My sisters stared at the wall of sugary cereals at the local grocery store for guidance. My mother told them to pick me up a box of cereal, but did not specify which one to buy. They thought about the different cereals I ate in the past, and asked themselves, “what is the most artificial-looking, sugary, grossest cereal we can get?” Thinking of these criteria, one cereal stood above all others. They laughed at how disgusting it looked, and naturally, they bought it for me to ingest into my noodly, weak little body. The cereal was none other than Circus Fun.
This cereal, famous for its “horses and hoops, balls and bears, elephants and lions” was a giant sugary explosion of artificial dyes, crunchy speckled things, and menagerie of freeze-dried marshmallow animals. If you didn’t eat it fast enough, the combination would make your milk a fleshy color.
In addition to the artificial nastiness, it was a really bad concept for a cereal. In the 1950s, maybe kids would get excited for a circus-themed cereal, but in the 80s? The time of cocaine, fast love, and cross-promotional toys? Bad idea. Plus, circuses are creepy. They have clowns. No child post-Poltergeist wants to face anything like this after a nighttime of clown-related nightmares:
Seriously, just put John Wayne Gacy on the box; it might be less disturbing.
When I ate Circus Fun, I thought about why my sisters chose it for me; this amalgam of semi-edible chemicals was a caricature of what they believed I liked to eat. Was this a joke, or an intervention?
If you are what you eat, what does eating Circus Fun make you? It makes you a clown. A fake, creepy, sickly sweet clown. Who wants to be a clown? I didn’t. That Saturday morning, I turned on the television for guidance – surely the commercials between my cartoons would give me sound advice on what to eat.
A commercial for Total came up. I rolled my eyes. Total was an arrogant bastard, with its whiny little “mehhh you need to eat 900 bowls of your cereal just to shit out one Total flake” byline. Yeah, it was healthy, but one? It tasted awful. And two? I don’t eat smug. Fail.
Oh, hi sugary Trix cereal. Since I’m looking for something that is healthy, you are so obviously out. While you are here, let me remind you why you are dead to me; see that rabbit there? That poor rabbit who only wants one damn bite of your shitty cereal? Your horrible cartoon children mock him and won’t let him have any, instead stuffing their gaping overindulgent maws with pellets of colorful carcinogens. In the 80s, you let kids vote on whether or not the rabbit could have bite of cereal. We voted a resounding YES! And then you bastards backed out of the campaign. Thanks for creating a generation of disillusioned voters, jerks. Big Fail.
Ahh, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. You are delicious for the nanosecond you are crunchy. You have the lowest milk-life on the cereal spectrum. And your box doesn’t have anything fun on it. Fail.
Then the sun peeked out from the clouds, and the chickadees chirped merrily in a blooming Dogwood tree nearby. A single ray of sunbeam landed gently on the television set as an angel choir “Ahhhed” in revelry. The Frosted Mini-Wheats commercial came on.
Frosted Mini-Wheats didn’t have a creatively-named cartoon character; in their later days, they had a cartoon bundled nugget of wheat shreds with a bad case of Multiple Personality Disorder fight with itself in the attempt to determine whether it’s frosted or unfrosted personality was better. Prior to the cartoon nugget, they simply had random cereal-eaters declare that bundled nuggets of wheat shreds are nasty – but when the nuggets are covered in a sugary plaster, they become irresistible deliciousness.
I watched the commercial and nodded in agreement – yes, yes, I too wanted to eat something that was good for me! But I still needed sugar, sugar, sugar! I am a child of the 80s, and therefore sugar is my cocaine; give me my fix!
After I choked down my Circus Fun, I had my parents purchase a box of Frosted Mini-Wheats. Noticing the lack of sugar in the ingredients, my mother second-guessed my decision. I assured her that I wanted this cereal and I would eat it. That morning, I poured the Mini-Wheats into my bowl. I flipped all of them to the sugar side because if there was one thing I learned from growing up in the Reagan-Era Cold War is one must pick a side, and damn it, I was firmly on Team Sugar.
I poured the milk over Team Sugar, and each Mini-Wheat sponged up the milk like a Sham-Wow. A lot of the sugary plaster washed off from the milk, sending me into a panic. I don’t drink the leftover milk in my cereal bowl, because, ew. Milk is gross, and it’s even grosser when cereal remnants are swimming around in it. Sending my sugar to the milk is like sending it to Siberia. It was soon discovered that this was a cereal with a very quickly deteriorating milk-life. It was essential that I had to eat it as quickly as possible, before the crispy wheat shreds turned to mush. Oh, I learned from you, Corn Flakes, I learned. I loaded my spoon with as many Mini-Wheats as possible and shoveled them into my face. As I chewed, I realized I chose the wrong team – Team Sugar retreated, leaving behind the limp, soggy wattle-and-daub of Team Healthy to celebrate victory in my mouth. My mother watched me skeptically as I choked down Team Healthy. She preempted any vocalization of complaint by saying simply, “you asked for that cereal – you eat it.”
I did my best to fight for Team Sugar – the next day, I put half as much milk in my bowl, hoping to stave off the sogginess. This worked to a point, but instead of being mushy, I felt like I was eating the roof off of our nativity set. I moved to desperate measures and sent in reinforcements – I doused the Mini-Wheats with spoonfuls of sugar. While this made an impressive mortar, it remained unsatisfying. I wondered, why am I miserable? I am denying who I am. I need to be okay with who I am – no, I need to be proud of who I am! That’s what the school counselors tell us every day. Be proud of who you are. And who am I? I AM TEAM SUGAR FOR LIFE! And I am going to pick a cereal that will win that battle in my mouth every damn time.
Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch? I will be your lieutenant any day of the week. You’ve got a strong milk-life, sugar so potent it shreds your gums, cartoons and goodies inside and outside the box. What else could a child ask for? Besides – peanut butter is healthy, right? Smug Total says it takes 342 bowls of Cap’n Crunch to get the same nutrition it offers. To that, I say: proudly reporting for duty, sir!