Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nah, I'm Kidding, Grade-Schoolers are Alright.

For the past five days, I have not been a functioning member of society. I’ve lived on the fringes, like Nell in the first twenty minutes, or Howard Hughes in his last ten years. But today, I begin the process of reintegration—a process that actually begins with shutting myself in my room for an indeterminate period of time. And by the time the week is through, I plan to be able to break my media-blackout, to no longer have to yell, “NO NO WAIT DON’T TELL ME ANYTHING I WILL EAT YOUR FACE!” to every person I encounter, and to finally feel as accomplished as most 12 year-olds. Because by the time this week is through, I plan to have read The Final Hary Potter.

Oh, right, and I’m also reading it because I can’t friggin’ wait. To which I know your response will be, “Well they why did you wait, Matt, don’t you know it came out on Saturday, don’t you care what happens, and can’t you give up one weekend of your life to stay up-to-date with a cultural milestone?” Now don't get me wrong, Harry Potter fans—I love you, I really do. You helped make books about boy wizards, magic spells, and made-up mythology—and, therefore, people who enjoy said books—socially acceptable (for which I and my social life can’t thank you enough). Plus, only you can appreciate a good “defense against the dark arts” or “wingardium leviosa!" reference (and let’s be honest, there’s no such thing as a bad one).

But here’s the thing: you’re all too stinkin’ good. For the past few months, I’ve encountered a dozen people who are “reading all the old books” to prepare for the new one—and these are people who, unlike me, have jobs and lives, or at least pets. One of the reasons I fear this and every new Harry Potter is because I know that the returning characters and open plotlines will force me to accept that I have no clue what’s going on. The first few chapters of every new book become a marathon of cross-referencing with the final few chapters of the last—heck, the weird “politics of magic” opening of Book 6 almost had me running to Which would all be fine, actually, were it not for the suspicion that it’s probably not even that complicated, because grade-schoolers get it, and grade-schoolers are, by default, idiots.

And that’s not even my main deal with you guys. Because my main deal with you guys is that, since this weekend, I’ve been painted as a slacker just because I didn’t finish the 800 page book in the four days since it’s been out.

I feel like a Ron Weasley living in a world full of Hermiones, and it’s your admirably unflagging enthusiasm that’s to blame. Way to go guys. Now I’m off to turn to the first page and hope that I’m not supposed to remember who Lanius Fenellium or whoever is, where he came from, and whether or not he wants Harry Potter dead.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Taking One For The Team.

As I have made clear in the past, this space is first and foremost a public service—a means for me, the disembodied voice on the internet, to reach out to you, the five acquaintances who still read this. And it’s with this attitude that I present to you Part One of (what I am not guaranteeing will be) a multi-part series:


[Disclaimer: I am not a licensed food critic. 60% of the five meals I have eaten in the past two days have been cheeseburgers. When I saw Ratatouille, I found myself hoping that it would be one of those Disney movies in which the bad guy—in this film, a food critic—dies by falling a great distance from a cliff or castle tower. Breakfast, however, is my favorite meal of the day, and seeing a new cereal on the shelf can be enough to make any grocery trip the highlight of my entire day—no—week. All of which is to say: I feel that I am not without authority on the subject.]

Let’s get right to it—kicking it off:

NEW Kellogg’s Pops Chocolate Peanut Butter!

The Idea: “General Mills has Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs, and Quaker Oats has the equally delicious (though redundantly-named) Cap’n Crunch’s Peanut Butter Crunch. Why is our company the last on this bandwagon, we used to be pioneers, everyone in research and development is fired, yes, even you, Terri, I don’t care that you’ve been with the company for 30 years and invented Crispix!”

The Packaging: We’ll start on the outside. Your average everyman/John Q. Public/John C. Reilly might assume that a cereal box’s only job is to grab the shopper’s attention. But a cereal connoisseur knows that the cereal box doubles as reading material—something to keep in front of you and stare at for the three minute duration of your meal. The ultimate goal is not aesthetics, but to cram as much on there as possible. A maze? Great. With a word search? Even better. Throw a couple of Fun Facts on there, and I’m sold. So that’s the criteria we're working with. How does Pops Chocolate Peanut Butter stack up?

First of all, yes, that is the illogical order in which they chose to put those words, and therefore, the name of their cereal. Not a good start, Kellogg’s. Aside from that, though, the front of the box is serviceable. Product name, picture of the cereal (“enlarged to show texture,” of course) splashing into the bowl in that “stop getting milk all over the dining room table” kind of way. It’s the back of the box, though, where a cereal truly has the opportunity to shine, and where Pops Peanut Butter fails. Almost interchangeable with a box-front, the back features a barrage of unintelligible plugs for the product (“Flavor Factor!” “Sphere factor!” “Me Factor!” Like, what?), not even bothering to disguise them as a maze. Sure, they try to make up for this with some narrow-side-of-the-box fun facts: “Peanuts are not a nut! They are actually legumes!” and the likes. But sorry, Kellogg’s. Looking up “chocolate” and “peanut butter” on Wikipedia and then adding a few exclamation points does not count as effort.


How It Compares to the Original: The short answer? It doesn’t. The unnecessarily long answer? Pops Chocolate Peanut Butter is one of those spin-offs that is less a spin-off and more a transparent attempt to use an existing brand to launch an almost entirely unrelated product (see also: Cap’n Crunch’s Choco Donuts, CSI: New York). Gone is the oddly-hollow-yet-satisfying crunch of Corn Pops. Gone is the glossy, sweet, and slightly sticky sheen. Gone is the foil-lined bag, which always made me feel like I was eating some kind of astronaut food.

Instead, we get a generic attempt at cashing in on both the Pops dynasty and the chocolate peanut-butter craze. While the original Pops have a light, airy, and vaguely roasted quality (yes, I’m aware that that sounds gross, but: Yum!), Chocolate Peanut Butter are a solid, heavy affair, a quality that makes them unfit for snacking and is not relieved by milk. Furthermore, every piece of Pops Chocolate Peanut Butter sports the uniform “cereal ball” shape, as opposed to the sort of pop-corn irregularity of original Pops—a quality that would add a spontaneity, not often found before 10:00 am, to any morning. In a sentence: these are not Pops.


How It Compares To Other Cereals: For the length of my childhood, Cap’n Crunch held the gold standard for peanut butter cereal—straightforward, pure, and not overpowering in its nuttiness. In my teenage years, Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs were introduced, and quickly took the crown. Sure the whole “Wait, Reese’s for breakfast?!” advertising campaign lost its edge to anyone who’d ever tried Cookie Crisp (which are, quite literally, a bowl of tiny cookies you eat before work-or-school), but the Reese’s product itself took what had already been established by the Cap’n and improved upon it with the introduction of chocolate. Also, they feel kind of cold in your mouth, which is a hard-to-describe yet enjoyable sensation.

And while I swear this isn’t just a case of loyalties, I’m happy to say that Reese’s keeps the title. And it really comes down to one factor. You see, Reese’s had the good sense to divide the peanut butter and chocolate flavors into separate puffs, distinguishable from one-another by their coloring. Not only is this visually appealing, but it puts the client in control; focusing on chocolate in this bite? Get more dark brown pieces on your spoon! In it for the peanut butter? Go for the tan! Pops Chocolate Peanut Butter, meanwhile, attempts to cram the dual flavors into each piece with no care at all, resulting in what can best be summed up as a ridiculous mess.

The Verdict: Those last two words up there actually sum it all up. From the packaging to the execution, and even the name, itself, Pops Chocolate Peanut Butter are a ridiculous mess—a failure as both a spinoff and a cereal. Don't bother when there's better things out there.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I Should Throw More.

Anyone who’s known me long enough to either toss me a set of keys or stand on the receiving end of a similar exchange knows this: I am not a coordinated human being. (And for those of you who haven’t experienced such a transaction, just know that holding me accountable for airborne metal objects will result in an “AUGH, MY EYE!” from you, me, someone within a fifty-yard radius, or maybe all three of us.) Unless Wii Tennis counts, I am not good at sports, I have never been good at sports, and I have long been okay with this fact—after all, a guy can’t be good at everything, and not being able to hit a thing with another thing seems like a fair trade for being able to write a well-punctuated paragraph about said deficiency. But recently, I've realized: I am not good at sports, I have never been good at sports, and, as it stands, I will never be good at sports. And I’m not sure I am entirely okay with that last part.

I spent a good portion of my thirteen years of gym class moaning, “Why do we even have to have gym class?” while shooting underhand, being responsible for another “side out, rotate!” or making sure I wasn't open. But I’m learning that the answer to this question is: because, as an adult, people expect you to be able to toss them that pen or run for that train—heck, for some people, throwing a football counts as communication. And after high school, opportunities to learn such skills are hard to come by. Because you can't exactly practice these things in the privacy of your own home
which is to say, without making a day of itand let’s face it: a twenty-two year old guy learning how to bat looks kind of ridiculous.

But at the same time, I feel that I ultimately have nobody to blame but myself for my lack of flag footballing ability, these days. In gym class, you have excuses—in grade school, I was tiny, in middle school, I was fat (which wasn’t my fault, it was food’s), and in general, mandatory sports means you’re not playing exclusively with friends, and by “friends” I mean “people who would choose to give up the ball rather than put you in a full body cast.” At twenty-two years old, though, I’m now in the position to learn whatever I want to at my own speed, and I’m probably as healthy as I’ll ever be. So the only thing keeping me from not feeling like I’m 15 years old every time that I hold a baseball bat is the fact that, well, I haven’t gone out of my way to hold a baseball bat since I was 15 years old.

So it’s something of a Catch-22, really: I don’t have the confidence to play even the most basic of sports because I’m not very good at them, but I’m not very good at them because I don’t have the confidence to play even the most basic of sports.

Somebody help.

(Yes, I realize this is the second post in a row that ended with those two words, which: these are desperate times, apparently. And I also realize—though I’m sure you don’t—that this post directly contradicts something that I wrote a year ago, to the point where I seem like much more of a neurotic mess now than I did in April of 2006, which: uh, see part one of this paragraph, apparently.)

Background noise: Ben Folds, “Learn To Live With What You Are.” If only it were so easy, Ben Folds.