How A Rock Fish Changed My Life

Rock Fish

A few years ago, I was invited to a designer sushi spot in a wealthy part of San Diego along the coast for an omakase, which essentially means “chef’s choice” in Japanese.

There were no windows in this sushi den. It was all mood lighting, designed to hide the harsh reality that aging really makes us humans look like old cauliflower. Since very few 20-somethings can afford to live in the surrounding neighborhood, the restaurant is frequented by middle-aged women and their retrofitted curvy parts. It’s a crowd full of half-tipsy, half-married people. The employees, however, are all 20-somethings produced from the super-loins of supermodels. They have composure, and appear to be excellent service professionals. But their main purpose is to serve as balls of yarn for the cougar clientele to bat around with their eyes. 

The thought of omakase was a little intimidating. As a food writer, chefs seem to think we’ve gone deep into the Vietnamese jungle to find the stream that supplied the world’s first bowl of pho. That we’ve dined on caviar-bedazzled oselots and monkey brains sporting toupées of foie gras. I’m sure that’s a square meal for Anthony Bourdain. But most of us just run around town eating burgers for yet another Top 10 list.

Still, chefs don’t bother giving food writers the prime rib or fries. We’re more likely to get a sous vide cow snout, each nostril filled with deep-fried chicken ovaries.

My friend and I sit at the sushi bar. The only thing between us and the itamae is a glass case of raw seafood. Red fish, yellow fish, orange fish, white fish, purple fish. It reminds me of Amsterdam’s Red Light District—a collection of flesh behind glass, some beautiful, some more suited for fetish.

The chef starts us with gigantic sushi rolls called futomaki. Easy enough. Huge sushi rolls are custom made for Americans. In America, people are less concerned with quality than they are girth. We prefer our food share attributes with top-shelf porn penis.

About halfway through the meal as sake massages our bloodstreams, we notice the chef start to build a really elaborate plate. Garnishes everywhere. Most sushi is served minimally, echoing its origins as Japanese street food. But what he’s designing looks like an Indian wedding or the lobby of a Waikiki Marriott.

He then walks over to the aquarium, which I had thought to be a sadistic interior décor choice—like having cows grazing in the corner of a burger restaurant. He unfolds a step stool, climbs up and grabs a net. He dips it into the water.

The fish look a little concerned. Pick up their pace a bit. But for the most part they keep their composure. Humans wouldn’t be nearly as calm or collected if every few hours, the large hand of god just reached down and scoops up a Volvo full of us. That would make us twitchy.

The chef eventually corners a red rockfish and pulls it out in the net. It doesn’t really struggle. I’m not sure if this is because it’s in shock, or maybe the fish is self-aware. Maybe he realizes he’s a fish, and this is how his fish life goes. It just lays there, a muscular comma in a hammock.

My buddy elbows me and asks me what I think the chef is gonna do with it.

I have no idea. I’m thinking he might ceremoniously present the fish to us, then an apprentice will hurry it back into the kitchen and cook it. I’m not sure why I think they’ll cook it in a sushi restaurant. Eating it raw just doesn’t seem like a very polite option. I mean, unless you find yourself starving in the wilderness, shouldn’t there be a mandatory waiting period between killing an animal and eating it?

I realize I am uncomfortably close to my food’s impending death.

My father didn’t fish. Sure we dangled a few strings over a pier on the resort island of Catalina. But the only fish we caught was a Garibaldi. It was protected by the state because it was orange and adorable. The one we caught seemed fairly cocky about this fact. Just threw itself on the hook to mock us. But no Johnson had ever actually gutted anything, unless you count the time we remodeled the kitchen.

My entire life, the carnivorous process has been comfortably removed from my view. I never saw the slaughter, butchering, transport or packaging. Meat was just a glistening whoopee cushion of flesh under a sheet of cellophane at the grocery store. 

And this rockfish… well, it seemed to deserve a little due process. It was a local celebrity. It was an essential part of the interior design. A mascot. Twenty minutes ago, the child of a well-martini’d cougar had been marveling at this fish, joy in his little cougar-child face.

The chef holds the fish tightly in one hand. He’s got a grim, nervous look. That’s when I realize—oh, no. He presses the fish, now struggling a little bit, down onto the cutting board. Then he quickly shanks him in the back of the neck. No other way to say it. When the fish is still alive, it’s not a “knife cut.” It’s a shanking. Same thing that happens when you take the last baked potato in the jail cafeteria.

What happens next is even creepier. He carefully inserts the knife into the fish’s side, and starts to cut.

Oh, jesus.

I’m immediately emotionally scarred. Not a minor, comical scarred. But “Mom, there’s something in Santa’s pants” scarred.

The chef begins to work his knife down the length of the fish. His hands are shaking a little bit. It’s brutal to watch. You see, I’m an animal-loving carnivore. Growing up, I was the weird boy who knocked on our elderly neighbor’s door to ask if I could pet her poodle. I realize our food animals aren’t Thai-massaged until they die of extreme pleasure. I’ve always blindly hoped animals were killed quickly and efficiently.

There is nothing quick about this.

The chef begins to make a series of careful, exacting cuts into the side of the fish’s body. And then—oh Jesus that isn’t…yes it is. A piece of sashimi dislodges and falls onto the cutting board. The chef cuts a little more. Another piece falls. More cutting, another piece.

The chef carefully places the rockfish down on the plate. He presents it to us without saying a word, and backs away. He’s real solemn about it. Sad. Reverent.

I look down. Half of this fish’s body is still intact. The other half is now perfect pieces of sushi, propped up against the flap of skin where all these pieces of sushi had just been dislodged.

The fish is still alive.

(Note: I’ve since been told that fish move their mouths for a few minutes after they’re dead. So it might have been dead. But at the time, I’m convinced it’s alive. That’s all that matters.)

My friend and I don’t look at each other for a few long seconds. We don’t want to see the horror on each other’s face. Plus, what if the insanity of the situation makes one of us let out a confused chuckle? I’m always afraid at weddings that I’ll just stand up and scream curse words.  

I stare at the fish. It stares back. It’s still gasping. My instinct is to take my beer glass and hit it over the head. Finish the job. Or I could just refuse the dish, saying thank you chef but no thank you, serial killer ***hole.

But the chef had shown nothing but reverence. He didn’t fist bump a coworker. It didn’t seem to be a bad fraternity prank, or like flexing in the mirror at the top of the food chain. What if this is a centuries-old Japanese ritual I just don’t know about? Whatever it is, I’m out of my league.

All I can think about the documentary film The Cove. It’s about an area of Japan where dolphins are lured into a bay, harpooned, and used for food. Every American I knew was outraged by the film. What I saw was a bunch of white people who don’t eat dolphins went over to a country where they do eat dolphins. I was wholly unsurprised that the white people were mortified and cried. Frankly, it seemed a little sanctimonious. Just because I love dogs doesn’t mean I’m going to shame someone from a completely different culture for slow-cooking a Chihuahua at 275 degrees. America loves its tasty burger, which freaks Hindus out.

I make a mental note to Google “rock fish tolerance for pain” or “ability to grasp torture” when I get home. Even if I would forever refuse this sort of experience again in my life, I decide to go with it. I am a houseguest, I reason. I’ve been presented a pretty grisly welcome gift. And I’m going to accept it, experience it, see and feel everything it has to teach me.

On instinct, I clasp my hands together, make a minor, awkward head bow toward the fish, and say, “Thank you.”

As a child, I had been taught to say grace before meals. But I’m lucky to have grown up in an environment where eating was a daily, commonplace thing. To be thankful for it seemed like being thankful for air or fingernails.

But this was the first time in my life I’ve ever on a deep, emotional level truly felt grace—a whole-body, overwhelming sense of gratitude.

The fish is… still… alive.

Die, man, die.

It’s not only alive, but it seems to be staring at me. As if to express, Really, guy? You’re going to eat half of me while I fade to black? You’re a real son of a bitch, aren’t ya?

I stick the first piece of sashimi in my mouth. It’s remarkably wet—almost juicy like citrus. The flavors are brilliantly sharp. It’s as if I can literally taste residual electricity that made the muscles twitch and swim. The meat is crunchy, not having gone through rigor mortis needed to become silky smooth.

Between the first and the second bites, the rockfish takes its last gasp. I’m looking into its eyes when this happened. The taste of its own flesh is in my mouth. The sushi chef stands nearby, still quiet. His hands are still shaking. No one would get out of this experience without a little twitch.

Since that night, I’ve talked with sushi chefs about the experience. It’s called izikuri, a Japanese tradition dating back thousands of years. Most cultures aren’t as attached to or squeamish about food animals as Americans. The allure of izikuri is ultimate freshness, and I’m sure a little bit of alpha-species spectacle. It seems even the revered ancient Japanese cultures had a frat boy element. During izikuri, mere seconds pass between death and eating. Or, in cases like ours, they overlap.

There is a point where you’re willing to bend your own ethics out of respect for a cultural tradition. It’s called being a good guest. I never want dinner fed live to me again. But whether it’s an honorable tradition or cruel torture—it changed me on a deep, cellular level. As a carnivore, I was forced to watch what must happen in order for me to eat meat. I actively closed the circle of life. This wasn’t an abstract documentary. This wasn’t a PBS special. This was my dinner. I’ve never been so humbled.

My friend and I ate the rest of the sushi. When done, the chef removed the other half of the rockfish, sent it to the back, and it and returned it roasted whole. We felt it our duty not to waste one bit of the life-sustaining protein we’ve just helped kill. We eat the cheeks, the eyeballs, the bits.

We get drunk. Dead drunk.

Ideally, I wouldn’t have to eat an animal as it dies to learn this lesson. Ideally, I could intellectually fill in the gaps. But you can intellectualize skydiving, and then you can jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet and feel the adrenaline rip through your insides like desert lightning.

That meal is tattooed on my memory. I think about it nearly every time I eat.

I’m still a carnivore. If I become a better person or if all of my taste buds die in a fire, I might become vegetarian. But I have tried to waste as little meat as someone in my profession can. But once I saw life become food on my plate, I wasted even less.

From that day forward I’ve said grace at every meal. That rockfish altered me for good.

It took the anonymity out of the carnivore process. It reconnected my emotions into my food. I don’t like to think—I know—I’m a better human for it.

RONALD MCDONALD GETS “THE CALL”

ImagePhoto Credit: Peter M., Flickr. http://goo.gl/ncro3h

Two weeks ago, McDonalds announced that Ronald is making a comeback for the digital age. Here’s how that went:

“Ronny, my man!” yelped the man on the phone.

Ron couldn’t place the voice. It sounded familiar, and caused a tiny balloon of sadness to float up from his gut.

“It’s Joe!” said Ron’s former agent, a man whose best character trait was teeth. “Know what I’m doing right now? I’ll tell you. I’m polishing a pair of size 30 red shoes. They’re beautiful. It’s time for Ronald McDonald two point oh.”

“Joe?” Ron muttered, his hangover in its angry phase. “Goodbye, Joe.”

He hung up and buried his oddly shaped face in the pillow. The sheets were 14,000 thread count, all of which were badly soiled. He’d long since fired the housemaids. He was upside down on his mortgage–but everyone was. And the short-sale market on mansions made from hard plastic trees wasn’t especially strong. He’d get through it.

The phone rang again.

Vaffanculo,” Ron growled.

“Twenty million,” said Joe. “Of course it’s a 360 deal. They get half of all merchandise, books, remaining healthy sperm. But that’s every deal these days. Twenty…… million, buddy.”

Ron sat up and looked at himself in the closet mirror. His midsection, once well-abbed, was now just a doughy shade tent for his penis. He had a poor relationship with his penis. No one likes to think about clowns having penises, and the “don’t ask, don’t touch” policy had lead to shame.

He couldn’t blame them for what he’d become. At the time, no one knew lead face paint was poisonous. Ron had never been a terribly bright person. After graduating, it wasn’t like “clown school or Yale?” Still, the trace metals made sentences hard.

The Red Dye No. 5 in his hair had raised some serious issues, too. Tumors rise, that’s what they do. His scalp was now like the inverted surface of a golf ball. Luckily, they’d been radiated into non-lethal, purely ornamental state. If McDonalds had assured one thing, it’s that their star–the global embodiment of their festive almost-food–would not become a public relations disaster like the Marlboro Man. When he lost the foot to gout, they got him a top of the line Oscar Pistorius.

The triangles below his eyes were permanent–tattooed on his lower orbital bone after killing a rival in clown school. Just one of those racist rodeo bozos, not a huge deal. Mickey D’s public relations department had managed to keep it buried–mostly because the internet didn’t exist during Ronald’s heyday, and TMZ’s legion of succubus Fabio interns weren’t yet roaming the streets with cameras, ripping celebrity souls out by their stems.

“This is a hashtag,” said the young, self-proclaimed social media guru on Ronald’s first day back at corporate. “It’s like an address for your electronic thoughts. Like this: #NotWearingPanties.”

Ron scratched his head. Why him, why now? They all talked about some grand makeover. But there hadn’t been any quantum leaps in clown technology. Plus the fat people advocates were ticked. They viewed Ronald as a baggy-pantsed Leni Riefenstahl–brainwashing kids into Mickey D’s highly saturated joy agenda.

What are chia seeds? he wondered.

But the biggest thing Ronald couldn’t get over is—clowns. If crying a deep, psychologically frail cry was what you wanted of children, clowns were very effective. Clowns’ approval rating hung somewhere between mimes and ethnic cleansing. Their trembling clown paranoia—which, quite frankly, Ron thought was a tad melodramatic—had lead to Ron’s first existential breakdown and retirement.

No matter, he sighed. Thinking of 20 million reasons and the time he and Hamburglar roofied an attractive franchisee’s orange drink, Ronald McDonald sucked in his gut and selfied.

 

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Why the Happy Meal is Fast Food’s Greatest Invention All Time

Of all the fast food gimmickry in the world, the Happy Meal is the greatest.

Other fast food chains tried to be clever and baroque with the name of their products. Arby’s Horsey Sauce, for instance — a mix of horseradish and mayonnaise. Cute food wordplay. But I’m staring at a knuckle of brown meat with a vague metallic-green tint, and now is the time you’d like me to think about horseys?

The Happy Meal, on the other hand, tells a child in plain, simple language everything our tiny lizard brains need to know: It’s a box full of puppies and Prozac, kid. A goddamn deep-fried double rainbow. Eat this and forget that you always get picked last in kickball because, well, ever seen your dad run?

American companies need to take a cue from The Happy Meal. Speak plain. Don’t call it Yahoo or Google. Call it Find Shit.

The Happy Meal also capitalized on the fact that most parents only buy their children toys three times a year — Christmas, birthdays and when they messed up big time and probably set your emotional development back a few years. So McDonald’s invented a box that looked like a gift and put a toy inside.

Brilliance.

Santa Claus? He’s the deadbeat dad of the gift-giving industry. Just some guy who fills in once a year when McDonald’s is closed. Ronald McDonald was the Santa that stuck by you every single day.

In the ’70s, Happy Meal toys were not the latest and greatest. One featured Ronald’s face painted on a plastic glove that looked vaguely invasive. There was a mini milk carton with legs and eyes. A rubber Big Mac brought about 13 minutes of fun until it realized its destiny as landfill — yet another unpleasant, non-recyclable anal bead for Mother Nature, courtesy of corporate America. Few children who hadn’t swallowed large volumes of paint would actually put them on a Christmas list.

McDonald’s would eventually partner with Hollywood and get fancy through the power of co-branding. Kids in the ’90s would get Buzz Lightyear figurines, Lady and the Tramp sticker books, you name it. But when I was a kid, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to find a pair of wacky googly eyes glued to a used gym sock.

Regardless, my sister and I went ballistic for them. It didn’t matter if within the hour the family dog was ingesting the toy, or it had found a home up my rectum. Those third-rate trinkets, slicked in fry grease and ketchup, were precious gemstones. When Aunt Ann made her beef liver and onions with mashed potatoes, did she serve it with a Fraggle Rock figurine? No, she did not. I believe she’s currently lamenting that fact, since we’re no longer in her life.

The Happy Meal was also the cool lunch box some children never had. In the ’70s, lunch boxes were crucial to a child’s social standing. It takes a while to develop appealing personality traits of our own. So lunch boxes acted as personality replacement therapy. They were basically our entire identity.

If you had a Clash of the Titans lunch box, it expressed that you were a heroic boy, in a musical-theater sort of way. A Dukes of Hazzard lunch box let everyone know that your dad sets fire to crosses on black people’s lawns. A Hello Kitty lunchbox says your parents have serious issues related to the safety of your hymen.

I was truly blessed to have a Clash of the Titans lunchbox, because my parents were divorced and absence made dad’s wallet grow fonder. But many children were forced to attend school with sad, generic plastic boxes that failed to shill for a current TV or Hollywood enterprise. Those children were the ones who usually resorted to hanging out alone by the teeter-totters, selling crystal meth.

Yet even their existential box pain could be alleviated for a few bucks at Mickey D’s. The Happy Meal expressed, “I am a child whose parents care enough to buy me a party in a box!”

The box itself was some genius packaging. It was shaped like a little house, which satisfied young girls’ need to play house and young boys’ need to wreck them. On the exterior were a series of games. The games appeared to be made for the children, but were quite obviously for the adults. Children need nonstop entertainment, which is a serious drain on a parent’s sanity. Nowadays parents glue a portable game device to their hands so they can get a moment of precious silence, during which they ponder setting fire to their reproductive organs.

McDonald’s asked, “Would you like us to give your children a box that keeps them occupied for 20 full, uninterrupted, glorious minutes?” Every parent in the world funded that endeavor. The Happy Meal was the 1970s version of an iPad.

And so the Happy Meal did exactly as its name advertised; happiness for all. Its genius henceforth recognized.

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What Ronald McDonald Taught Me About Emotional Depth

It was 1979. I was six. Mom said we were going somewhere special.

I settled into the passenger seat and pulled out my portable video game. On the screen were a series of red lights that represented football players. There were no “men.” No graphics. Video games were different back then. We didn’t have a 3-D vigilante with a five o’clock shadow whose mission was to steal cars, squire prostitutes and systematically urinate on the Ten Commandments. Kids these days have it good.

Three minutes later, Mom pulled into a parking lot of McDonald’s. No different from any other day. We would enter the line of sedans. We would shout our order into the metal box, as if talking to an elderly person whose ears were merely ornamental at this point. We would leave adequately McMuffinned.

Only that day McDonald’s was chaos. A majority of the parking lot was cordoned off with flags and cones. A massive red stage was equipped with 10-foot golden arches. A horde of children ran around like crazy people who’d been denied meds.

Half-eaten burgers were scattered on the asphalt — yet this occasion was such a joyous riot that not one kid was crying over the loss. A boy had a pickle in his hair. Every child had an orange mustache, a sign that McDonalds’ legendary party drink — an aperitif made of sugar, water, sugar and orange stuff — was somewhere nearby. That “orange drink” was black market McDonald’s gold, only brought out at soccer league kickoffs and papal coronations.

Then I spotted him. You couldn’t miss the Sasquatch. Ronald McDonald was what happened when an NBA power forward made an honest woman out of a circus clown. His crimson hairpiece was both Black Panther and Jackie O, male and female. He was part African American, Northern European and whatever ethnicity red-haired people are.

His face was painted white, and below each eye was a triangular, black droplet (it means you killed someone in clown school). His eyebrows had migrated to the far northern climes of his forehead. As a result, he looked permanently, unequivocally amused.

After some hugs and hoots and hollers, I started enumerating Ronald’s many character strengths. I went on and on and mom just nodded and laughed.

Then, I said, “Plus… he’s ALWAYS happy! Can you imagine? How great would that be?”

“True,” she countered. “But we need to be sad sometimes.”

I looked at her stunned. What a downer. But, my god, I thought. The woman is right.

Let’s say Ronald’s buddy Grimace finally lost a limb to gout. He’s laid up in the hospital trying to come to terms with this new development in his life. On the one hand, he hadn’t seen his legs in years on account of being morbidly obese. On the other hand, it had to be a blow to his acting career. Sure, Jabba the Hutt was getting great work with this new Spielberg character. But Jabba had that supple Mediterranean skin tone.

“I’m purple, Ronnie!” Grimace would yell tenderly at his old friend in the hospital. “I’m purple and my main talent is eating burgers, man! A walking hematoma with one trick and… oh, criminy… now one leg to match.”

Ron would be dealing with his own demons, of course, since it was he who convinced Grimace to audition for the McDonald’s gig years ago.

“Look, I was born the shape of an inflamed nostril. I get it. I coped with that. When I grew into a six-foot nostril, I coped with that, too. But all of it together? It’s too much, man. Too much. If H.R. Pufnstuf was still around, maybe… maybe I’d have some options.

“What, exactly, does THIS say to the kids, RON?” he’d ask, pretending to knock on his phantom limb. “‘Hey, have a burger, little buddy! But don’t go ape shit like your Uncle Grimace and eat so many that you lose a leg! Ha ha ha ha ha HA!’

“Speaking of. Where’s Hamburglar? Don’t tell me… rehab again. And where is that nurse with my pain candy?! Am I a nobody already???!”

Grimace would then try to wipe the tears from his terrycloth eyes, but his comically short arms would not be able to reach that far. Ron would have no other option than to sit bedside, listen to his old pal, and look highly amused.

So, yes, mom. I guess eternal happiness is not as cool as it sounds.

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A Man Entered Me From Behind And I’m OK I’m OK I’m OK I’m…

Nothing prepares you for it. Sure, I had a girlfriend with a curious finger. Every grad from a mediocre college has. And I’m aware that by the time men turn 50, it’s a good idea to let the man your mother-in-law wished her daughter would’ve married put a couple fingers in your pleasegodno. Thing is, I’m not 50. And that part of my anatomy has run a dependable export business its entire life. It has steadfastly ignored the import market.

I noticed it about a year ago. It wasn’t much. Just a trace of blood. It was as if my sphincter had begun manscaping on its own and was experiencing minor technical difficulties with its miraculous endeavor. I immediately did what most men in this situation would do. I researched potential trades in my fantasy football league. After about an hour, I Googled “anal bleeding.”

The feedback from internet experts was unsettling.

“Call the doctor instantly!”

“Never ignore anal bleeding!”

“You’re screwed!”

They sounded so certain and authoritative on the chat board. I realize every human body is different. Maybe their duff was uniquely unlike my own. But, really, there can be only so many reasons backsides bleed.

I did what any normal man would do after reading all this. Continue reading

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I Got Canceled by Food Network for Threatening to Kill Duff Goldman’s Cat

“Why did Food Network cancel your show?”

“I threatened to shoot Duff Goldman‘s cat.”

That’s my response and I’m sticking to it.

Six episodes of Crave had already aired. The ratings started strong. Then Dancing With the Stars, Monday Night Football, Neil Patrick Harris and Two and a Half Men all returned to the airwaves during our time slot, rendering us Nielson non grata. Still, the feedback was cool:

“A whole new way of talking about food!”

“The funniest show on Food Network!”

“Someone please tell Bobby Flay to punch Troy Johnson in the throat!”

I was working three jobs as the senior editor for Riviera Magazine, writer-host of Crave and new dad to my daughter. At 1AM I was on the couch solo con boxer briefs, as the Spanish don’t say. I’d just mainlined another coffee. I had to finish writing our episode on SPICY FOOD. The production company was rightly screaming at me. I also had to finish a restaurant review for the magazine.

Over-caffeinated and needing a distraction, I saw this Tweet from Food Network biggie Duff Goldman:

A LEOPARD? BENGAL CAT? I’m not a cat person. So I read this as, “While small, a jungle predator with sharp teeth can and will disembowel some unsuspecting bro in Venice Beach tonight. If you see it, Tweet me.”

I responded thusly:

I expected he and I would share a ROFL and bond over my feline confusion. He’d naturally want to cameo in my SPICY FOOD episode. Then we would ride motorcycles together, with cupcakes and beer in our saddlebags.

Hilarity did not ensue. This did:

Then, silence. Duff went looking for his cat.

The next morning, I received a call from The Network. They were moving the show to a less conspicuous time slot. And canceling it thereafter.

The timing was impeccable. My unintentional cat-whacking threat had been made no less than eight hours prior. Coincidence?

I imagine Duff sitting across from the executive, having just minutes ago stormed into his office yelling, “This psycho threatened to pop a cap in my kitty!”

Late-night dementia notwithstanding, I can’t say I didn’t.

RIP
Crave
2011-2011 1/2
“A cap was popped in its ass before it could do the same to Duff’s cat.”

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The Greatest Cereal Mascots: A Psychological Eval, Part V

FRANKEN BERRY: NOT TERRIBLY BRIGHT

Frank was a sweet boy.

Nothing says, “Eat up!” quite like a bloated corpse pulled from the river. Frank obviously had issues, dental hygiene among them. It didn’t help that his name was childhood slang for male private parts. Judging by his eyeglasses made of roller-skate wheels, Frank was very industrious after eating children. Air Supply is playing in those headphones, which says a lot about Frank’s inappropriate emotional responses. He had the IQ of a frightened rodent. But don’t worry—the cranial tumor was benign.

COUNT CHOCULA: THE LONELIEST VAMPIRE

Immortality can be cruel.

Granted immortality, this guy chose to sell cereal. Ambition wasn’t a strong suit. Life was hard for Count from the start. Doctors described his mother’s birth canal “like a thin straw,” which resulted in his uniquely elongated head. His buck teeth told a special family secret: Someone mated with jackrabbits. As for that shnoz? Well it seems vampires are like humans in that their ears and noses never stop growing. After 300 years, things get awkward. Severely ADHD, the Count never could finish the famous vampire motto. It was always just “I want to suck.”

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The Greatest Cereal Mascots: A Psychological Eval (Part IV)

HONEY NUT BEE: INSECT WITH A HAIR PIECE

Bee-pattern baldness.

Realizing regular Cheerios tasted like moths, General Mills slummed their signature cereal with Honey Nut. The Bee was a trailblazer in the cheek implants trend. His hiring marks a first in the industry: a mascot that makes sense for the product. Unfortunately, cereal consumers consider narrative veracity “lame.” As proven many times over, a successful mascot is one who looks deformed into a permanent state of ultra-joy. Hoping to connect with a more mature audience, General Mills cast a bee with a comb-over. These days the bee lives in a retirement hive where he horrifies residents with tales of his “magic honey stick.”

TONY THE TIGER: HOUSE MUSIC ENTHUSIAST

All thumbs, this guy.

Tony was obviously Italian. His talent for hand gestures was unmistakably regional. His vocabulary, however, never surpassed two words: “They’re grrrrreeat.” Tony spent his off-time at Venice Beach, leaning casually against SUVs and sending blood flow to various muscle groups. The gym industry refers to his torso as the “Viscious V.” But his blue nose told a dirty little secret: Circulatory issues. Since the market for gondoliers is limited, we have to believe the sashay around his neck was mere flair. Though technically a tiger, people often mistake him for a bear. Tony has denied his yellow eyeballs have anything to do with bladder issues.

Tomorrow… nothing says “eat up” quite like a bloated corpse.

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A Psychological Eval of Cereal Mascots, Part III

You can read the first two installments here and here.

SUGAR BEAR: FUZZY WAS A KEROUAC

“Never let ‘em see you shed.”—Sugar Bear

No one is this cool. Even “The Fonz” was eventually outed as a tender self-doubter named Henry Winkler. Sugar Bear was obviously not Anglo Saxon, because no white man except Rick Astley sounds like a real man. When not “hipping up” cereal that liquefies dental work, Sugar Bear read beat poetry to rhythmic coeds. I know what you’re thinking—the turtleneck sweater was a fad. But who was gonna tell Sugar Bear? Certainly not me. Years later, he would embrace his love of high school musical theater as the executive producer of Glee.

TRIX: BUNNY’S GOT ISSUES

Sure, he’s sane.

Body dysmorphia is not restricted to humans. The silly rabbit’s weight obsession eventually drove him to stimulants, as evidenced by the bat-shit crazy look on his face. Troubled by his antics early on, General Mills summoned Trix to corporate HQ to fire him. But the sniffly mammal launched into a series of extraordinarily expressive gestures so zany that the executives couldn’t help but laugh. Today, he’s the self-appointed “house entertainer” at Furry Futures, a live-in rehabilitation center in some field somewhere. The fact that his eyebrows hover above his cranium is not helping his grip on reality.

Tomorrow… A juiced-up Tiger and an insect with a comb-over.

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The Greatest Cereal Mascots of All Time (Part 2)

I write. Seriously in some places, where I have to consider word counts and whether my writing is suitable for human consumption. Here is not that place. This place is free associations from my AA-battery brain.

And so my psychological evals of 1970s sugar cereal mascots continues…

SUGAR SMACKS: PSST… OVER HERE

This guy didn’t live in my neighborhood. Sugar Smack was the hippest of the cereal mascots. He grew up on the mean streets, where he first learned to sell smack. He wore his baseball cap stylishly askew, and confidently bastardized the English language at every turn. A savvy entrepreneur, Smack used star power to promote his line of screen-printed tees. He and Kellogg’s relationship has always been mercurial, at best. Some cereal executives have gone on record to say, “Frogs are kinda nasty.” He’d eventually change his name to “Honey Smack” when America decided they’d rather be lied to than feel like they’re eating a giant bowl of granulated cankle-maker. In dire financial need, Smack will eventually sell his legs to a French chef.

LUCKY CHARMS: THE WEE LITTLE HALLUCINATION

Don’t do drugs.

General Mills was forthcoming about the appeal of this product: It’s for people who are high. Only someone who’d inhaled an eighth of weed could grasp the culinary genius of Styrofoam marshmallows in milk. The toasted oats were included merely for the challenge. True connoisseurs systematically eliminated them until all that remained was a slimy, wet mass of Technicolor mallow. At photo shoots the celebrity spokes-leprechaun stat atop a giant mushroom, appearing to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms. Production assistants confirm that he never ate the cereal. He’d simply eat enough of the mushroom until believed in leprechauns. Lucky Charms’ slogan was “Magically delicious.” It’s street slang for felony possession.

Tomorrow… the coolest metrosexual jazz-bear ever.

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