It’s probably been close to four decades since I’ve sought out bubble gum, and I don’t even know if Bazooka Gum exists anymore. But, when I was a kid, it was a go-to purchase at those small, family-owned shops that existed in a simpler economy. For a penny, a kid could purchase a piece. (And after spending a nickel on a Coke, a penny was quite the extravagance.)
The two-layer unwrapping process led to the pink pillow of sugar (ostensibly divisible by two, but did anyone ever share a piece?). And inside the outer wrapper was the infamous Bazooka Joe comic, complete with a “fortune” that was written in extremely small print just below the final frame of the illustrated cartoon story.
Just as I’ve continued, in my adulthood, to pay attention to the brief and random forebodings that come at the end of a Chinese meal, I used to give my Bazooka Joe fortune a few moments of my time.
Back then and to this day, I never let the words guide my life (or play with my hopes and wishes), but I always respect them for their potential to make me think.
Sometimes a “fortune” provides a good impetus for reflection.
Sometimes a “fortune” provides wisdom that one cannot grasp when going through the day-to-day movements of life.
Other times, it is way beyond random.
There is a Bazooka Joe “fortune” that I will always remember.
It said: You will never become a giant shoelace.
It may be a reflection of my self-esteem back then, but becoming a giant shoelace was something I never worried about. I don’t know; call me confident. Maybe, too, because there were no role models…
So while I did not relate the fortune to my own personal fantasies, I nevertheless gleaned some wisdom from it. I learned that adults with jobs (e.g., the Bazooka Joe fortune-writer) can get bored in those jobs, and those moments of boredom can lead to flippancy.
…Once I entered my adulthood, I found employment in a variety of areas (none requiring the skills and strengths of a giant shoelace). And to this day, the longest job I’ve ever kept was at a burger-slinging joint in central Manhattan. My primary shift was the lunch rush, and I loved the work. It was no frills and totally aerobic. I took my earnings home with me everyday. My tips paid the rent and gave me enough left over for some kind of night-life. Better yet, there were no office politics.
We were a weird work family who got along well and probably would never have met had we not all landed at that particular joint. The waitresses – eight of us – found our gender balance in a variety of bartenders and an all-male kitchen staff. There often was a party atmosphere permeating the place. Flirtation and flippancy were the norm.
And every twelve weeks or so, our Mama Manager would let us girls know that, before we’d left for that day, we’d need to “do” ten menus.
“Do” ten menus. Here’s what that meant: the restaurant was part of a big citywide chain, and – wise to printing deals – had stocks and stocks of pre-printed menus. They saved money by ordering menus in mega-bulk, and they didn’t sweat price changes. Why? Because their menus didn’t even bother to list prices.
Accordingly, an untouched menu would include line items that looked something like this:
Cheddar Burger ______
So: it was the job of us waitri – on a regular basis – to sit around (before we’d left for the day) and replace dog-eared or out-priced menus with fresher, cleaner, up-to-date versions.
… And so we sat, that one afternoon, the eight of us gathered around two checkerboard squares. We’d begun sipping our complimentary bar beverages (the management was lax on that score), and we were in a fine mood. The cheddar burger had been raised to $3.50. The bacon-cheese was a whopping $3.95. We soon gathered a rhythm as we each filled out our requisite ten menus. And each of us, too, found blank spaces within those menus – spaces where we were expected to add listings for the dishes that hadn’t made the print-run.
There were Chicken Nuggets.
And I believe a Fried Shrimp dish was the other hand-written feature.
… As I sat there, enjoying my Bloody Mary, filling out prices and spaces, I also had a moment of silent camaraderie with the fortune-teller back at Bazooka.
Which is to say, even after I’d written in the Chicken Nuggets and the Fried Shrimp, there was still some empty space on the menu in front of me.
A canvas, if you will.
And so, I entered in a nonexistent menu item:
“Pheasant Under Glass w/FRIES…. $25.99”
For all my ensuing days there, I never heard word-one about that entry. And only once, while taking an order, I saw that a customer in my station had that menu.
(I felt a little anxious before he ordered.)
Fortunately, he went for the Cheddar cheeseburger.
(Perhaps he was on a budget.)
… I’m glad I never got into any trouble for my moment of flippancy. It would have sucked to have been fired from that place.
Sure, maybe I was a little bored at times, but I wasn’t ready to open the next chapter on my “career path.”
I mean, where would I have gone?
I didn’t have much of a plan, you see. I knew one thing and one thing only: I would never become a giant shoelace.