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All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned From My TV

Some of you remember fondly the cereals of your youth. I do, too, which is quite possibly the only thing I have in common with you.

I do not often eat Lucky Charms. I'm not much of a sugary cereals person and never was -- I always preferred Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Cheerios to Count Chocula, Trix, or Lucky Charms. But my wife is into these overdose cereals in a big way and loves to buy Cap'n Crunch and Frosted Flakes. And, should she be stuck eating one of my cereals, she buries it in sugar from the bowl on the table until it looks like she's spooning down several hundred thousands of dollars worth of smack.

Although it is in the house a lot, then, it's still not often that I eat Lucky Charms. But some days, I do. And it was on one of those days that I sat down to have my bowl or three of cereal and began to read the box. I always do this. Whenever I eat breakfast, it is required for me to read something, and usually the only handy object with writing on it is the box my cereal came from. As a result, I know probably more than is wise about the cereals I eat -- for example, I know that the corn used in Corn Flakes contains traces of soybeans.

I used to think Kellogg's Corn Flakes was a no-nonsense cereal. Then I read the ingredients while I was eating breakfast and I espied something I had never noticed before, in very small type just after the ingredients list. It read, "The corn used in the product contains traces of soybeans." What?! "...contains traces of soybeans"? How did they get in there? Does Kellogg's know about this? Like, for what imaginable reason does the corn contain traces of soybeans?

Was it an accident? I mean, does Kellogg's grow its corn in the same fields as its soybeans, and the harvest machines just can't tell the difference?

"Oh, darn," says the Kellogg's farmer, hitching up his dusty coveralls, "We'll never get these here soybeans sorted out from the corn. Well, someone better change the packaging."

And what I find most disconcerting about this is that, despite stating that "the corn used in the product contains traces of soybeans," soybeans aren't even listed as an ingredient.

This little paradox confounded me so much that I finally called the Kellogg's customer service number printed in femtopoint type under the dreaded Soybean Declaration. And I was told that what I had mockingly guessed was true: due to crop rotation, Kellogg's corn is harvested from fields in which soybeans were previously grown. They therefore cannot guarantee that there aren't any soybean plants mixed in with the corn, because apparently soybeans are hardy suckers and cannot be killed with any confidence. The notice was placed there for the aid and succor of some incredibly tiny percentage of Americans who are highly allergic to soybeans -- allergic enough, it seems, to make up for all the rest of us. So allergic, in fact, that even an amount so microscopic as to count not at all towards the ingredients list as mandated by the United States government can cause them to swell up into Dennis Franz. So, bless their corporate hearts, Kellogg's decided to print this little notice on their boxes so the four people who turn into Dennis Franz at the sight of a soybean would know to avert their gaze from boxes of Corn Flakes, while simultaneously the other four people who read their cereal boxes would be sorely confused.

I seem I have wandered rather far afield.

Back to the front of the box of Lucky Charms. There they have brightly displayed all of the marshmallow shapes you'll find in the box. I happen to remember quite clearly what the old order used to be, and I was surprised to discover several new additions to the old Lucky Charms marshmallow pantheon.

In the old days, Lucky the Leprechaun used to say, "Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers!" Towards the tail end of my Saturday morning cartoon-watching days, Lucky added one: "Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, and new blue diamonds!" Since then, I kept up with the cereal biz enough to know that three new types of marshmallow were added to Lucky's list, namely purple horseshoes and then red balloons and then rainbows. (Clearly, there was an advance in marshmallow technology that allowed little rainbows, consisting of a stripe each of blue, yellow, and pink, to be added.)

So the complete list should have read as follows: Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, blue diamonds, purple horseshoes, red balloons, and rainbows.

I should note at this point that, despite four years of math and science high school and four more years of engineering school, I can't remember any mathematics past the Pythagorean Theorem; and yet I know the full line-up of Lucky Charms from when it was taught to me by Lucky the Leprechaun as a child. This tells me that's there's no problem with the educational system in this country; it's just that some people are confused and think it has something to do with school. It's really television advertising.

My memory notwithstanding, the front of this box told a different story of marshmallows -- one in which I had fallen woefully behind the cereal times. On the front of this box was a green clover, a red balloon, a pink heart, a rainbow, a purple horseshoe, a blue moon, and an orange star.

A blue moon? The diamonds were supposed to be blue -- and they're missing entirely. And, in addition, there was this Thing, this yellow Thing with an orange top -- what the fuck was this Thing? I was pretty stunned by this change. I wondered if I'd fallen into one of those alternate-history sci-fi tales.

I showed the Thing to my wife. "What is this Thing?" I asked her. "Look. We've got pink hearts, BLUE moons, orange stars, and green clovers, and then the purple horseshoe and red balloons, okay, I remember when they added those, and then this here rainbow, okay, I'm with them so far -- but what the fuck is this Thing?"

She rummaged through her bowl a bit before she came up with one and studied it intensely. "I don't know," she admitted, and ate it. "But it tastes terrible."

You must excuse my wife. She has no grasp of the scientific method. And anyway, it's a well-known fact that all cereal marshmallows taste exactly the same, much like the different flavors of Jell-O. All Jell-O is really just Jell-O flavored and all cereal marshmallows are really just cereal marshmallow flavored.

I examined the whole box carefully for some clue as to what this oddly shaped orange-and-yellow Thing was supposed to represent, but there was none. Was it a pineapple? A chicken? An inflamed hemorrhoid? A pumpkin? A gherkin? A lurking horror? What the fuck was this Thing?

I showed it to my brother-in-law who happened to be handy. "What the fuck is this Thing?" I asked him.

"I have no fucking idea," he told me.

We were all stumped. It made for a very unnerving cereal experience, I can tell you.

Then I did what I always do when I find myself deep in confusion: I checked the Web. And I discovered a number of pages devoted to Lucky Charms, which fact, in my opinion, validates the enormous hopes and dreams inspired by the Web when it first invaded our computers in 1994.

Mostly, I found copies of the Ancient and Stale Marshmallow Joke, in which your favorite Lucky Charms marshmallow is supposed to predict how you are in bed. But I also found the Bring Back the Yellow Moons Page on which I discovered that the enigmatic marshmallow which so ruined my breakfast that day was supposed to be a Pot of Gold. Clearly, national drug use is up, especially among cereal designers.

And perhaps if I increased my drug use, I would find Lucky Charms more edible.


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