My last piece of Bazooka gum

(By Larry Barnett). I chewed a lot of bubble gum in my youth. I liked the taste and liked to blow bubbles. Of course, gum was not allowed in school, so my chewing was done at home or after class with my friends.

In the 1950s gum was cheap; a penny a piece for Bazooka. The pharmacy sold it as did the toy store; it seemed like bubble gum was everywhere. Packages of baseball cards came with gum, though it was often stale and hard and was usually cracked into little pieces by the time the pack was opened. It had a thin, chemical flavor I didn’t like much, and was covered with a mysterious powder to keep it from sticking to the baseball cards.

It seemed a matter of pride to me as to how many pieces of gum I could chew at once. Bazooka was sold by the piece, but also came in one package as a roll one-half inch thick and six inches long. Five indented lines circled the roll to designate portions, but to me it was just a matter of time before the whole package ended up in my mouth. The bigger the wad, the bigger the bubbles, and more than once I had gum stuck in my hair. Our family dentist, Dr. Loring, made some good money filling my cavities, I expect in large part due to all that gum.

I went a long time not chewing gum as I aged. I can’t say why, exactly; perhaps it was not a counter-culture artifact, or inappropriate for a guy in business. Whatever the reason, for most of my adult life I forgot about bubble gum, then one day six months ago I wandered into Tiddle E. Winks Vintage 5 and Dime near the Plaza, and filling a bin were at least one hundred pieces of Bazooka. My long lost youth came rushing back, and I bought a handful. The price had gone up to ten cents each, but it didn’t matter. I popped one in my mouth and – Poof! – I was eleven again. The taste was exactly the same, though the piece was smaller. The bubbles blew good.

Next time I went back, I was given bad news: no more individual pieces of original flavor Bazooka were being made. I’d bought some of the very last batch. Therein ensued the great bubble gum taste test, comparing original Bazooka to its replacement along with Double Bubble, Bubblicious, Hubba Bubba, some off-brands and one shaped like pink cigars. I won’t call the taste test traumatic, but disappointment came with every new wad. Some were too fruity, others too grainy; some too soft, others too chewy. One made my throat itch, another had a metallic aftertaste. Here I had just rediscovered the bubble gum of my youth and its thrill was promptly snatched away by the evil demons of marketing!

Heidi, the proprietor was sympathetic; she could lose a devoted Bazooka customer who might spend five bucks a visit! More than that, she could feel the crush of my disappointment. Next time I came in, she gave me a deal on my next choice, and a free sample of a new offering from Double Bubble; its package said it was the original formula from 1928. The ingredients include high fructose corn syrup, which did not exist in 1928, but what the hell, it’s bubble gum.


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