I Survived the 13-Hour Cereal Sale


My parents must have owned a lot of spoons.

Growing up, I was affectionately known within my family as the Cereal Killer (it’s best to let some nicknames not follow you into adulthood). I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast every morning, a bowl after school, and usually I would sneak a bowl into my room after dinner.

Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch was my poison, and I ate enough of it to help the Quaker Oats Company survive the anti-sugar health food scare of the early ‘70s. Oh, that shiny glaze of high fructose corn syrup, that rich buttery taste of fake peanut butter, the endlessly satisfying crunch…this stuff was Battle Creek heroin. I knew the elephant on the box was named Smedley. I knew that the Cap’n’s full name was Horatio Magellan Crunch, although I could not tell my high school World History teacher who the actual Magellan was.

Cap'n Crunch Cereal

Cap’n Crunch–my Battle Creek heroine.

When my mom vacuumed my room on the weekends, she would have to remove several cereal bowls from their hiding place under my bed. Each bowl had a convenient handle formed by the spoon that was glued in place with dried milk residue. But somehow, we never ran out of clean spoons.

Now, thirty years down the line, I’m watching my own teenage son enjoy the same intimate relationship with cereal. It’s his go-to food morning noon and night. It’s a meal. It’s a snack. It’s something to do when he’s bored. The only difference is that he doesn’t hide the empty bowls under his bed. There’s no room among the dirty clothes.

Cereal is not the cheap-smack, last resort, Mom’s-too-tired-to-make-fish-sticks meal that it once was. A twenty-ounce box of Lucky Charms, for example, can go for as much as $7.00 in the grocery store. ($75 in Hawaii, but that’s worth it because they sell rum in the grocery stores.) And if you’re using the Jethro Bodine-sized cereal bowls like Rusty does, that’s about two servings.

Rusty is not the only young teen who goes through cereal the way Mariah Carey goes through hand mirrors. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the sound of thousands of teenage mouthfuls chewing their way through tons of sugary cereal at any given time. It sounds like a swarm of locusts destroying a vast expanse of Iowa farmland, only “Vampire Diaries” can be heard in the background.

Someone has to keep the cupboards full, and with their cereal selling for $1.79 a box, a local grocer’s (let’s call them Schopenhauers) 13-Hour Cereal Sale is our chance to stock the pantry without breaking the bank. So a couple of times a year I gird my loins to brave the crowds at Schopenhauers.

This time I went early, right after the kids left for school. Surely no one else would have that bright idea. Wrong. The sale began at 7:00 a.m., and the parking lot was jammed by 7:45. A few vehicles were clogging up the works with the Costco Campout (idling for several minutes, waiting like a buzzard while someone loads 300 items into their truck so you can take their spot when they leave and you won’t have to walk more than fifty feet to the store entrance you lazy bastard).

Cereal Sale

The13-Hour Cereal Sale is our chance to stock the pantry without breaking the bank.

I eventually found a parking spot and strode purposefully to the front door, from which a steady stream of shopping baskets emerged, piled high with cereal. The people pushing the carts, mostly women, had the thousand-yard stare you usually see on the faces of war veterans and ex-Fox News correspondents.

I yanked a basket free from collection inside the front doors, its handle still warm and moist from the previous cereal hoarder. Just inside the entrance there was a monster stack of Trix, roughly the size of an espresso shack. I grabbed a box. I had never seen my kids eating Trix, but if we were ever down to a choice between Trix and Shredded Wheat, there’s no doubt which way they’d go.

My back wheels broke traction as I rounded the corner of the Trix monolith, and I almost collided with an older man coming toward me on a three-wheeled scooter. I mumbled an apology and went around him. He just smiled and nodded, his scooter-mounted basket piled high with slick-wrapped packages of brisket, boneless pork loin and chicken thighs.

“God, I love this 13-hour meat sale!” he said, twisting the throttle and rolling away.

I just shook my head and continued to the back of the store, considering the connection between Schopenhauers the store and Schopenhauer the philosopher. His theory was that man is driven purely by his will; by his basic desires. Rarely had I seen this as plainly displayed as it was here. Along the rear aisle of the store, people buzzed around the cereal stacks like late summer hornets on a kid’s abandoned weenie.

Cereal Killer - Bob WireSharing their naked desire for $1.79 boxes of cereal, I pushed my way into the throng, ignoring the dirty looks of housewives smelling vaguely of Bounce dryer sheets and twist-top pinot grigio. I dropped box after box of cereal into my cart, throwing the occasional elbow and even pulling a Baretta-style sliding 180 with my shopping cart between the stacks.

Schopenhauers also sells heavily discounted gallons of milk during this event, much the way a head shop offers half-price Bic lighters with every glass bong. I put a couple of gallons of skim milk (or as I call it, Blue Water) into my cart, not bothering to check the expiration dates. We’ve never had milk around long enough to have to consider the expiration date. Sometimes the milk runs out before I’ve even finished putting the rest of the groceries away.

(I quit drinking milk a while back, having developed a digestive reaction that includes stomach cramps and violent farts so loud that you have to turn the TV up, but if I did drink it I would at least go for 2%.)

My cart was now piled to eye level with twenty boxes of cereal that I had no idea where I’d store. I cruised the back aisle, looking for a clear path westward to the check stands. Ironically, the one aisle that was absolutely free of people was the cereal aisle.

I double-timed it toward the checkout, whizzing by the already-picked-clean shelves that were reminiscent of a Florida convenience store the day before a hurricane. I burst free of the aisle to see twelve check stands open, each with a line of five or six cereal box-laden shopping carts, stacked up like airliners waiting to take off at LAX. I shook my head, resigned to the fact that I was going to miss my physical therapy appointment that started in thirty minutes across town.

A light flashed to my left, and I saw a smiling young guy, clean-cut and unrumpled, beckon to me from the Express counter. “Come on over,” he said.

I giggled uncontrollably as he scanned box after box of cereal. He said he was just coming on shift, but didn’t expect it to be this crazy this early.

“So what do you have planned today?” he asked, in an I-don’t-really-care, small-talk manner as he punched the keypad to total my purchase.

I looked at my wristwatch. “Well, I’ll be heading to a physical therapy from here.” I looked around the store, seeing the colorful swarm of cereal-crammed carts weaving around each other. I caught a glimpse of the old timer with the basket full of meat as he rounded a corner into the toothpaste aisle on his scooter. Turning back to the cashier, I swiped my debit card and heaved a mighty sigh of accomplishment.

“I’m kind of wiped out, really. I think I’ll just go home and have a bowl of Peanut Butter Crunch.”

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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