One nostalgia to go, please

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For decades, we’ve known that sex sells – products, movies, just about anything. But now nostalgia is gaining ground.

Yesterday my 15-year-old daughter asked if we could go through the drive-through to get her an “Adult Happy Meal.”

Me: “Is that a real thing?”

Her: “Yeah, Mom, it’s a thing.”

Me: “How is it different than a regular Happy Meal?”

Her: “I don’t know. I think there’s more food in it?”

Because I believe in important journalistic research, I checked this out. And she was right. Adult Happy Meals exist. The box is bigger. The food is bigger (with either 10 nuggets or a Big Mac), but that’s not what’s making them so popular that staff members at McDonald’s are swamped with orders.

It’s the toy. Not the toy itself but the memory of being a kid and getting that Happy Meals toy. Who doesn’t want to recapture a bit of the magic of anticipating what might be in the box – the one you had to beg your parents to order?

While the new prizes will likely become collectibles, I took one look at them pictured on the menu board and lost my appetite. The plastic figurines are strange versions of Grimace, Hamburglar, Birdie and something called Cactus Buddy. For reasons I don’t understand, each figurine has four eyes and a smile that looks like a sleepy toddler in a moving minivan drew it with a Sharpie.

Large McDonald's SignI love McDonald’s and once had an enthusiastic addiction to Quarter Pounders as a teen, but I don’t get it. These toys look like they’ve been left on the hot dash of a car where they partially melted. Or maybe they’ve eaten too many marijuana edibles. Why are they staring at me with so many creepy eyes? What the heck is a Cactus Buddy and where’s Ronald? I have so many questions.

But some people who’ve already snatched up their own Adult Happy Meal say it was the anticipation of the toy that helped them revisit their childhood, plus the glee of ripping into the little plastic bag that holds it.

We all have symbols from years past that warm us up from the inside out. Snoopy always does it for me. Or Pac Man. And Captain Crunch. If I had to choose between a late-night slice of the best cake in the world versus a big bowl of Captain Crunch? I’d choose the Captain every time. He knows me. We go way back. He reminds me of a simpler time – when worries were low and metabolism was high.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with a Captain Crunch crush. While recently cruising the grocery store, I found a photo of the Captain on a bottle of “Cap’n Crunch’s Ocean Blue Artificially Maple Flavored Syrup.” The name of the product is nearly as long as my list of concerns about the Captain’s involvement. I fell in love with a cartoon captain selling golden, crunchy nuggets of sugary goodness. He’s not a mascot for bottled blue goo – at least he wasn’t back in the 80s.

Not to be outdone by the Cap’n, Fred Flintstone now lends his Fruity Pebbles to red bottled syrup, and he has his own pancake kit in case you can’t decide between sugar and sugar and would rather have a combination of the two.

Lucky Charms cereal and Dunkaroos spun-off their own pancake mix creations, too, because apparently what pancakes have been missing is the inclusion of crushed cookies and frosting. I’m surprised the box doesn’t include dental insurance, too.

But if you’d like to sell me a Lite Brite keychain, I’ll probably buy it. A Snoopy sweatshirt? Sure. Because nostalgia hits us in the heart – and apparently the wallet, too.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.  

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