False Promises of Gum Chewing

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I have been a gum chewer since I was a kid. Bazooka was a frequent favorite of my youth, though I never quite contemplated on the evils of the sugar-filled tooth destroyer.

Hi. My name is Gary. I’m a gum-chewer. And I wear an eye-patch, like Bazooka Joe.

As an early gum chewer, the cool kid thing to do was to blow a bubble or to pop or snap the gum. No reason for such a thing. You did it because you could. I certainly wasn’t considered a cool kid … but that did not stop me from practicing. It gave a skill to the unskilled. Coolness to the uncool. Cajones to the un-cajoned. And admittedly, an air of rudeness to my formerly polite self. I didn’t know any better. I was in my own little bubble, as it were. With practice, and enough pieces, I strived for a bubble the size of Rhode Island. Or at least Cape Cod. This was certain to amaze the kids at school.

Some gum chewers are naïve or blissfully unaware of the world and its inhabitants, popping or snapping their gum willy-nilly. At times, the gum popper or snapper was me and I’m not proud of that. Certainly not the wisest thing to do while the family was attempting uninterrupted pre-cable TV viewing of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, All In The Family, The Carol Burnett Show, or other CBS fare at the time. Churches frown as well, no matter the denomination. Prayers of the faithful were not handed down through the ages with popping and snapping sound effects. (“Blessed are the gum chewers, for they shall receive full dental coverage.” *Pop* *Snap*) An adept gum chewer, however, could maneuver his or her gum and still receive communion on Sunday with no one being the wiser.

A couple of Christmas gift extravaganzas weren’t complete without multi-piece boxes of Bazooka, each piece accompanied with a comic of Joe and his gang. I recall very little of the wisdom or humor of the comic. But there must have been some attractant. There was the occasional artistry of “head shakes” around a character’s face, noting astonishment. (Cue laugh track.)

Bazooka Joe wore an eye patch and I wonder now if that may have been a draw because as I also wore an eye patch for a short time. So perhaps that was a reason I indirectly felt a connection with Joe and his gang. I don’t recall an eye patch explanation in the comic. For Joe, that may have been part of the unspoken and underlying drama of having a “gang” back then. No one talked about the patch or what violent mishap brought Joe to that state. I will add, however, that from what I hear, eye patches were a bit of the rage back then. Joe may have worn his as a fashion statement.

One of the gang was another challenger to the fashion gods, Bazooka Joe’s sidekick, Mort, who wore a turtleneck that was two sizes too big. Or maybe he was a shy introvert and he chose to pull the neck up to his nose. As for me — a shy introvert, occasionally hiding — Mort was the character I could identify in myself. Anyone who would wear a daily turtleneck like that, even in the summer, was okay in my book.

I also challenged the fashion gods but my challenge was also financial. For a short time, Zayre — the local department store — featured sneakers that resembled bowling shoes. I liked Candlepin Bowling so I thought the appearance was pretty cool and persuaded my mother to buy them for me. The family budget was pretty tight but the bowling shoe sneakers only cost $1.50, so my college education was safe for the time being. The kids at school teased me about the shoes for a bit, but it didn’t matter much as they already teased me for far worse. Still, I needed a new pair every seven or eight weeks because they were pretty flimsy. Did I mention they only cost $1.50?

Sometime during my grade school existence, I discovered that some of my fellow classmates would collect baseball cards. Part of the attraction to baseball cards was for trading and to build up a collection. But I also recall that kids would use some of their doubles and triples of a player and weave them in through the spokes of the tires of their banana seat bikes, for a cooler than cool flt-flt-flt-flt sound. Other kids would trade cards or win them in contests — lining the cards against a wall and flipping other cards to knock them down. Those that got knocked down, would be the prize and a kid who was adept at flipping, could walk away with a huge stack of cards, some of which were golden.

Fortunately, my affection for baseball cards and bubble gum coincided with my new affection for baseball. On August 14, 1971, frayed left-handed baseball glove in hand, I attended my first game on a family outing to that glorious green cathedral in Boston, Fenway Park. The Red Sox lost 6-1, to the Kansas City Royals. Gary Peters, the starting pitcher for the Red Sox, did not record an out in the 1st inning, giving up 5 runs. However, his reliever, Luis Tiant — known more at the time for winning 21 games in 1968, only to lose 20 in 1969 — pitched 7 innings of 3 hit ball, gave up no earned runs and struck out 10. TEN! “Who’s this guy Tiant, Dad?” (I was pronouncing “Tiant” as I would “giant” not realizing.)

“He’s not usually this good,” my father said. (The things we remember. Little did we know what was to come over the next few years.) My dad was still my dad or my father at the time. He had yet to become “Po” and Tiant had yet to become “Looie” to Red Sox fans. But it wouldn’t be long. Be that as it may, this 10 year-old boy was hooked.

I soon convinced myself to waste more allowance money on Topps Baseball Cards, which came with a free stick of what was akin to a sugar coated bubble gum report card. (I learned later that the Topps brand was also attached to Bazooka Bubble Gum … my brief life had come full circle and I didn’t know it.) That awful tasting, repellant gum wasn’t the draw for me as the sweet, cardboard flavor was gone in no time. No, the baseball cards were the draw. Over time, many cards became useless, with wear & tear, and frayed edges of no-name players. But a successful package might have included a veteran or star player with an encyclopedia of stats on the back. By 6th or 7th grade, it was a big deal to open a package with a Luis Tiant, a Carl Yastrzemski, or, as I discovered in retrospect, a 1972 Carlton Fisk rookie card. Funny thing is that there also existed a Fisk card from 1971, a PRE-rookie card. I’m just guessing but it seems that would be worth even more.

I gave up bubble gum long ago (but not baseball … a tougher habit to kick). My favorite flavor now is, of course, sugar free Trident Original Flavor, it’s minty but non-specific as far as Trident’s marketing team is concerned. I am by far more drawn to cinnamon flavors but Trident’s cinnamon gives off a false promise to those who want a long-lasting freshness. To me, it is dead in a matter of minutes.

Odd as this may sound, Trident Cinnamon reminds me of the current political climate. It’s an empty promise of refreshment and newness which might seem cool to some for a while. But in a short time it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. For the most part, conservative and liberal acquaintances don’t seem much different. Well, aside from those who don’t see — or refuse to see — logic, fact or history in a debate or spirited argument. (I include myself here. I know nothing but the way something hits my comfort level. And I am rarely comfortable right now.) Some of us only see the promise — or illusion — of the Trident Cinnamon. It promises a political climate change but delivers a hoax (cough, cough).

Purchasing the false promise of Trident Cinnamon or Watermelon, or Orange Swirl, or Dessert Delights, or any of the other, more off beat flavors, just leads to buyer’s remorse. Cool at first, but difficult to swallow the whole thing. With chewing gum, it’s no biggie. We learn and don’t go back … hopefully. Sometimes we can admit that and sometimes we can’t, sticking with our favorite flavor of cinnamon, political or not.

The cinnamon flavor is enticing to many. But as the cinnamon gum reveals itself to be untrue: Meals on Wheels? The National Endowment for the Arts? The National Parks? Infrastructure? Some people think there are other, more important things to worry about. They don’t worry about the bigger picture as much as they think they do. Their myopic view is just fine. Heavy sigh. This gum has already lost its flavor, and it’s only been a couple of months. Personally, I’m surprised the flavor has lasted this long for some. There were others who saw it coming long ago. Heavier sigh. Trident Original Flavor may not be what was wanted but generally, we knew what to expect from it, the flavor tends to last longer and — like it or not — we know it knows how to do its job. Heaviest sigh.

Po, recently had his 91st birthday and we celebrated with some delicious homemade pizza, a cupcake emblazoned with “Happy Birthday Po!” as well as other tasty desserts and equally flavorful after-dinner conversation. At one point we were talking about our old house in South Attleboro, Mass., — the house I grew up in before I went to college. My sister Peggie still lives near the Attleboro area, which borders Rhode Island — notably Pawtucket and Central Falls — the towns where Po grew up and worked. On occasion, Peggie drives by the old house and it’s difficult not to steal a peek, even more than 35 years after my folks moved to NH. The backyard of our old house has been overgrown for quite some time. The people who bought the house at 839 Newport Avenue simply had little desire to keep up the property, which is really too bad. It wasn’t a huge property, but it certainly seemed like it to my little kid eyes.

My late brother, Bobby, acquired a Vespa motor scooter in the early ’70s. I’m uncertain how old it was when he got it but it had certainly had been around more than just the block. It served Bobby’s purposes though, and he gave his siblings (mostly me) rides around the house. I’d climb onto the back of the scooter and hold him at the waist as he put-putted around the house in a counter-clockwise oval. Every so often, we’d switch it up by changing directions. If we were really daring, Bobby would take the scooter down to the grove of our backyard and give me rides there following a bit of a figure-8 pattern in and around the trees. (Gasp! What were we thinking?) But our usual ride was that relatively boring counter-clockwise oval around the house. So much so, that an 10-12 inch wide path was driven into the grass over the few years Bobby had the Vespa.

So, on Po’s 91st birthday, we were reflecting happily on that house a bit, mentioning all the work that Po had done on each room over the 17 or 18 years we lived there — updating bathrooms; adding an opening peek through between the kitchen and the dining room; painting and wall papering; how he manicured the lawn a bit … only to have the Vespa pathway dug in around the house, and the grove, etc. We wondered what year Bobby got the Vespa and we just couldn’t pinpoint the time period. Then Po got a bit melancholy and then after a bit shared that he wanted to say to me, “Why don’t you ask him next time you are in touch on Facebook…”.

Memories can, at times, be like chewing gum. At once refreshing and uplifting but also filled with the possibilities of fractured or false promises, leaving a person unfulfilled of the rewarding freshness sought when the door was opened to the memory. Leaving a hole, an emptiness, a painful cavity, if you will, even if your chewing gum is sugar free with Xylitol.

Po was immediately mad at himself for wanting to ask that, calling it stupid. Just as immediately, I discarded Po’s declaration of stupidity … as if it were a bad thing to think of Bobby as still alive. As long as Bobby (or anyone) remains in our memories, sharp or vague, happy or sad, he is still alive. And I’d much rather have a touch of melancholy in a faded memory from long ago, than not to think of him at all.

I won’t be fooled by the lure of Trident Cinnamon. Original Flavor may have more miles on it than the Vespa, but it gets me where I want to be.

Now I just want a boring counter-clockwise ride around the old house.


Gary Trahan of Manchester, NH, has written and performed throughout New England, Colorado, Florida and New York City. Gary has written plays, sketches, screenplays and humor columns, including for almost three years as part of a rotating team of humor columnists submitting for the Encore section of The Nashua Telegraph. “Gare” received his BA from UMass/Amherst another lifetime ago, and has been learning lessons ever since. Writing and other forms of creativity help to keep him sane, uh, sanER. You can reach him at gareman2@aol.com.

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