Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Comfort Food, Fred Feldman

Breakfast Cereal
By Frederick W. Feldman

Marius’ mother had eggs, bagels, butter, tomatoes, and celery in the cart. She picked up a package of cookies and put it in the cart. She steered the cart round the corner and let it coast down the cereal aisle. She squinted her eyes, like a hawk searching for prey. She was, in fact, looking for cereal––but not any cereal. The only brand of cereal she would buy. And whether she fried eggs or toasted a bagel with cream cheese, she always poured out a bowl for Marius at breakfast. As someone who had earned her degree in English, she felt it was her duty as a mother.

After a bit of scanning, she found it. It was the brand being published by the State University. After the institution had merged with the large cereal manufacturer, they had periodized the brand and renamed it to “post-Post Cereal.” Every box purchased benefited the English department that produced the cereal. In spite of that, Marius’ mother never felt guilty passing by the fresher boxes and picking one that had a remainder mark. They were a lot cheaper and just as edible. If she didn’t take them, they would just go to waste.

The State University had entered the world of breakfast food after it had been forced to look for other ways to sustain itself, and going into cereal had been an inspired and elegant solution. The cause of this desperation, for one, was that the academic job market had become hopelessly competitive. There had been a massive surplus of PhDs for years, and, in order to get hired, candidates took to publishing articles at breakneck speeds. Meanwhile, tenure was reserved for only those in their most autumnal years* and currently-employed professors had to publish even more in order to keep their positions.

*There had recently been a cover story in the news about Prof. Herman W. Hermann, the cherished scholar of avant-garde Slovene literature, who had spent twenty-five years as an adjunct, twenty years as an assistant professor, thirty years as an associate professor, and was finally granted full professorship a day before he died. The celebration party had been combined with his funeral. Even the mayor attended.

This led, in turn, to a surfeit of journal articles of often-questionable quality, most of which were never cited, much less read, even once. They went from the press to the archive with no stops in-between. The universities were inundated with lots of useless articles in useless journals and no way to get rid of them, until someone (likely in the business department) had the idea of getting into the cereal trade. This helped the English department recoup the funds dwindling. Their funds had dwindled partly due to low enrollment as the populace became more and more unfairly prejudiced against the university (claiming its scholarship was “pointless”) and mostly due to funds being allocated over to student amenities (the State University had recently unveiled a tanning salon for their students). Getting into the cereal business also allowed the State U to take care of their paper problem through their innovative cereal recipe; using a mixture of flour, water, sugar, and recycled journals.

So, knowing that she was giving back to her alma mater, it was with pride that Marius’ mother served him a bowl of post-Post Cereal every day. Sure, the STEM fields offered more practical degrees, but everyone knew that a liberal arts education taught you to think,

and that the humanities

were the key

to a well-rounded

breakfast.

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