For the seven vanishingly brief years I lived in New York, I have, like most people who live here, avoided Times Square as much as possible. That was a mistake. As it turns out, Times Square is deeply weird, occasionally transcendent, and the Sephora is very large. On the downside, everyone walks exceedingly slowly, and also, the Hershey’s store. I went to the Hershey’s store, and after what transpired, I frankly had no choice but to leave the city.
My initial plan had been to visit both the Hershey’s store and the M&M store in one sitting — the two are located virtually across the street from one another, and I love a good rivalry between multinational corporations dependent on the fundamentally unethical nature of sugar and cocoa production— but it was not to be, for reasons that will soon become unpleasantly clear. On a rainy, muggy afternoon I embarked, without an umbrella but with the reassuring companionship of Kelly Faircloth, who informed me that she’d been to Hershey’s before, and it was, as she put it, “fine.”
On our way into the shop, we were handed small Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, the kind of thing you might get during an average trick-or-treating stop at the house of your most middling neighbor. That was, as it turns out, the highlight of the visit. I had hoped that Hershey’s might do something similar to the fancy new McDonald’s down the block, which reportedly serves international McDonald’s items like a stroopwaffel McFlurry, but it was not to be. Reader: I should’ve gone to McDonalds.
There was, it quickly became clear, no exciting weird flavors in the Hershey’s store, nor any particularly fun decor; there were just standard shelves, with a lot of standard Hershey’s items on them. “It’s just a candy aisle of a Duane Reade,” Kelly astutely observed, “but blown out to ludicrous proportions? It should be way more Wonka-ish.” Together, we looked in quiet dismay at a display of stuffed chocolate Kisses with pink booties and unblinking, heavily-eyelashed gazes, nestled next to what I assume was meant to be a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup package come to life.
(It looked, and I am sorry to be like this, exactly like a grinning oblong poop wearing a branded bath towel.)
The real purpose of our visit, of course, was to eat things that were bad for us and get our New Private Equity Dads to pay for them. With that in mind, I marauded into the bakery section of the store, which contained “candy balls” (a marshmallow-filled brownie covered in Reese’s pieces and whatnot), and “filled” brownies, which seemed promising. I hesitated for an eternity and then ordered a brownie filled with white “crème,” a word I can only assume has a specific legal meaning, and topped with what the menu said was “cookie-flavored icing and pieces of Hershey’s Cookies n’ Crème bar.”
As it turned out, the actual flavors of both brownie and icing were, basically, “sweet” followed by “chemicals.” There wasn’t a discernible chocolate moment at any point, and even the taste of the Cookies n’ Crème bar was weirdly muted. I looked at Kelly in dismay, mid-chew. She looked at me. I whispered a panicky question, and when she nodded that it was ethically OK, I quietly put the brownie in the trash, neglecting to even photograph it first for posterity.
Shaken to our core, we moved on to the “s’mores experience,” an area at the back of the store that served s’mores out of a kitchen window. The area in front of the window seemed to be filled with dazed tourists sitting on benches, metal trays in front of them. Nobody, it must be said, seemed to be having a very good time.
A s’more generally requires an open flame, so I was curious what kind of product would emerge from the kitchen, where everything seemed to be cooked in some kind of conveyor belt-oven deal. I decided to find out. I ordered a s’more topped with a with Reese’s Pieces bar.
“Do you want white milk with that?” the very nice person behind the counter asked. When I hesitated, she explained that the milk was just regular dairy cow’s milk, but served in a bottle with a mystifying brown band on it, which a lot of people reasonably assumed contained the store’s signature product. “The bottle is deceiving,” she explained. We smiled regretfully at each other.
When the s’more emerged, Kelly and I each took half. We eyed each other. We put the s’more in our mouths. We sat in shellshocked silence. The graham cracker was not a graham cracker at all, but some kind of dense, bready substance, reminiscent of an unsweet Pop Tart. The marshmallow had been heated and browned, but in the process it had turned, more or less, to ultra-sugary foam. The Reese’s bar was basically intact. The whole thing was.... just weird.
Kelly and I sat together for a while, sorting through our feelings.
“S’mores,” she said at last, thoughtfully, as we quietly slid most of the tray into the garbage, “are as much about the experience as much as they’re about the s’more.”
This was true. Something is lost when the s’more is not constructed over a roaring campfire and eaten in the woods. And something much more elemental is lost when your s’more is not a s’more.
But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It’s the gulf between a spontaneous moment and one that has been corporatized, systematized and standardized. The gulf between exuberant innocence and bitter experience, between a youthful idea that the world is full of treasures waiting to be unlocked and a more mature understanding that, really, everyone is just trying to sell you crap, and that sooner or later, everything and everyone will disappoint you. Shortly after eating the s’more, I bought a one-way ticket and boarded a plane to Los Angeles. I will still work for this company, but can I continue to live in the city that has mocked me this way? I cannot.
Kelly Faircloth, meanwhile, is a psychologically healthier person than me. She spent a few weeks recovering from the experience and then, as I sat in Los Angeles my first night there, sorting through my feelings, she texted me. She had made a s’more in the oven. It was, she told me, “a huge success.”
“Sort of a melty disaster,” she texted, “but truly satisfying.” Life, it must be said, is sometimes like that.