Saturday, September 24, 2011

A short-short story: Life's Instruction Sheet (Some Assembly Required)

In college, poring through the stacks at the UCLA Undergraduate Research Library, I happened upon a crucial piece of information. (I can’t remember whether it was in a book, a newspaper scrap left on a study carrel, or written on a wall in felt-tip pen.) I found out that somehow in my childhood I had failed to obtain the instruction sheet for life. This was odd, because, I discovered, the instruction sheet had been included as a premium in select boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal.

I found this puzzling. I had faithfully consumed the good Cap’n’s sugar-laden cereal throughout my childhood. I had saved every toy and tchotchke found therein. I had a pile of plastic red spyglasses, a stack of dental bills, and a history of poor childhood nutrition to show for it. Yet somehow the instruction book, released sometime between the tumultous years of the late sixties and the Watergate era, had eluded me.

I was certain that my life, which had never gone quite according to my expectations, had resulted.

I spent the next quarter century tracking down this elusive cereal premium. I was certain that my success in life depended on it. Alas, while people collected and sold cereal premiums, fewer people collected and sold old cereal. (Although I’m certain the preservative packed into Cap’n Crunch would preserve the unique flavor long after mankind had left Earth for the stars.)

At last, through the magic of the Internet, I tracked down the limited run of Cap’n Crunch boxes (sold only in a remote region of New Mexico, it turned out) that contained the instruction sheet for life. I purchased a box at an auction in Beverly Hills. I eagerly hurried home, tore open the box, and extracted from the calcified cereal the waxpaper packet that contained the instruction sheet.

The sheet was folded over many times. The print was extremely fine, and the sheet seemed to be printed in every language known to man (and a few unknown). But at last I found the English section – and found the instructions for a well-lived life:

“Skip breakfast.”

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