July 1999
s m u g
by Josh Allen

Penguin Caffeinated Peppermints

To my chagrin, my vices serve to minimize rather than emphasize the piquant intensity of life. I look to products and pastimes that sand the harsh edges and unexpected fjords of experience into a smooth, blurred, comfortable sphere. So I don't really get off on extreme sports or public screaming matches and I certainly don't enjoy anything with any flavor. Wasabe, lemon, garlic, curry - these things cause pain. I don't want my sinuses clear or my taste buds throbbing.

And yeah, sure, this makes me feel like a loser, and the fact that I neither drink coffee nor drive stick only makes things worse. So this is why I cling to ultra-potent breath mints, flaunting my dangerously excessive use of them like a badge of honor. For some reason, I can tolerate excessive mintyness, so I smile grimly as the lozenge eats a hole in my tongue and floods my skull with aspartame and phenylalanine. I feel virile, potent, fecund, and yet it's a sterile fecundity. A clean and pure species of fertility, powerful yet free from odor-causing bacteria.

It all started with Altoids, of course, whose ad campaign uses the always effective "you're probably not man enough to handle this product" spin. Plus they come in a tin, so it's like you're carrying around some snuff that you'll partake of later that evening with a snifter of bourbon at the Lion's Head Inn or whatever. Also appealing is the texture of the mint itself: rough and scratchy like it had been hastily mined from a vein of raw Altoid. Tough.

But my heart now lies with one of the many Altoid ripoffs, namely Penguin Caffeinated Peppermints. There I was, in 7-11, minding my own business, flipping through Lowrider magazine and gnawing on a beef-and-cheese stick as per my usual Saturday night routine, when I looked up and saw this unbelievably sexy steel tin by the cash register. I mean, seriously, look:


Sure, it's the exact size, shape, weight, and density as the Altoids tin, but let's take a moment to exalt in the gloriously American design, as opposed to the stodgy, Old World, cor-blimey-me-breath-reeks-of-lentils, Anglophiliac look of Altoids. Gaze deep into the hypnotic moiré pattern around the dignified penguin. Note the severe color scheme and Art Deco typeface. Yes, friends, this is packaging with deep roots, and deeper mysteries.

Open up the tin and the enchantment continues. Yes, there is the same Altoids-esque paper wrapping to keep the mints safe from the wicked flavor-taint of the steel box (by binding the mints close together, this paper ensures that nothing affects the flavor of a mint except other mints, so their potency increases exponentially as they sit in that cool, fragrant darkness, waiting for the next halitosis-stricken chump to reach for them), but printed on this paper are the following cryptic words: Chinstrap, Humbolt, Emperor, Littleblue, King. What can this mean? What riddle is buried within these words and what will happen when I solve it?

Inside the protective wrapping are the mints themselves: Ovoid and so smooth, especially when compared to Altoids, that at first I thought they were entirely frictionless, capable of rocketing through space in a straight line either forever or until hitting an immovable object.

And indeed, when I placed that first Penguin upon my tongue, I felt as if I were trapped inside the polished contours of the mint itself, traveling at unimaginable speeds, the contents of my head having been methodically removed and replaced with an infinitely dense dot of cool, cool mintyness. This is how a mint is supposed to be, I realized. Not rough like an Altoid - that's like licking a chalkboard - but soft and voluptuous. A fleshy hip of icy kissability.

Penguins taste better, too; sweeter. And buried within that sweetness is the familiar bite of caffeine. That's right: Three Penguin mints give you the equivalent caffeine rush as one cola beverage. The boys from Seattle who invented Penguins got tired of drinking coffee every morning and then knocking back some breath mints to kill the noxious, unholy stench from their mouths. They wanted to streamline their mornings, as we all do, and instead of making the foolhardy decision to invent some sort of mouthwash-based coffee, they did the right thing and took coffee out of the equation altogether. We (you) all drink coffee just for the caffeine rush (admit it) because the flavor is unfathomably vile (you know I'm right), so why not just embed that precious caffeine into something more pleasant? Penguin Peppermints improve on both Altoids and coffee by combining their best traits into one gorgeous, suckable pill.

Every time I open up that tin, I imagine it's a little mouth saying to me: "Be alert. Be fresh." I nod solemnly, eat yet another Penguin Caffeinated Peppermint, and rage through the day like an amphetamine-fueled sociopath, a howl behind my lips and tears of blood flowing from each eye.

And oh! The answer to the riddle was supplied by the Penguin website!



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