Bubble gum contains the qualities of summer. The boredom of summer. The chewing of gum. Gum was a thing to do. “Let’s chew some gum,” I’d suggest to my sister during those long summer days of childhood. We had already rode bikes. We already played with the Supersoakers. We already watched TV. We already killed the ants on the sidewalk. And we already climbed the tree in the backyard, and sat in the Y part, one at a time sitting in the split. We already did it. Everything there was to do in the world was done. So we chewed some gum. It was all that was left to do.
Bubble gum was ingenious. It plugged leaks in cartoons. Entire waterfalls even. Bubble gum was full of ideas. It was boundless. We came up with bubble blowing contests. How many pieces can we chew at once contests. How long can you chew it contests. Swallow your gum contests. It lived in our stomachs for one hundred years. One hundred thousand years. One million years. One billion trillion years!
One gazillion years! There. No one could ever beat that number.
“One gazillion-million!” my sister said, trying to beat it anyhow.
“That’s not a real number,” I said.
We sat on the stoop, and kept chewing. Thinking. We thought of games to invent. We thought of Santa. How do you think he gets around the whole world in just one night? Sure, it was only June, but that wasn’t too early to start thinking about my lists I wanted a Powerwheels car. The GT Speed Racer with monster traction specifically. In case Santa was telepathically listening. I often talked to Santa through telepathic communications, and nailed down specifics about gifts I wanted. I also told him about my day at school. And how yesterday the dog ate lots of grass so she could puke. And we were having meatloaf for dinner, again.
Gum was sentimental. My grandmother stockpiled Wrigleys in her purse. She was the only person I knew who bought gum in bulk, and she loved to be generous with it. And I loved to fish pieces out of her purse. The smell of mint and leather wafted out. I dug past tissues and gold plastic coins with Jesus on them. I palmed the Kermit-green pack with the foil sticks neatly poking out. I found quarters in her purse, too. “Why don’t you take those extra quarters in there?” she said. I beamed. I was rich.
Gum was currency, like cigarettes in prison. Gum could be traded for stickers or the answer to question number six on last night’s homework. It could be traded for attention. Gum told great stories. A bubble as big as Daniel Truck’s head was blown May 21st, 1988. It was Bubble Yum. No, it was Hubba Bubba actually. And it was like a world record or something. Legend also had it that he even chewed the wrapper. Dan Truck had some kind of magic spit that disintegrated the foil and everything. I tried it, once. The paper just got soggy in my mouth.
Gum could be a tick, a vice, a hardcore obsession. Some children had to always have a piece. Some children developed a twitch for it. Perhaps this was best epitomized by Violet, the competitive gum chewer in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
So I thought I’d review FruitStripe gum for this post because it’s one of those things that whenever I see it, I thank God it still exists. It’s been around forever. Well, since the 1960s. Made by Beech Nut, Fruit Stripe gum is known for its five different flavors and distinctive stripes. It’s also notoriously known for its super short-lasting flavor.
Could the packaging be more perfect? The stripes, the funky Zebra, the smell. This gum smells like rainbows. At least, what I hope rainbows smell like.
And he initial burst of flavor is so good. An angel dusting of sweetness, the flavor of cherries, lemon, and melons dancing on the tongue. It is, in fact, what rainbows taste like. But how rainbows are fleeting. Thirty seconds into chewing, the flavor dulls, and I immediately want to put another piece in my mouth to recapture that moment. I timed it precisely.
Three minutes into chewing, the flavor is completely gone, and I might as well be chewing on a piece of paraffin wax.
Four minutes into chewing, a bitter saliva taste gathers in the back of the tongue.
Five minutes into chewing I spit it into the trashcan because it is tasteless and worthless.
It’s not really the gum or the flavor that draws us to Fruit Stripe gum anyway. For me, it’s that zebra. That rainbow-striped, wacky surfing, in-line skating, hang-gliding zebra who is apparently named Yipes. I did not know until now that his name was Yipes, but never mind that.
Here’s an story. In researching Fruit Stripe Gum, I learned on their website that “in the 1980s or 90s” (the website doesn’t appear to actually know), a promotional bendy figure of Yipes was released, and today “currently values at approximately $30-$50 in collector marketplaces.”
I immediately clicked over to eBay to find this highly-valuable collector’s item. I thought I’d even be clever by typing in only “bendy zebra.” You see, smart sellers would list a RARE 1980s PROMOTIONAL FRUIT STRIPE GUM BENDY YIPES for a much higher price than a dumb seller would list a “bendy zebra toy.”
To my excitement, a bendy Yipes was listed for only six dollars. I bid high, knowing that by the final day, I’d be in the throes of an intense bidding war.
But my story gets anti-climatic from here. eBay stories always do. No one else bid. And then I won. And somehow, I no longer believe this figure is worth fifty dollars. I’m beginning to suspect the website that doesn’t even know what decade he came out made that up.
But yeah, I own him now. I guess that’s pretty cool.