I am not a picky eater. I regularly eat boxed mac and cheese, not just Kraft but the $0.35 generic box that tastes little more than bleach flour and sawdust. I also eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and, if the beer hits me right, I have been known to dip those Cheetos in processed queso warmed in the microwave. I have the palate of a raccoon, so if you think I entered into this journey with anything less than genuine excitement in my heart, you would be mistaken. I was absolutely looking forward to eating the entire box of Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Mac ‘N Cheese that I bought, on clearance, at Wal-Mart.
The lazily-fusilli shaped pasta (the fact that they named this ‘Mac ‘N Cheese’ but opted for a corkscrew is a clear indicator of just how little effort went into the creation of this product) is coated in a red that only appears in nature to warn predators to stay away. This dish looks more like what might be served to a human on an alien planet in a science-fiction film. A local delicacy, the green-skinned companions would assure the Earthling. One might expect the noodles to be writhing around among themselves as the main character graciously declines the meal.
The dish gave off absolutely no aroma, which was worrisome, yet I felt a pain in my brain as one might get from a huff of bleach. While my olfactory response may have been duped, my subconscious was clearly warning me.
Was the dish “hot”? Yes, absolutely, the spice left a generous burn in my mouth that lasted a few minutes, but it had absolutely no flavor otherwise. It just tasted hot, but it was a selfish, rude kind of hot. Not the sated feeling you might get after a bowl of spicy handmade ramen or a plate of glistening chicken wings — where you bask in the tingle around your mouth. It is an empty, hollow heat that served no purpose. This is the crossover episode of food; unnecessary, shoehorned, and unpleasing to fans.
There was absolutely nothing cheesy about this, nothing creamy, not even the astringic manufactured taste of powdered cheese product. For a brand to hold the slogan “Dangerously Cheesy,” there is nothing dangerous about the amount of cheese in this dish. The cheese in this dish plays it so safe that one could probably bring litigation for false advertising. In the end, both nouns in the title were absolutely erroneous.
It tasted how you feel just before you start vomiting after drinking too much: a mouth full of saliva, immense regret for your actions, and a foreboding of what’s to come. While it had no detectable flavor on the tongue, it tasted of seasonal depression. It was so flavorless, you taste how little thought and effort was put into the creation of this product by the Cheetos/PepsiCo company. This dish tasted of the collapse of capitalism.
I got about halfway through the dish, which was a rather meager portion as the box was barely half-filled to begin with, when the pang in my head turned into a full-blown headache. I stopped to take stock of myself to realize that my heart was palpitating, my stomach had clenched up, and the room was spinning. Somehow, this garbage gave me the physical symptoms of my all-to-familiar anxiety attacks. Soon, I was itching, my hand was swatting all over my body, and I felt like I was being jabbed with needles. Next, my head started to swim, I had trouble focusing, and I began to pace the room in a panic. Was I high… from Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Mac ‘N Cheese?!
Then, there he was (maybe he’d been there the whole time), sitting in my reading chair, his orange tail swishing lazily, grinning at me from behind his Ray-Bans.
“Ch-Ch-Chester?” I questioned. “Please help me. I’m freakin’ out.”
“It’s gonna be okay,” the calm, laissez-faire Chester Cheetah assured me. “You’re just having a bad trip. It’ll be over soon. Just remember to breathe. It ain’t easy being cheesy, but you got this.”
I took a few deep breaths and curled into a ball on the floor beside the mascot. My muscles twitched as his paw gently stroked my hair. Chester comforted me through to the other side and I awoke hours later drenched sweat. Was it all a dream? Could such a creation as Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Mac ‘N Cheese really exist in the waking world? No. It’s not possible.
Then I saw the half-eaten bowl of neon quasi-pasta on my coffee table, my gut sank, and I felt ashamed. Not only for what I had done but I knew I was going to self-inflict these wounds all over again.