Air Apparent

This country is divided like a gym class game of dodge ball. Split right down the middle, shirts versus skins. Nothing illustrates this ugly chasm more than two recent and diametrically opposed innovations.Oxygen bars and Cocoa Frosted Flakes.Certain people will flock to one, everyone else will buy the other. Oxygen bars are already popular in Tokyo, Beijing, Toronto, even Reno for crying out loud, but it took the always innovative Woody Harrelson to create a genuine stir about recreational breathing."It's an experience designed to recharge you before you go out into a smog and traffic ridden state," says Harrelson, looking dapper and weedy in his hemp suit. His West Hollywood facility (where else?) opens in late June. Two other L.A. locations bankrolled by the co-owner of the Toronto O2 Spa Bar should be up and running by the fall.The oxygen bar is a simple operation. Weary of breathing common tap air, people can plunk down $16 for a 20 minute canister of oxygen. They imbibe through plastic tubes hooked directly into the nostrils. So not only do they feel good, they look good, too. Also available are oxygen facials ($75) and oxygen body wraps ($125).Not exactly reminiscent of the Rat Pack, these timid trendoids wearing their auras at a rakish angle, a flask of Evian bulging in their hip pocket, a smoldering crystal dangling carelessly from their fingers. How does one flirt in such a sterile and neutered environment? Can I buy you some air? Breathe here often? You know, a lot of women couldn't wear plastic tubing coming out of their nose-holes, across their cheeks and down their front, but on you it's fabulous.At the Toronto facility, customers watch tropical fish while sipping organic juice and listening to soft jazz. "Stress management center" is how it's described in the brochure. Apparently, the more accurate but less catchy portrayal, "hell on earth" was deemed inappropriate.Never ones to back away from a fad, Los Angelos will latch on to this one like fleas to a rat's ass. Window shoppers will prowl Rodeo Drive wearing scuba tanks. Nose tubes will replace eyebrow and tongue rings as the de rigeur hipster accessories. Designer bottled oxygen will quickly outsell those clunky canisters. Try this vintage. I think you'll find it bold and impetuous, yet non-existent. The Betty Ford Clinic will open a special wing for those trying to wean themselves off the lung juice. OAA Meetings (Oxygen Abusers Anonymous) will spring up. Hi, I'm Brandon, and I'm an inhaler.Enthusiasts claim that the nostril gas boosts alertness, fights fatigue and reduces stress. Ironically, those are the exact same benefits derived from a heaping bowl of Cocoa Frosted Flakes. Without the snob quotient.Cocoa Frosted Flakes are a backlash to the health freaks and diet narcs, signaling a return to a simpler time. A time when breakfast cereal was more than mulch in a bowl.For years the cereal companies fought to reshape their image, reposition their product, banishing the word "sugar" from brand names (RIP Sugar Smacks, Sugar Pops, etc.) and introducing the slogan "part of a balanced breakfast" into the lexicon. Which is evil gibberish, since anything this side of shredded asbestos could be part of a balanced breakfast.But their efforts failed. In 1996, domestic revenue from supermarket sales of cereal dropped 6%, a loss of over half a billion dollars. The Big Three of the industry, Kellogg's, General Mills and Post all slashed prices approximately a buck a box, but sales have barely budged in '97.Finally, the companies are waking up to what consumers want, what made cereal a vital part of growing up in the first place.The buzz.Before coffee there was the high octane spoon fuel of cereal. That morning jolt to rev kid engines and kick start the heart. Slather on the sugar, coat it in chocolate. Without those teeth-rotting extras, cereal is bland and pointless. Eating high-fiber flakes is akin to drinking non-alcoholic beer, all the shit without the fun.Not so long ago, everything that mattered to a kid, toys and 'toons, were sharp-edged, dangerous and brimming with violence. Staying alert and focused was just a matter of survival.Same thing today. Not for kids, who are swaddled in Beanie Babies and eyeballing Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers, but for grown-ups who are struggling to cope. To make some kind of sense out of a world gone weird. About 60 percent of Frosted Flakes consumers are over 18, Kellogg says. And with the introduction of Cocoa Frosted Flakes, that number is sure to rise. "They're Chocolaty Grrreat!" says Tony the Tiger, and who's going to argue with him?So the time has come to choose a side. There are no innocent bystanders anymore. Do you see yourself with a nose tube or a milk mustache? Are you a chewer or a breather? Do you slurp or do you suck? Think about it. But don't take too long.


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