As a kid I loved monsters. Not the ones that hid under the bed or lived in the closet obviously – those were terrifying and nightmare inducing if one actually managed to get to sleep – no, the ones I loved were the safe ones. Your Draculas and your Frankensteins* and your Wolf-Mans (Wolf-Men?), your Mummys, etc. You know the safe, cuddly monsters that adorned Halloween decorations and pajamas and sold used cars and mattresses. I couldn’t get enough of them. I saw their movies and read their books and magazines, I had their posters on my wall. So I went without saying that I wanted to eat them as well.
That is to say their cereal of course; don’t get the wrong idea. I was a weird kid but not that weird.
Every Saturday morning and after-school afternoon the price of a good cartoon was to be inundated with toy commercials and advertisements for sickly-sweet breakfast cereals. It was a fair trade-off considering I usually wanted everything I saw and would bug my mother to no end with desperate pleas for whatever product I had just seen popping up on the screen between Super Friends and Scooby-Doo. My mother, to her credit as a parent, would for the most part say something along the lines of, “You don’t need that,” and “Trust me you won’t like it,” or simply “It will rot your teeth.” And I, for the most part, complied and let it drop.
That is except for the monster cereal. They had monsters. And they were fruity. And they had cool cartoons with famous voice impersonations. And I wanted it. And it had monsters.
But my mother said no. There were reasons, not that I listened or cared. Who cares for reasons? I wanted the fruity monster box. It was a necessary item that I needed to possess and consume. I could not be persuaded otherwise.
Now before I continue let me say a word or two about classic monsters. I said above that these were the “safe, cuddly” kind and that was very true for me as a kid. I know now and I realized then as well that at one time these characters were scary as hell. I had read stories of people needing to be carried out of theaters after passing out in fright when witnessing the terror of these monsters. I had heard of children who were haunted for years with nightmares, of old women who became physically ill when they appeared on screen, of men and women who screamed and hid their eyes frozen in horror by the mere thought of them. These were once crazy-scary monsters. But I did not know this horror.
But by the time the 70s rolled around and I was an impressionable youngster these classic monsters had been sanitized, watered-down into cartoonish versions that were not so much scary as used for comedic effect. No longer nightmare fuel, instead they had morphed into punch lines.
This didn’t make them any less cool, mind you, just not scary. As for the coolness factor they reached stratospheric heights. I would never have used a word like ‘iconic’ to describe them back then but I somehow instinctively knew what that meant. A widow’s peak, fangs and a cape with a vaguely European accent intoning “I vant to drink your blood,” was the epitome of a vampire. A flat head and bolted neck with arms outstretched groaning, “arrrrgggg,” was the original zombie. And a hairy, vaguely canine face in a flannel shirt was the definition of the beast within.
Yes, these characters had become logos and spokesmen but that did not take away from their iconic nature. Even the sanitized version did not detract from their awesomeness.
So that’s why I begged and pleaded for a box of monster fruit cereal till I finally wore down my mother. “Okay fine,” she told me, “but if I buy this for you have to eat it every morning till the box is empty. Deal?” Deal, I said. How could that backfire?
Now the difficulty for me at this point was picking which type of cereal to buy. Flavor was not a really factor – rather the choice came down to which character I wanted. My first instinct was to go with Count Chocula. It was “chocolate” and Dracula; seemed like the obvious way to go. But then again Frankenstein and “strawberries” was tempting. In the end I went with the unusual choice of a non-specific character and just a generic ghost, albeit one with the voice of Peter Lorre. I happily carried my box of Boo-Berry to the cash register and grew anxious for the following morning’s breakfast. I even went to bed early so it would arrive sooner.
When morning did arrive I ran to the kitchen pulled the coveted box from the cabinet along with a bowl and spoon and served myself a heaping portion. There was no prize in the box, a minor disappointment, but I moved on pouring the milk and listening to the light crackle as the cereal absorbed the liquid. Then I took a spoonful and raised it to my mouth with glorious anticipation. And it was…the most god-awful taste I had ever experienced. Basically it was like eating sickly-sweet Styrofoam balls dusted with blue dirt along with tiny shards of chalk. The milk had changed color like some blueish-purple mold had grown on it. And the little balls of disgust just floated there in the muck waiting for my spoon to return. The little smiling ghost on the box that once seemed like a cheery friend now became a foul fiend mocking me with a sly grin. It was terrible.
My mother sat across the table from me arms crossed, “How is it?” she asked.
“Great,” I said with my mouth still full as I struggled to swallow. And with great pain and increasing revulsion I choked down that entire bowl of what I once assumed was cereal but now understood was some form of poison or torture device. Possibly both. It was an excruciating ordeal made worse by the fact that I knew I would be forced to repeat it tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. It was then I knew what horror really was.
The next day as I began to eat my second bowl of blueberry flavored hate my mother took pity on me. She told me I didn’t have to finish and could even throw the entire box of cereal away if I promised to always listen to her and to understand and accept that she was always right. I agreed.
To this day I’ve never tried monster inspired breakfast foods again. The memory of the experience was just too frightening. And to think, I once thought classic monsters weren’t scary.