Got Gum?

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Tap, tap, tap went a small finger on his shoulder. The finger’s owner proclaimed in a slightly too loud voice, “Found a new flavor, Mr. H. — Stride Minty-Melon!” He broke off his chat with some relatively unimportant adult and turned to see Chloe, his almost always first post-church-announcement visitor. She would stop by to swap “gourmet” chewing gum, before heading outdoors with her mates. This particular day, she stood her usual four feet six inches tall, hair cut in a bob, wearing a dress, blouse, sweater, leggings, and shoe ensemble whose colors and patterns were, while reminiscent of Eloise meets Pippi Longstocking, curious and cool. She could pull it off. Clearly artistic, bohemian maternal and grandparental roots, he thought.

On Sundays, his family would rush around madly to leave just in time to be only a little late. He would toss what he needed into his Timbuk2 bike-courier bag, taking care to include his trading ritual chewing gum. On this particular morning, he lamented having the same pack of gum he’d brought to church last week — Wrigley’s Extra Dessert Delights Sugar Free Key Lime Pie. He thought, Grrrr. Chewing gum ‘leftovers.’ Mehhh, . . .Maybe she’ll forget our gum exchange ritual. Her offering pinched securely between pointer and thumb, she challenged, “What kind do you have to trade today, Mr. H?”

Cornered, his palms began to sweat. He tried to think of something clever to say. Some pithy distraction that would mask his failure to infuse the post-church-announcement gum exchange with fresh trading wampum. Think, man. Think!

Newhart was pure primetime sitcom artistry. Innkeeper turned community cable-channel talk-show host, Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) and his wife Joanna (Mary Frann) run a charming Vermont country inn, surrounded by a cast of eccentric characters. Some of these regulars are employees, some are town-folk, and others are occasional visitors. Among the regulars are brothers Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, backwoods shack-dwelling wierdos whose plaid flannel and denim wardrobe never changes. In one episode, Larry, Darryl and Darryl attend night class. The following day Larry tells the Loudons how impressed they were by the complimentary gum the school offers . . . located conveniently beneath the classroom seating. Lost in thought, he chuckled to himself, only to be called back to reality by an insistent 11 year-old — “Mr. H. . . . Hey, Mr. H! . . . . Do you have gum to trade or not?”

Cornered, he quickly called an audible at the line. “Big Red – Five! Big Red – Five!” He would baffle her with trivia from the best of Gum Chewers Digest. Puffing out his chest, he looked down over his glasses at his increasingly dissatisfied trading partner and woofed, “You know, Chloe, chewing gum’s been around a surprisingly long time. Chewing gum with tooth imprints, made of birch bark tar, has been found in Finland, dating back at least 5,000 years to the Neolithic period. Its composition, flavoring and packaging has been refined remarkably through the centuries, and its applications range from simple bubble blowing amusement, to practical mouth-moistening, to miraculous accelerative post-gastrointestinal surgical healing, to survivalist adhesive or leak-plugging uses, and — wouldja believe it?– oral healthcare. Did you know sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol has been shown to reduce cavities and plaque? What’s more, . . . “

Chloe yawned, rolled her eyes, and spun dismissively on her really cool colorful shoes, speeding off to join the thundering primary grade herd. He followed after her, fumbling for his gum pack, calling, “Chloeeeee, wait a minute!” Once outside, she halted, looked at him suspiciously and pronounced, “Mr. H., you talk too much.” He timidly held out his key lime pie. Softening, eyes brightening, she presented her minty-melon. The exchange was complete. “Thanks, Mr. H. I love key lime pie! I’m gonna save this for my ride home from school tomorrow. Gotta go!” Dashing away, she yelled, “See ya next week, blabber-mouth”

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