When I first got my braces back in the 7th grade, I was devastated. Braces might as well be the prison bars they look like: they mean no popcorn, no caramel, no gum. It took me about six months in to realize that although the orthodontists tell us not to eat hard or sticky foods, most people with braces do it anyway and come out unscathed.
However, those few months without gum almost killed me. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I blame my braces for my gum fixation throughout high school. Before braces, the only time I ever ate gum was when my mom (not so delicately) hinted that I should do something about my breath, or when I caught one of those cheap, pink, the-flavor-only-lasts-three-seconds pieces that they throw out at parades. Once I discovered that I could ignore the food-famine that comes with braces and partake in the holy slice of gum, I jumped right on the gum-lovers bandwagon and never looked back.
Gum is a magical, special substance that will never leave you even if you want it to. Once you start chewing, the world is stuck with it forever. I’m convinced that 300 years from now, scientists will be studying fossilized gum wads in lieu of dinosaur tracks and bugs trapped in amber.
I’ve always found it interesting how gum has the ability to both refresh and disgust us. There is nothing more devastating than getting gum on the bottom of your brand new shoes, but at the same time there are few things more entertaining than seeing who can blow the largest gum bubble and watching it explode all over your friend’s face. Gum is truly the definition of “contradiction”.
Chewing gum is the knight that shields us from the dragon of bad breath. Back in high school, my orchestra class took place during third period, which just so happened to be right after lunch. My teacher had a “no gum” policy (understandably so, since wooden instruments and mint-flavored chemicals don’t exactly mix well), but everyone in my class became masters in the art of chewing gum only when the teacher wasn’t looking. What else were we supposed to do to get the taste of cardboard pizza and wilted salad out of our mouths? The teacher himself had days where he would try (and fail) to chomp gum as discreetly as possible without our noticing.
On the other hand, there were times where I would grab the underside of a desk to scooch myself closer, only to have my entire world flipped upside down as I felt the smooth (or even worse, squishy) texture of ABC gum beneath my fingertips. I swear, knowing that a monster of spit and (according to Wikipedia) resin, wax, and elastomer lurks just inches above your lap skews your entire worldview. You spend the rest of the day flinching each time you take your seat, keeping your hands planted firmly on top of the table.
Then you end up forgetting about it until the next day, and the cycle begins all over again.
There are some days where I’m pretty sure gum is out to kill me, and anyone who has taken a drink of cold water right after chewing mint gum can relate. There was also that rumor that circulated around when I was little that had me convinced gum would stay inside me forever if I swallowed it. I still have nightmares from the first piece of gum I ever swallowed. It had been an accident, but it seriously had 7-year-old me writing an obituary for myself.
I think what surprises me most about gum is its ability to make or break friendships. Pull out a pack of gum in public, and suddenly you become everyone’s best friend for the next five seconds. Tell everyone you just ate your last piece when it’s quite clear you haven’t, and you’re Public Enemy #1.
Some of my best friendships have been with those people who are my “gum dealers”. We share a secret pact of “you didn’t get this from me”, sharing gum only between the two of us. Although I don’t “chews” my friends by their willingness to share gum, you have to admit that it definitely doesn’t hurt the relationship.
If I’m ever willing to share my gum with you, just know you’re stuck with me for the long haul.
With something so complex and bewildering as gum, it’s no surprise that my teachers tried to scare me away from it when I was little. Pictures of rotting teeth and hours spent scraping gum off the bottom of our desks (for “spring cleaning” they said, it was a “good experience” for us they said) suddenly makes sense. Alas, it was all in vain. Gum is a such a permanent fixture in our lives that there is no escaping it.
Don’t believe me? Go look under the next table you see. You might be surprised with what you find.