I’m a snacker, unabashed. (Disclaimer: Maybe I’m not that unabashed. Those snacks pictured above are not all mine. Okay. They are. But not all at once. We’ve had some of those for weeks.)
I recall the snacking of my childhood the way my grandfather might have recalled galloping through the grassy fields of his youth, the golden sun reflecting warmly on his face, racing with his pup, Bandit. Likewise, I remember sitting on my front stoop, dried worms baking on the concrete, sucking the last of the grape juice out of my melted Fla-Vor-Ice, careful not to cut my tongue on the wrapper. Freeze Pop cuts were worse than paper cuts, for real.
There are some places that can just make me feel old–like the mall, where everyone looks twelve. Has everyone always looked twelve? There’s so many of them. They move in swarms. How did they all get here? Jesus, I must look forty-five.
Like the mall, the grocery store also has a way of making me feel old. Since we were snowed in for past week, we visited the store a lot, and in my grocery cart, I found sensible, sustaining foods such as eggs, peanut butter, carrots, pasta. But I didn’t have any snacks. To the snack aisle at once!
Then it happens. There I am, and I realize ten years have got behind me. Pringles. When was the last time I had these?
I haven’t had bought a can of Pringles, maybe since high school. In the mall, I feel old when I realize the record store does not exist. There is no place to buy tapes and CDs. (And somehow, in this brave new world I am living in, Michael Jackson is dead.) In the grocery store, it’s the Pringles I haven’t had in a decade. I think back.
I’m there with my mother. My sister and I are fighting over who gets to ride on the kick bar on the back of the cart while my mother pushes. She says we can pick out any snack we each want. My sister is a Sour Cream & Onion chips girl, all the way. What do I choose? Easy. I always go for the Pizzarias, the Supreme flavor.
And suddenly I realize in this brave new world, snack chips can be dead too. Man, I haven’t had Pizzarias, the pizza-inspired snack chip in years. Their closest cousin would belong to the Doritos family. Made by Keebler, they came in a white & green bag, and there were three flavors–cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, and my favorite, supreme pizza. I wonder if they still can be found. It will be a project to research on the Internet during the long snowed-in week.
I was raised on red meat, whole milk, and junk food. It was the 1980s. Snacking was a way of life. In my school lunches, I didn’t get a hand-written note from my mother tucked between the sandwich and juice box; I got a package of twin-wrapped Nutty Bars. In my universe, each meal had its own dessert, just as some planets had their own moons. We had doughnuts to go with the eggs at breakfast; Little Debbie’s at lunch; and a bowl of double fudge Rocky Road after dinner.
There was no such thing as an obesity epidemic. During Saturday morning cartoons, the junk food advertisers competed with the toy advertisers, and we were as loyal to the Keebler Elves as we were to Geoffrey the Giraffe. By the late nineties, things began to change. Cartoon characters all but disappeared from the junk food shelves. Scooby Doo started hawking squeezable yogurt. Disney got in the fruit snacks game. The culture was shifting. The Arch Deluxe gave way to the Salad Shaker. In movies, the fat kid was no longer the jolly, lovable tag-a-long. He was depicted as the bully, the villain.
Soon, even my mother replaced the Oreos in our pantry with the green packages of Snackwells, diet cookies that tasted as though we were taking a bite out of the upholstery of the couch. Dark days indeed, dark days indeed.
For the snow storm, I ended up choosing a couple other classics from my childhood, Pecan Sandies and Handi Snacks. Pecan Sandies were another casualty when my mother switched to the dreadful diet cookies.
But before this, we used to take them to beach.
I am sitting at the end of the towel, flicking the sand. I do not wear suntan lotion. My skin does not burn because I am olive, and no one has heard the sun is dangerous in the 1980s. I must wait for my sister before we can run to the ocean. I stick my tongue out at her, but she stares sadly towards the ocean as my mother slathers her in lotion and wraps her in towels and hides her under the umbrella. She burns easily, like frozen pizzas or break and bake cookies.
This, I love. We compete at everything and I do not have to wear suntan lotion. I win.
I reach into the bag of Pecan Sandies behind me. There’s no chocolate that melts or gets sticky in the hot sun. Sand, Sandies. Perfect. The first few rows of cookies are already eaten. I can almost taste the shortbread melting in my mouth. I burrow my hand in deeper, searching for a cookie. Still, nothing. Dad must have ate them all. I pull the package over to my lap and pull out the tray.
Horror. The remaining cookies are crawling with ants. Hundreds–maybe thousands. I look at my mother, who does not see. She is still slathering Melissa. I consider brushing the ants off. But then it’s too late. Melissa screams. I can’t believe Dad ate half the Pecan Sandies and the ants ate the other half, and I get none. The world sucks.
To this day still, when I have a Pecan Sandie, I think of ants. Perhaps they were making a delicious ant hill from the grains of shortbread.
Handi Snacks were another favorite–perhaps the empyrean favorite of all children.
While I have no specific, one-idyllic-day-gone-wrong memory of Handi Snacks, I do remember sitting in the cafeteria at school, sweating out the measurements to make sure I had just enough cheese available for each cracker. I used that little red stick with precision. The red stick was my favorite part. The crackers were too buttery, and the cheese too salty and warm, but the red stick was righteous. No really, it’s all about that stick. There’s no way kids would enjoy eating disgusting cheese on greasy crackers–unless they could make it themselves.
The cheese made me gag, and yet I made sure to spread every last stick-full of it. It’s kind of like the need to spoon every last morsel of Capn Crunch into your mouth, even though the last piece is mushy and milk-logged. Or maybe I’m completely obsessive compulsive.
My current day opinion of Handi Snacks remains the same. Disgusting cheese and greasy crackers, plus FUN RED STICK, equals gourmet joy. Unabashedly so.
Well now the Snowpocalypse is over, and calling it such hasn’t been quite as fun since CNN picked up on it, the lamers. Slowly, the snow has melted from my car, revealing a shiny yellow Chevrolet underneath–that is, until I drove on the highway and it became mired in a sludge of mud and salt. Come Saturday, the girlfriend and I jumped in my yellow car to leave the house, to drive, to buy something–things, useless things. We had been trapped for days. We wanted useless things. We drove aimlessly into the county, free from the white-death grip of the city, at last.
We drove until we found a strip mall–a strip mall! There was a weird non-Blockbuster movie rental store we had never been in. There was a liquor store we had never been in. There was some strange store at the end called Deal$. Yes, with a $. We went in them all! It was a strip mall adventure, a strip mall liberation. I was excited for the Deal$, which turned out to be a majority dollar store, with some items that cost more than a dollar, even though these items too would have been a dollar in real dollar stores. That $ you see, is sinister.
But it was in the Deal$ that I found TGI Fridays Pizza Chips. According to the internet research I had done, these were the heir apparent to the once Keebler Pizzarias. Could it be true? This was almost like finding the Ark of the Covenant. Or at least like finding a decades old snack chip ressurected in a brand so crappy, it wasn’t even worthy of real dollar stores. I live for this shit.
It was time to put these chips to the challenge–a face off of pizza flavored snacks.
For this contest, I also picked up a bag of Doritos Pizza Cravers and Combos Pizzaria Pretzel flavor.
Let’s go back to my childhood for a moment. We were out on the boat. Boating was one my father’s hobbies for a few years, back before the wasps built a nest under one of the seats, back before the floor cracked and sprout weeds, back before it was giant lawn ornament in my parents’ back yard.
We’re on the lake and I am sunning on the front of the boat. I’m wearing sun tan lotion. It’s the 1990s, after all. Cancer is real. I’m eating a bag of Pizzarias, the flavors of fake oregano and saltwater spray on my tongue. That’s all I remember. The boat. The saltwater. And the Pizzaria dust on my fingertips. One idyllic day. Forever.
Alright. I decide to try the Doritios Pizza Cravers first.
I arrange them like pizza slices, the same way I used to arrange the Pizzarias. The Pizzarias looked like this, shaped like Doritos, only perhaps they were more Cheeto-ish in color and messiness.
I recruited the girlfriend to taste test these pizza snacks with me. I rate the Doritos as addictive. All Doritos taste the same, regardless of what they’re supposed to taste like. These taste like Doritos and therefore they are delicious and I could eat handfuls of them. But this is not the Pizzaria taste I’m looking for. The girlfriend does not think they taste like pizza either. They’re just Doritos.
Doritos are not pizzas; they are only mere mortals.
We try the TGI Fridays Pizza Chips next.
Compared to the look of the Doritos, I think you can see the difference in seasoning colors. While the Doritos are simply Dorito-colored, the TGI Pizzas appear to have a unique seasoning. I try one. Actually, this is the flavor. I am back on the boat. It’s 1992. I bought the cassette tape of Thriller at Record Town in the mall. I listen on my walkman. I lay in the sun. This is the flavor. But it’s not the crunch, alas. The TGI Pizza discs are crunchy and potato-skin-esque. They’re like the long lost Tato Skin chips combined with the long lost Pizzarias, both made by Keebler.
Meanwhile, the girlfriend, who has no memory of Pizzarias, only tastes the fact that these also do not taste like pizza. We move onto the Combos. She has high hopes for them.
She crowns Combos the winner. Indeed, the filling does seem to capture the essence of pizza the most. I like these too, but my heart is still back there on that boat, back before the wasp nest and weeds. Back before the ants invaded my Pecan Sandies. Back when life was Saturday moring cartoons and snacks, and sitting on my front stoop, trying to suck out the last of the melting Fla-Vor-Ice.
Man, I wish it was summer.