October 23, 2009
The other day someone offered me some gum. It’s been years since I’ve had gum, so of course I took it, thinking, "Hey, I love gum." And then I realized that, no, I don’t. I hate it. Who came up with the idea of gum in the first place? The idea is, "Here, take this piece of rubbery material, stick it in your mouth, chew it, don’t swallow it, and when the flavor is all gone stick it under a table or to a bus seat or in someone’s hair." Okay that last possibility has great potential, but is gum considered food? And if it’s not, what is it? As a kid I did swallow gum. That was, I think, the beginning of the end of my innocence because I realized grownups were liars. They’d offer me gum to chew and they’d say, "Don’t swallow it–it’ll stay in your stomach for seven years!" or "It’ll explode" or "Have you ever seen the movie ‘Alien’?" I’m pretty sure gum was invented as a cheap and easy way of shutting kids up. The invention of gum was probably spurred by some kid who’d go up to pregnant women and ask them, "If you love your baby so much, why did you swallow it?" or who would, at weddings, go up to the bride and say, "My mom says she can’t believe you wore white."
So anyway, as I was saying, when I was a kid people offered me gum all the time, especially around pregnant women and at weddings. And as if creating, or maintaining, an oral fixation weren’t bad enough, I’m pretty sure gum was a gateway drug. I remember a brand of gum called Big League Chew that didn’t come in little sticks or squares or candy-coated pellets that you can now load into paintball guns to give the game an extra kick. No, Big League Chew came in a pouch and it was basically shredded gum that was meant to impersonate chewing tobacco. I believe it was created as part of the tobacco companies’ "get ’em while they’re young" program, teaching us that grabbing a big handful of a shredded substance out of a pouch and stuffing it in your mouth is a good thing. Except chewing tobacco doesn’t always come in a pouch. I distinctly remember the first time I saw someone chewing tobacco. It was my best friend’s grandfather. He’d sit out on the porch with a collection of little plugs of chewing tobacco that looked like Oreo cookies. As a side note I believe Oreos are a gateway drug too, especially the chocolate-covered ones. And he’d sit and spit into a can of RC Cola, which should have put me off RC Cola for life but, let’s face it, it tastes like tobacco juice and spit anyway. Whose idea was it to chew tobacco in the first place? I realize smoking is a weird enough idea in itself–"Take these leaves, wrap them up, set one end on fire, then stick the other end in your mouth!"–but chewing tobacco is even weirder. As a former smoker I can sort of understand the appeal of inhaling toxic smoke, although I did always wonder about the purpose of the filter. It always seemed like it was there for show, sort of like saying, "I think I’ll drink a glass of raw sewage, but first I’ll filter out anything solid." Chewing tobacco just seems even stranger. I imagine it got started when someone put a tobacco leaf in their mouth and chewed it and said, "Wow, this tastes just like licking asphalt. You know what would really improve it, though? Adding some tar to hold it together." And then he passed this idea on to others, demonstrating the proper way to chew and spit, and if anyone accidentally swallowed the tobacco he’d say, "Uh oh. Have you ever seen the movie ‘Alien’?"