. And let's face it, folks, what the world needs is not more Wagner.


The joy vanishes

Now here's the weirdest thing. When I was 49 I had a triple bypass. Everything went well and I emerged from it, if not a new man, then at least an old man with new coronary arteries. My recovery was fast and pain-free. In a short, I was mobile; I was running within a couple of months, and within a year, I was pretty much the same sparky lad I'd always been. I had no real aches and pains, no shortness of breath, no palpitations. In fact, I had only one long-term side-effect: Chocolate tasted horrible.

I noticed it as soon as I got out of the hospital, since the first thing I did to celebrate my new lease on life was order a chocolate milkshake. I took a sip and recoiled. It had a chemical tang that made it taste less like a confection than an industrial cleaning fluid. I tried a few more sips but couldn't hack it.

I figured that shake had been made with some new crappy artificial flavoring, and chalked it up as a learning experience.

A little while after that, I had a chocolate bar, or should I say, I tried to have a chocolate bar, since it also tasted terrible. Dang, I thought, maybe they just don't make chocolate like they used to. Maybe a bunch of chocolate companies have switched from using real flavorings to cheap synthetics that don't taste at all like the chocolate that I know and love.


and returns - sort of

Being of a scientific bent, I knew a source that'd give me a clear comparison: I'd had lots of chocolate milkshakes in the Foote Rest which were always delicious, so I'd check one out there.

I did, and it tasted lousy too. I drank maybe three sips at most before I had to stop.

"Hey," I said to Don Foote, the Foote Rest's owner, CEO, raconteur, chef and maintenance man, "I've got a question for you."

"Shoot," he said.

"Your milkshakes. Are you using any new ingredients?"

"Nope," he said. "Just milk, ice cream and Hershey syrup, as always."

"As always?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Nothing's changed. Why?"

"Oh," I said, not wanting to call attention to my warped taste buds, "just wondered."

So that was the answer: There was nothing wrong the chocolate there was something wrong with me!

What was it? I never found out.

And it's not that I didn't try. I even phoned the finest medical mind of our day - my brother. After I told him the situation, there was long, long pause.

"You still there?" I asked.

"Yeah, sure," he said.

"So whatta ya think?"

"I think ," he said, "that something happened as a result of the bypass that um somehow caused chocolate to taste different to you."

Then it was my turn to pause.

"You still there?" he said.

"Yeah," I said.

"So whatta ya think?"

"I think," I said, "that if our sainted mother could hear your supposed answer, she'd not only be rolling over in her grave, but she'd be having second, third, and fourth thoughts about having subsidized your stint in medical school."

After that diagnosis, I did the only thing I could - I quit eating chocolate. Of course I tried it from time to time, but it still tasted weird. Then about 10 years later, it started tasting pretty good again and it still tastes pretty good.

Sadly, it never tastes as good as it did, so it occupies a much smaller place in my life than before. But that's fine with me.

Before my bypass, the cardiologist told me that without a bypass, my chance of having a heart attack was 100 percent within the year, and my life expectancy was about six years.

So as much as I once loved chocolate, I love life a whole lot more.



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