I once got a letter from Fred Flintstone. It must have been about 1980, after I had long been a loyal consumer of Fruity Pebbles cereal, which the commercials assured me was part of a “balanced breakfast.” In hindsight, I’m guessing what they meant by “balanced breakfast” was that the amount of processed sugar in the red Fruity Pebbles was perfectly balanced with the amount of processed sugar in the yellow Fruity Pebbles.
At any rate, Post Cereals ran a contest that year. A puzzle was printed on the back of each box, and any kid who solved it and mailed in the answer was instantly registered for a sweepstakes drawing. Much like Ralphie and his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring in “A Christmas Story,” I was a sucker for any product-related contest. Marketers had known this for decades, and kids begged their parents to buy twice the boxes of Cocoa Pebbles so we’d have double the chances to win, not to mention double the hyperactivity.
I must have sent in my solution to the puzzle twice, which explains why to this day I still have two letters on colorful Fruity Pebbles stationery, addressed to me personally by a dot-matrix printer, and inscribed at the bottom with an official, authentic printed signature of Fred Flintstone himself. The letter had three very important-sounding paragraphs, which read in full:
“Dear Michael: It was so nice of you to help me solve the Pebbles cereal mystery! Now that you’ve tasted it, I’m sure you know why everybody’s chomping all the Pebbles cereal — it’s yabba-dabba-delicious!
“To thank you for your assistance, I’m sending you these fruity and cocoa-scented stickers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
“Pretty soon we’ll be drawing the names of the 10 lucky sweepstakes winners. I hope you’re one of them! Best wishes, Fred Flintstone.”
It is difficult to convey the heights to which an 8-year-old boy’s street cred can skyrocket when he marches around the neighborhood with an autograph from cartoon royalty. And believe me, I made full use of it. When it came to self-promotion, I was shameless. I still am.
In my defense, kid-dom back then was a highly competitive world. Someone always had more Star Wars toys. Someone always had a newer bike. Someone always made more hoops when we played basketball in the backyard. But no one — I mean, no one — else on Amalfi Drive was on a first-name basis with the Flintstones.
Later that year, I inherited $3,000 from the estate of a relative. It was more money than I had ever thought about in my lifetime. Frankly, it’s more money than I have now. The day I got the news, I happened to be hanging around with one of my friends. Let’s call him David, since that was, in fact, his name.
David had just cleaned up on birthday money and was perched on his brand-new Schwinn Phantom bike, fanning himself with a cool stack of $20 bills. He proudly showed them to me. In the nuanced game of juvenile one-upsmanship, I’m sure he must have felt confident that my wallet was empty.
I blush now to admit this. Had I been a classier 8-year-old boy, I would have kept my mouth shut and let David bask in the glory of his steady cash flow. But since the phrase “classy 8-year-old boy” is an oxymoron, I waited until David’s beaming smile had reached its apex before I let the air out of his bankroll.
To my shame, I remember what I said exactly. “Forget it, David,” I gloated, pausing for effect. “You’ll never have as much money as I do.” David’s face fell. Literally. He had to bend over from his bicycle and pick up his face.
Yes, I confess that the moment itself was yabba-dabba delicious. And if I had been one of the 10 lucky winners of that sweepstakes on top of that, I could have really rubbed it in. But I’ve gotten a little perspective some 35 years later, and now I wish I hadn’t said a word.
So, if you’re out there somewhere, David, I’m sorry. You were rich that day. Not nearly as well-connected with Stone-Age cereal mascots, but rich nonetheless. I should have let you enjoy the moment. At the very least, I should have given you a Fruity Pebbles sticker.