Three fat white guys walk into a Walgreens, and stumble upon the 2015 Lay's Do Us A Flavor ™ finalists. It's not a joke — it's my life, and I guess I've come to accept that even when I'm off the goddamned clock, even when I'm not TRYING to stuff my face with Frankensteinian culinary abominations, these things manage to find me. Life imitates art. Dragons come looking for knights eventually. And even if I stop into a convenience store looking for, say, some Emergen-C and a bottle of water, I guess I'll wind up buying four bags of novelty potato chips and eating all of them — and of course, bringing some friends along, because misery loves company.
So, anyway, three fat white guys walk into a Walgreens, and by sheer happenstance, one of them is a food “critic” for the OC Weekly, and so when these dudes notice that Lay's has released four brand-new flavors for 2015, they give into Fate and grab all four flavors, eyeballing the bags and speculating about what's to come like fucking oil speculators. As if KETTLE-COOKED GREEKTOWN GYRO, WAVY WEST COAST TRUFFLE FRY, NEW YORK REUBEN, and SOUTHERN STYLE BISCUITS AND GRAVY flavored chips could portend anything beyond gut-clutching lamentation.
“I'm eyeballin' those gyro ones,” claims Sebastian, as we walk back to my dirty gray 2007 Toyota Prius, baking in the ninety degree South Bay sunshine. Sebastian is from Omaha, Nebraska, and even though he's lived in California for well over a decade, he still offers up useless Gomer Pyle-isms like “tops” and “cat-sup,” and has a tendency to do the Charleston when he's excited. A bag of chips hangs from each set of his limp, pasty fingers like a fried potato anchor.
Adrian, my roommate and usual attachment to these unfortunate comestible endeavors, is silent. He clutches the bag of SOUTHERN STYLE BISCUITS AND GRAVY like an exorcist with a cross — as if such a simple flavor will prove a totem against the evil to come. He is a fool, and I love him for it. Sweat clings to his brow.
These are only the omens before the onslaught.
We get into my messy, broiling car, and I push-button start the sensible hybrid engine and pump the AC up to max and we sit. I do not switch it into drive because I know what is coming, and how it must be. I stare at the bag of REUBEN chips in my lap and lick my lips – disgust or desire, which will win out? Am I man, or beast?
“We're just gonna eat 'em in here?” Adrian inquires, a last ditch attempt at engaging civility. It fails, miserably, and there is no acknowledgement or disagreement, simply a change in the climate of the sweaty, boiling automobile interior, and as the meager chill from the vents blasts my hands, I know: beast, not man. A pig in slop, perhaps.
We tear open the bags one by one, giving them each a smell before tasting, a self-aware rib at the bloated bourgeoisie who indulge the same with wine or whiskey – they are no better than us, animals all. Overall, the chips smell like you'd expect: TRUFFLE FRIES actually smell good, like truffle oil and parmesan, while SOUTHERN BISCUITS AND GRAVY is muted and simple but wholesome in scent. Comforting smells. REUBEN is some kind of sorcery – I swear to God that if you held that bag under my nose, and I closed my eyes, I'd think there was a pastrami sandwich on a plate in front of me. Somewhere at Lay's, there's a scientist who's the Rembrandt of olfaction, and that guy deserves a fucking raise, let me tell you. Of course, there's someone else at the same laboratory who designed the flavor/smell of the GYRO chips, and that dude needs to get canned, because the odor out of that bag was like day old tzatziki spread on hot, stale toast.
Sebastian wrinkles his nose and admits that he may have been wrong in his earlier assessment. Adrian brings the periwinkle BISCUITS AND GRAVY bag to his chest, a deflating lifejacket. And I stare down upon the bag reading REUBEN and know that I am damned.
And as if on cue, we reach into our bags with crinkling and crunching, fistfuls of crispy, deep-fried powdered-flavor-dusted potato shoved into our mouths, and the bacchanal begins.
The TRUFFLE FRY chips are my favorite, but that's probably because it could already be a normal chip flavor and no one would bat an eye. There's a hint of parmesan, a vaguely oil undertaste that could be truffle or olive oil, and all of that on the well-formed wavy chip that Lay's does so well. I was pleasantly surprised. I'd buy them again.
Adrian's comfort in the SOUTHERN STYLE BISCUITS AND GRAVY chips was well-founded; they turned out to be his personal favorite, and perfectly safe. They had that weird sort of warm taste that some artificial flavors manage. It was kind of bland, but there was a hint of black pepper that was nice. Mostly they just tasted a little creamy, in a good way.
The NEW YORK REUBEN chips fell a little short. While the scent was dead-on, they were clearly dusted in some kind of Swiss cheese flavor-powder, so while there was a tart hint of Russian dressing and tiny tang of corned beef flavor, the chips were dominated by the waxy, but not unpleasant sensation of melted Swiss cheese. It was good, but if I wanted Swiss cheese chips, I would've asked for Swiss cheese chips.
But perhaps there really is a God who believes in divine retribution, because our munching and crunching was sorely wounded by the arrival of the KETTLE COOKED GREEKTOWN GYRO chips, an abomination unto all creation. I can't adequately describe the flavor – imagine, if you will, a pile of gyro meat on a plate. Let that meat sit out in the sun all day, and then throw the meat away. Now soak up the leftover meat-grease with a napkin, douse it in Tzatziki Yogurt sauce, deep fry it, and leave it under a heat lamp for awhile. If you ate that napkin, you might – MIGHT – have an inkling of how relatively unpleasant the GYRO-flavored chips are.
I drove us home in silence, dropping Sebastian off on the way. I pondered my place in this unforgiving universe – was this who I was now? Did I subside in some malign purgatory, some twisted realm of ironic punishment, where every single year, without fail, the Frito Lay corporation would contrive some unspeakably new flavors of potato chips, ensuring that I would somehow obtain and consume them? Would I learn to love this punishment, as already I loved the WAVY WEST COAST TRUFFLE FRY chips? Was I already so far gone, so beyond help of Providence?
“You want me to toss these?” Adrian asks, meaning the leftover bags of chips, as we enter our apartment. I inspect the half-full bags, hanging from his hands, poised to drop over the kitchen trash can. How easy it would be, I think, to banish these cursed things from my life. All he has to do is open his hands, and let go, and I'll be free. At least…until next year.
“Nah,” I reply, and he shrugs and leaves them on the counter. “I might want some later.”
And sure enough, a few hours later, my ever-widening ass firmly planted on our living room couch, my hand reaches over behind me as if of its own accord. It finds purchase on the shiny foil bag full of thin-sliced, deep-fried flavored potatoes, and brings them over to rest in my lap. My eyes never leave the television. My conscience screams, but I am already so lost. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
I reach into the bag, grab a chip, and slide it into my mouth. Chew, swallow.
I grab another, and soon enough, I'm going for a second bag.