At this very moment, I am standing at the center of the earth -- Aisle Three at Albertson’s in Van Nuys. If I weren’t slouching toward middle age, I would jump up and down. Maybe even yell. Instead, I squint up at the florescent lights and lay a small smile on the Jesus of nutritionally-challenged breakfast cereal. The pilgrimage has ended; the planets are aligned. I now know for certain I made the right decision in moving back to the Valley.
I just needed a sign, and here it is, smiling back at me with a pointed beak and a solitary-fanged grin. That’s my main man on that shelf; my bad boy, next to the Lucky Charms and the Cookie Crisp: Count Chocula. Right here on Van Nuys Boulevard. The universe is kind and just.
The chocolatey cereal with spooky-fun marshmallows has always been a very good friend to me, even well into adulthood. But I leaned on it particularly heavily to get me through those bleary Panorama City-adjacent mornings of pre-adolescence, when I peered vacantly through the sliding glass door of the balcony outside our second-story apartment. I had a killer view of the car port roof, but it was strangely unsatisfying. Mostly, though, I stared outside with a heavy heart. Our collie, Gypsy, was now living on the cramped balcony where once she once had a back yard in which to roam. She paced, she howled, she slowly turned into a canine veal. It was torture. I hated waking up. But when I turned my gaze to the Count, and dipped my spoon into the murky brown milk and fished out a bat-shaped marshmallow, everything was okay.
Alas, as I got older, my old friend had vanished from supermarket shelves in metropolitan Los Angeles. I knew this because I had been searching. I was always searching for that one secret store that still had sense enough to stock the greatest cereal of all time. Fruitlessly.
And the Valley has it – not five minutes from my house. We are obesity. Here us roar!
I grew up in the 70s, when the breakfast cereal industry was a bit more forthright in its efforts to tweak the minds of America’s youth. It was a narcotic, pure and simple, designed to give us that lift-off buzz before that 2nd period spelling test. And my mother – like most moms, probably - liked to keep me doped up so that she could do important things, like tan, pop speed, and suck down diet chocolate pudding. Between my yummy sugar-intensive breakfast cereal and an hour of Hobo Kelly on the tube, I was flying high each and every day. Walk the dog? Fuck that shit. Fill that bowl to the brim!
We had Sugar Pops; Super Sugar Smack, Kix. What were they thinking? Most likely, exactly what all you snarky, irony-loving adults are thinking – that General Mills and Kellogg's et al were selling sugar-coated dope that swam in milk. Yeah … and… what’s your point? At least they were honest. Smack and Pops provided a nice little drug-like rush to the discerning six-year-old who hadn’t quite figured out where the old man kept his stash of Panama Red.
Of course, now that I’m a responsible parent, I have to do the right thing – which is to keep the Count away from my son. Maybe I’m just a selfish junkie and I don’t want to share. Then again, I don’t want my son to follow in my footsteps. I want Emmett to have a better life. Besides, it’s bad for his teeth (all six of them).
But Count Chocula’s presence speaks volumes about Valley supremacy. We are not embarrassed to indulge in the things we want. We do things because we like them, not because a magazine or loser blog tells us that we should. If we’re hungry, we eat. We don’t look over our shoulder. We trust in ourselves.
Who needs smoothies when you have doughnut shops? We live in a kitsch-free zone. North of Ventura Boulevard, the word “trendy” does not exist. And it’s a liberating feeling. After all, I’ve seen enough pretention in L.A. to last several lifetimes (hey, I spent six years in Silver Lake).
It’s been a difficult adjustment for me, since I last lived here in 1984, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to embrace Count Chocula purely on its merits, not because it’s cool or kooky. I’d even venture to guess that if, say, a shop in Silver Lake got a windfall of Count Chocula, they would, with a wink, sell it for ten clams a box, and whomever buys it would be tempted never to open it because, well, it’s art dude.
Fuck art. Let’s eat.