Have you been purple-ized yet? I have, and let me tell you, it's not as much fun as it sounds. In fact, it's kind of creepy.
I should have known better. Well, to be honest, I did know better. But I just couldn't resist the intrigue. And the promise of double Cheddar Cheetos.
I love Cheetos; they're my guiltiest pleasure - or my most pleasurable guilt. I love them so much, I only allow myself to buy them occasionally. So when I saw the latest Cheetos variety, the "PX41 Limited Edition Cheezy Mix Mix-ups," on the store shelves, it seemed like the perfect occasion to binge on my favorite junk food. The bag showed four kinds of Cheetos inside: classic Crunchy Cheddar, little Parmesan pillows, Nacho Cheese wheels and my favorite, the above-mentioned double Cheddar puffs.
But next to the picture of my beloved puffs was the puzzling phrase "Purple-izes your tongue!" A closer look revealed instructions to eat five puffs in a row to "unleash the colorful purple effect" on your tongue. That's when the little voice in my head started questioning. Who the heck thinks up these things? Cheetos don't need no stinkin' gimmicks. Cheetos are perfect the way they are. Isn't it enough that they turn your fingers orange? That, by the way, is my favorite part, licking the cheesy - excuse me, cheezy - grime off my fingers after I've emptied the bag. Why would anyone want to throw another garish color into the Cheetos experience? And what kind of chemicals did they use to accomplish that?
The ingredients list included artificial colors Red 40 and Blue 1, in addition to the standard Yellow 6. The little voice was shouting by now, "This can't be good for us," but I ignored it and bought the bag.
Sure enough, after five double Cheddar puffs in a row, my tongue took on a dull purple tinge, not as remarkable as the bright blue specks that appeared after puff No. 3. Maybe, if I'd continued, the purple would have intensified beyond the sickly shade of gray-violet. I'll never know, because I couldn't bring myself to eat any more. Even though they tasted the same as regular Cheetos, that color-changing aspect ruined it for me.
Why do these corporations insist on messing with perfection? If there's one thing I've learned in all my years of junk food consumption, it's that "new and improved" usually isn't. Remember New Coke? Crystal Pepsi? Both products were hastily discontinued after consumers overwhelmingly rejected them.
More is not necessarily better, either. Double Stuff Oreos sounded good to me at first, but I quickly realized that the proportion of chocolate wafer to white sugar paste is a delicate balance and shouldn't be tampered with.
And while we're talking about leaving well enough alone, am I the only one who misses the way shrimp chips used to be irregularly shaped and sized? In a 10-cent bag, you could count on getting at least a couple of giant chips, too big for the tongue challenge. Remember that? You'd stick out your tongue, hold a shrimp chip on it, and as the moisture began to break down the chip, the bubbles on the surface would pop and pinch your tongue. We'd try to hold out until the crackling subsided, but before drool started dripping from our open mouths. I always thought the trick was to use a chip with lots of curve, so that the area touching the tongue was smaller than it appeared. Nowadays, shrimp chips are as boringly uniform as Pringles. Although they do seem to be ideally sized for a tongue challenge.
Purple tongues should be acquired through grape Fun Dip. That's the new and improved name for good old Lik-m-Aid, the powdered candy that we'd eat by licking our fingers and dipping them into the pouch. That was before they included a candy dipstick in the packaging. If you didn't want purple fingers to go with your purple tongue, you just poured the stuff into your mouth directly from the bag. Or you bought Pixy Stix candy-filled straws instead.
So please, Frito-Lay, leave the purple-izing to Willy Wonka. Unless you can come up with a slender-izing formula ("Eat five puffs in a row and unleash the magical fat-burning effect!"), quit messing with my Cheetos.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.