Last month on Hamster Patrol, I wrote a nostalgic blog post about things I remembered to be really awesome as a kid, but after I grew up they became more or less “meh.” Because of the tremendous response of views, likes, and comments on my previous blog entry, I decided to create a continuing monthly series in which each new article is devoted to one memory or topic.
I did relish the 1980’s (if you recall), but I also think people from other decades will be able to relate.
Remember how precious it was to possess even just a few “crazy flavor” five-packs of Hubba Bubba sugar-right-up-your-root-canals gum? We didn’t want to chew for fresh breath, to make a fashion statement, or to prevent us from eating potato chips all day. It was for the unadulterated reasons of 1.) being able to instantly absorb a portable source of simple carbohydrates and 2.) annoying tons of kids and adults alike in numerous ways. Additionally, this unsophisticated “food” substance was banned in all grade schools such as the likes of combat knives, firearms, fireworks, and CliffNotes cheater-readers, so we could easily obtain something on the adolescent plateau of parent-teacher contempt.
Sugary gum was so significant back in my day that every kid washed dinner’s dishes to spend an extra two bucks on a handy foil pack of Big League Chew to emulate baseball’s Wade Boggs or some other professional mouth-tobacco junky. I think some children even picked up grueling, tip-less paper routes and shoveled a lazy neighbor’s dog shit just for the privilege.
Why? Just examine this famous purple pack of shredded grape gum.
For many boys my age, Big League Chew really might have been their first “gateway drug” into shiny green cans of Grizzley Long-Cut. Ummm…Ya’ THINK? JUST LOOK AT THIS PACKAGE ART!
Can you believe this product was displayed at the front of every gas station checkout and sometimes out of the trunks of a random, rusted-green Buicks (when local supplies ran low)? The advertising copy freaking states “MAN SIZE WADS”? Now — what eight-year- old wouldn’t want some MAN SIZE WADS instead of those stupid baby Chiclets or prissy Doublemint sticks? We DID have standards and a strong sense of male empowerment back then.
Big League Chew, in its natural shredded, addictive composition, may have created almost every primary tooth cavity I and all my baseball-playing friends ever had. That grape flavoring was all artificial, but that baked-in white sugar was real as hell. And the mustached batter on the package encouraged you to mold it in your cheek like an engorged walnut to give yourself that extra virtual gum-testicle — just like the big leaguers — so your tooth enamel could extract every last gram of sugar-acid right through its surface without any pesky saliva intervention.
Not only did we have the pre-teen chewing tobacco equivalent in Big League Chew, we had actual simulated gum and candy-based cigarettes peddled to us on the same store shelves! Some of these cancer-confections even puffed REAL smoke powder, emulating the genuine tobacco experience your parents constantly loved but you could only enjoy second-hand! This was only as far back as 1989, people; it wasn’t that long ago. (THE BATMAN came back in 1989 if you recall.)
AND if your candy cigarettes weren’t socially acceptable any longer among your peer group or parents, you could always graduate into sophisticated and new-birth celebratory bubblegum cigars! Like the cheap candy cigarettes, these gum-rods were sold with all the other standard gum and candy items from Lemonheads to Mike and Ikes. Remembering these “cigar”-things (which were always stale and tasting like talcum powder anyway), I had my first blue gum cigar when my brother was born among all the adults smoking real cigars right in hospital birthing room. And people wonder why one-in-four people in my “X” generation smoked. Not only was it encouraged, we had over 10 years of practice!
Other than the obvious tobacco indoctrination, for some reasons I understand now, no adult ever wanted you to buy you possess bubble gum or see you chewing it — even after that dental-friendly sugarless crap came out. Chewing gum and talking at the same time was disrespectful; kids put it on and under everything from desks, chairs, and tables; people regrettably stepped on gum melting on summer-hot sidewalks; you stretched its bacteria-laden strings in and out of your mouth; you blew bothersome bubbles that often annoyingly popped or failed.
I got a rude awakening when I, in over two minutes of delicate blowing, made a bubble about as large as my head; but, to my laughter and dismay it imploded all over my face, eyes, and hair. I wasn’t laughing too long after that I can tell you. Gum plus hair SUCKS; it took many distressing hours to weed out. And yes, I learned that for some reason peanut butter helps to detach the sticky strawberry substance from hair — that and a lot of Dawn dish soap, warm water, and hurtful combing. (I missed another exciting episode of The New Leave It to Beaver because of that crap.)
Thinking back on this gum topic, it was very similar to how people always wanted to bum cigarettes off of you when you were older. If someone noticed you were chewing gum, they would always ask you if they could have a piece or stick — ALWAYS. So, because I knew this shit had some street value, I started to ask what the other kids would trade. You should have seen the stuff I got: Baseball cards, buffalo nickels, dimes, chestnuts, secrets, phone numbers, plastic butter knives,half-eaten Lunchables, pointy rocks…
I guess over the years things changed.
I was quite astonished that when I got to high school there were no longer any gum chewing restrictions. I still found fossilized globs of gum under desks and stuck to the sides of tables, but no one really seemed to care. Why the change of heart? It was still a form of vandalism, or at least disrespect.
The first few months of freedom I stuffed as much gum in my face as possible. I blew a lot of bubbles; I didn’t make any friends. Money, inside information on girls, and access to private transportation meant a lot more to every guy. And kids starting chewing gum again to give them something to do when they couldn’t smoke or deal drugs during school hours.
Nowadays, I might only chew some gum because I’m board or because someone offers me an expired sugarless piece they will never chew. It’s been about five years since I even attempted to blow a gum bubble. I wonder if I can even remember how to do it — is it like riding a bike or whistling?
I don’t see many of the kids around today chewing gum. Maybe the hobby has lost its rebellious edge? Or, maybe it’s because they’re too busy buying and smoking hash and crack. I just don’t know.