As a self-professed live-and-let-live kinda guy, I'm always amazed when I catch myself being annoyed by things I've no right to be annoyed by.
For instance, I'm in the Blue Moon, idly checking out the activity on the street when my attention is drawn to a woman standing by her car.
What caught my attention? It's the frenzied motion of her jaw as she chomps away on a softball-size hunk of gum.
Cows chew cuds, but at least they look calm and peaceful. This character, however, is mauwing away - Crunch! Crack! Snap! - giant knots of jaw muscle popping out the sides of her head - and worst of all, her mouth is wide open the whole time. And when I say wide open, I mean W-I-D-E open: Between chomps, I can clearly see a gold cap on her last top molar.
"Oh Gawd," I mutter to myself. "How in the world can she? Has she no dignity? Does she know - ?"
And suddenly, from the deep inner recesses of my memory banks, an image comes back to me. It was me chewing gum and chewing it feverishly at that!
"Yeah, sure, of course," you say. 'You were a child, all children chew gum."
Listen, if I was a child, it was only in the sense of being a child of God. I was in the Navy, in my mid-20s, and I not only chewed gum maniacally, but smoked like a fiend at the same time.
I looked at the woman again. Ah, I think to myself, there, but for the grace of Roger Neill, go I .
A sticky situation
My gum-chewing career started when everyone's did - in grade school. But mine may have been different from others' in that I started and stayed with what I always considered Chewing's Big Kahuna - bubble gum.
Bubble gum was It. While the other stuff came in those skinny, overpriced sticks that had no substance and whose flavor lasted a minute at best, bubble gum flooded your sinuses and snot locker with taste, and had a chaw lasted hours. Plus of course you could blow some serious bubbles, always an attention-getter especially when you popped them behind some wuss with a bad set of nerves.
I can't remember exactly when I first mastered the fine art of blowing bubbles - I think it was in second grade - but I remember I learned it lying in bed, before I went to sleep. I also remember my mother reading me the riot act for going to sleep with a mouthful of gum, claiming I could choke to death on the stuff. Whether or not that's true, I don't know; I only know, for the sake of the domestic tranquility, I acceded to her wishes (at least on the sleeping-with-gum issue).
Of course I tried all the bubble gums, but I ended up a chewhard Fleer Dubble-Bubble devotee.
Fleer had It All: It tasted great and held up beautifully. Plus their comic, "Pud and his Pals," which came wrapped around each piece, was a classic. They had all sorts of adventures, all over the world. And beyond that, there were amazing facts written on the bottom of the comic (in tiny print that today I couldn't decipher without a microscope, but back then had no problem reading).
As for the other bubble gums? Fergit 'em.
Bazooka had some weird taste thing going on that always made me feel like I was on the verge of barfing. I gave it a few tries, but it never got better. Furthermore, its consistency was too soft - just didn't offer any challenge to an iron-jawed tyro such as yours truly.
As for Topps? Gimme a break.
If you remember Topps, it came in a sheet, maybe 3 inches by 5 inches. The thing about that gum was I don't think I ever had a piece that wasn't hopelessly stale. Take even a slight nibble and the entire piece broke into a dozen shards. And even if you managed to catch all the pieces before they hit the deck and you stuffed them in your maw, their only noticeable flavor was dust.
Topps' big appeal was the sports cards that accompanied them. But since I didn't give a tiddly-doo about sports, that was no inducement. Of course, if you were an organized lad, they could be collected and eventually sold for a fortune. Or at least that was the theory. In fact, I don't know anyone who managed to hold onto his cards, and even if he had, let's get real: His mother would've tossed them out in a cleaning frenzy the minute he left home if not before.
So, to use a sports metaphor, Topps gum, and cards, came with two strikes against them. But there was one set of cards that so intrigued me, I suffered the trashmo gum in order to collect them. It happened in 1956, two years after the Davy Crockett series started.
Davy Crockett was a Disney series starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen, about the legendary frontiersman, and in 1954 it took America by storm. There were Davy Crockett raccoon hats, Davy Crockett toy rifles and powder horns, Davy Crockett pajamas and lunch boxes, and for all I know, Davy Crockett yarmulkes.
So in 1956 Topps jumped on the bandwagon with - what else but? - Davy Crockett cards. Being completely Crockett-ized, I collected as many of the set as I could, given my severe cash flow problem. Needless to say, it too went the way of all cardboard.
As I'd said, I chewed bubble gum well into my 20s, but quit summarily before I hit the Big Three-Oh. If you think I quit because I'd matured and "outgrown" bubble gum, you'd better think again.
Like every other "sensible" decision I've made in my adulthood, it was due less to maturity and more to aging. In the case of giving up bubble gum, there were two pressing reasons - both related to pain.
The first was a pain we ancients know too well - all the sugar started hurting my ravaged teeth.
The other was pain of a very different sort that few people have experienced and even fewer can imagine.
But if you ever had to pick the gum of an exploded bubble out of your beard, you know exactly what I'm talking about.