The giant lollipop is an icon. It is the epitome of candy. It has an emoji and everything (🍭). And yet, despite the infamy of its girth and rainbow swirls, I can’t recall ever seeing anyone actually eat one of these big pieces of candy. Not in my childhood. Not in my adulthood. Not recently in South Carolina, where I visited half a dozen old-time sweet shop(pes) filled with screaming, running, sticky children and their handlers. My parents had never let me buy one when I was young. “Those things taste horrible,” one of them must have said to me, and looking at the lollipops, I somehow knew in my heart that they tasted horrible, even without having taken a single lick.
Still, the question plagued me: What would it be like to consume one? What would it do to my body? My mind and my spirit? “I should eat a giant lollipop,” I thought, followed by: “I should eat a giant lollipop for work.” To my surprise and eventual dismay, this website said, “Okay.” It was time to put my insatiable sweet tooth to the test. Let the licks begin.
Day 0: Tuesday
First and foremost: how to acquire a giant lollipop? As a candy connoisseur, if not Haribo enthusiast, my NYC go-to is the Lower East Side’s Economy Candy, a store I love so much that I occasionally wear a shirt with its logo. A quick perusal of their website showed me they had everything from Blow Pops to Tootsie Pops to Dum-Dums, but no giant lollipop to be found. I could’ve wagered a recon trip, but my week was busy and the weather was bad, and I didn’t want to have to brave the Lower East Side if I didn’t have to.
One of the candy shops I went to in South Carolina was a big emporium called “I LOVE SUGAR” that reminded me of the pervasive chain “IT’SUGAR,” a store I can only pronounce as “It’s Oogar.” There was once an IT’SUGAR across the street from where I went to therapy, its grammatically confused logo mocking me every time I left the office feeling slightly better adjusted, so I figured why not face off my old foe once again.
I went to the IT’SUGAR location near the Lincoln Center in Manhattan to acquire my large lollipop. The store was practically empty when I arrived, despite it being 6:30 in the evening. Surely, after a work day, there would be a handful of other grown adults buying candy, right? But there was one employee out on the floor, and one other customer. It was silent. An eerie start to my quest.
I made a beeline to a stand-up display rife with large swirl lollipops, known specifically as SWIRL POP™s. SWIRL POP™ is made by a company named “Original Gourmet,” a name that suggests some level of epicurean uniqueness — I believe them.
Here are a few facts about the SWIRL POP™: It is about five inches in diameter and weighs five ounces. I am pretty strong, but the lollipop was distinctly heavy in my hand. Despite being one big lollipop, it is considered five servings, totaling 550 calories. I am not sure if the Original Gourmet empire expects a person to divide a lollipop into five pieces. You might think that a swirled lollipop, with its many colors and twists and turns, may have different flavors layered into its textured body. Wrong. The SWIRL POP™ comes in three flavors that I know of: bubble gum, cherry, and tropical fruit. I knew I would not be able to stomach a bubble gum-flavored giant lollipop, and cherry felt too classic. Tropical fruit, on the other hand, suggests plurality, a flavor that encompasses several fruits in its mono-fruit. Also, I thought that it might have a vague enough taste to keep me going for days on end.
The lollipop cost $2.99. A steal! I expensed this, of course. The tagline on the packaging of my newly acquired SWIRL POP™ read: “Choose to smile.” Knowing that I would be paid to eat a giant lollipop for work, no matter the consequences to my body, I did.
Day 1: Wednesday
The inaugural lick occurred at 10:55 a.m., approximately 30 minutes after I finished my breakfast. For something labeled “tropical fruit,” this thing basically tasted like bubblegum. It wasn’t terrible, but I definitely didn’t like it and it didn’t taste good and it made me nauseous.
I put in a solid 80 minutes on the lollipop, which was tricky in and of itself. Due to the SWIRL POP™’s size, it was not the kind of thing I could just put in my mouth and go about doing my regular tasks. One hand has to hold the lollipop at all times. This makes typing, texting, or any kind of labor difficult and inconvenient. The ideal activity while eating the SWIRL POP™ is watching television. I sought some advice in this regard but received nothing useful.
My conclusion 24 hours into the experiment: This is fucked, this is stupid, this is twisted, this is bad.
Day 2: Thursday
It was clear to me from the onset that, in order to maintain my stomach and my sanity, I was going to have to split the consumption of my lollipop over several days and shifts. My coworker Tarpley suggested that they should sell travel cases for giant lollipops. I agree. If anyone has any interest in this business idea, they should reach out to her. My strategy was a little more “farm-to-table,” by which I mean derived from stuff I had around the house. I kept the lollipop wrapped in parchment paper and then placed in a small plastic Ziploc bag. It sat in the fridge overnight, mostly for safekeeping.
I’ll be honest and admit that on Thursday, I didn’t have any of the lollipop. I kept it in the fridge all day, living in fear of its striped saccharine flavor. Also, I had the day off and was planning to go to Yankee Stadium (don’t start with me), and I knew that security would confiscate my lollipop. Not wanting to sacrifice my mission, I chose to take a day of reprieve.
It was nice to take a break. I understand there might be people who think that eating a lollipop for 80 minutes and getting tired is something that could only happen to a baby or a child. They might assume that, for an adult woman with a fondness for sweets, this should be a walk in the park. But consider how difficult it would be to consume the same food for more than an hour, or two hours, or four hours. I wasn’t making it any easier for myself, either, with the rules I had set for myself, including the executive decision not to bite into the lollipop (though, if shrapnels of candy broke off in my mouth, that wouldn’t negate the challenge). This would be a lick-only endeavor: a task of endurance, not speed, and I was in it to win.
Day 3: Friday
My SWIRL POP™ journey coincided with my brother and his girlfriend visiting New York City. So, in addition to having to endure a gigantic, sugary, artificially flavored treat that made me sick to my stomach, I also had to play tour guide and eat this huge piece of candy in front of two accomplished, professional adults.
“You’re doing this for work?” my brother asked.
“Yeah,” I told him, “to find out what will happen.”
Part of the humiliation of this study was, of course, the public-facing aspect of it: that I would look, at best, insane and, at worst, also insane walking around New York as an adult with a giant lollipop. One of the few places, I imagine, where you can go and do this and no one will bat an eye is Coney Island. So we boarded the F train in the early afternoon, and as we sped along through South Brooklyn, I unwrapped my lollipop and ate some on the subway. Perhaps used to much worse, no one among my fellow passengers batted an eye.
Once we reached Coney Island, I felt safe (emotionally and psychologically) before danger once again took hold. Walking around with my giant SWIRL POP™, I did, on occasion, knock the candy hard against my teeth. Did I chip a tooth? No. Did I say, “Wow, I almost chipped a tooth!” like three times? Yes. In addition, as I started to wear down the edges of the SWIRL POP™, it got sharper and sharper. If I didn’t look closely as I leaned down to lick, I would catch the edge of the lollipop on the outer corner of my lip and split the skin. Or worse: cut my tongue. Both of these occurred throughout the afternoon. Despite the constant threat of injury, I managed to put another hour into the SWIRL POP™ at Coney Island.
That evening, I allowed my boyfriend one lick of the lollipop to corroborate its flavor. “That’s definitely bubble gum,” he said. I worked on the lollipop for another hour while we watched Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. Billy Bob Thornton is great in that movie.
Day 4: Saturday
On Saturday I worked on the lollipop for an hour while playing a computer game. My morning routines had started going a little something like this: I would wake up, drink my coffee, eat my breakfast, brush my teeth, and then wait about an hour before starting back on the lollipop. I wanted to cherish the clean mouth feeling as long as possible. Even after brushing my teeth following each day’s lollipop shifts, I found my mouth had a sticky, horrible flavor that permeated everything else I ate that day.
It was my brother’s last day in town, so I joined him, lollipop in tow, at the Jewish Museum, where we admired its 1962-1964 exhibit that is not really Jewish so much as it is “Jewish people lived in New York City in the 1960s” (I agree, I guess). I refrained from attracting negative attention by eating my lollipop while we were at the Jewish Museum — it was the Sabbath, after all, and not a day to do work — though I did take it out after we left and enjoyed it on the sidewalks of the Upper East Side before it got too melty to withstand the summer heat.
Day 5: Sunday
By this point in my journey, it was clear to me that my best bet for finishing the lollipop sooner rather than later was to continue to work on it while doing activities that didn’t require my hands. On Sunday afternoon, I brought the SWIRL POP™ to a 2:45 p.m. showing of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 Lolita at the movie theater. I did this not because Lolita is a noted part of the lollipop canon, but because I had made a devil’s deal to eat a giant lollipop that was ruining my life. Have you ever tried to unwrap a sticky, melting lollipop wrapped in parchment paper inside of a Ziploc bag during an afternoon matinee of a movie in which you are the youngest audience member? That’s what I thought.
To my surprise, the movie theater was the ideal location to eat my SWIRL POP™ because I had access to popcorn, the ideal savory treat I could use to neutralize the sickly taste in my mouth. With the popcorn pairing, I was able to achieve a major milestone in my lollipop journey: I hit stick.
Day 6: Monday
After the Lolita showing, I was riding high on my confidence to finish the SWIRL POP™. I was unstoppable, unbeatable. My teeth would not be riddled with cavities. I was producing more saliva than ever before.
Monday was a work day, so I waited until my afternoon blog was filed to get the SWIRL POP™ out of the fridge. I worked on it while clicking around on various websites to read news that upset me, and found that, after about 40 minutes, I couldn’t stand the lollipop for another second. Something about the waning sugar had made the remaining lollipop nub significantly more potent, and the candy-flavored candy flavor was once again getting to me. I wanted so badly to be finished that I was pushing myself past the brink of what I was physically and mentally capable of.
Feeling sick and admittedly jacked on sugar, I shelved the lollipop for another day. The sugar high plateaued around 3 p.m., and I fell asleep on accident for 15 minutes, waking up disoriented and moody. I didn’t recognize the person I was on the SWIRL POP™.
Day 7: Tuesday
By Tuesday morning, the SWIRL POP™ resembled a regular-sized lollipop. It fit into my whole mouth, freeing up my hands to write sparkling, if ephemeral, blogs for Gawker.com. I worked quietly and diligently, with an unshowy passion and a steely determination.
And then, at 12:48 p.m., some 35 minutes after I had started sucking on it, I had finally done the impossible: I had finished the SWIRL POP™, leaving behind nothing but a stick in my hand and enough memories to last a lifetime.
There are journeys great and small, feats incredible and mundane. I have spent my whole life in search of candy, buying a box of Junior Mints at the movies or a pack of Sour Straws for the beach. I love the sweet, the sour, the crunch, the chocolate — all of them has their merits, except the SWIRL POP™. The SWIRL POP™ took me to the brink of sugar consumption, dangling my mind and dental health over a swirling, technicolor abyss. I ate it for a cumulative total of more than five hours. Some (me) might even say six hours. A quarter of a day of my life was given to the SWIRL POP™: time I will never get back, lost forever to its saccharine rainbow abyss. And it didn’t even turn my tongue a cool color.