When I was a kid, my family often went camping during the summertime. Now, this wasn’t the posh, cushy kind of camping that many of you might have experienced–the kind with showers, campers, and flushing toilets. No! This was the kind of camping that involves a tent, a water pump, and a latrine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like nature, I just don’t like it in such large doses, and I certainly don’t want to sleep out in the midst of it. As a kid, I handled camping much better than I would now. In some ways, I actually enjoyed it. The bug spray sting, holding my breath while I peed so as not to smell the horrid pit-toilet stench, and sleeping on the ground were the price I had to pay for countless hours of swimming in the nearby lake, campfires every night, and little cereal boxes.
Yes, I said little cereal boxes. Camping meant consuming a lot of food that was non or minimally perishable and portable. It meant the variety packs of cereal, the ones where you could open up the front of the box and pour the milk right in. The variety packs always had some of the cereals we usually kept around the house: raisin bran, Rice Krispies, and corn flakes. But they also had some treasures that my parents never normally bought: Cocoa Krispies, Frosted Flakes, and Fruit Loops.
Frosted Flakes were okay, but they weren’t much different than corn flakes with a bunch of sugar on them, which was the only way I ate them. Cocoa Krispies were pretty good, the best part being the chocolaty milk that was left after you finished the cereal. Then there were Fruit Loops. Oh, Fruit Loops! I couldn’t have told you what they tasted like because my brother Chris somehow always managed to get to them first. There was only one package of the coveted Loops per variety pack, so not getting them meant that I might have to wait until our next camping trip for another opportunity.
I’m not sure why my parents didn’t buy Fruit Loops under non-camping circumstances. It’s not as if they banned sugary cereal from the house, as we regularly stocked Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Golden Grahams, and Honey Nut Cheerios. Actually, for a good stretch of my childhood, Chris and I regularly breakfasted on a concoction of graham crackers and milk, smashed up and mixed into a paste that we called moosh…or maybe mush. In our adult lives, Chris and I have debated the spelling and have not yet reached a decision. Anyhow, the oo was pronounced as it is in book. And none of this explains why my parents didn’t buy Fruit Loops. Perhaps they simply didn’t like them.
Over time, I placed Fruit Loops on a pedestal in my mind. If Chris always went for them first, they must be sooooooo good. I seem to recall him smacking his lips and making “num num” noises as he ate them to increase my envy. I had never tried them, but I was pretty sure that Fruit Loops were the best cereal in the history of ever. In my head, they were so wildly delicious that I doubt anything could have lived up to my expectations.
One misty summer morning, it finally happened. I got to the variety pack first! The Loops were mine! I held them up in the air to symbolized my victory. I was to be a Fruit Loops virgin no longer! I’d like to say that I savored the moment, took my time to really enjoy the experience, but in fact, I tore into that package like I hadn’t eaten in a week. I poured the milk, grabbed my spoon, and dove right in.
What the crap?!?!
Was this some kind of cruel prank? Had Chris, under cover of darkness, deftly opened the Fruit Loops box, replaced the real Loops with some joke cereal he had ordered from an ad in the back of Mad Magazine, and expertly sealed the box back up so that I was none the wiser? Sadly, no. This is what I had been dreaming of, craving all this time–a nasty-ass cereal that had the texture of toasted Styrofoam and tasted like something out of a chemistry set. The flavor resembled no fruit I had ever tasted. It gave fruit and fruitness a bad name. For goodness sake, it turned my milk grey!
I was not a child with particularly sophisticated tastes. Aside from anything in the dessert and candy food groups, my favorite cuisine was hot dogs. My palette had not yet grown to appreciate subtleties of fine dining, but even with my provincial tastes, I could not abide these awful Loops.
I can’t recall if I choked them down or sidled over to the nearest trash can and disposed of them, but I I do know that next time, I slept a little longer and let Chris get to the Fruit Loops first.