I’ve never been a fan of chewing gum. Oh, I’ve chewed once In a while, maybe once a year. But the thought of chewing for the sake of chewing was never quite appealing. In fact, the act of gum chewing always seemed somewhat barnyard-like.
Most anywhere you go in the U.S. you see more people working the gum wad than not. Watching someone chewing gum looks very much like staring at a cow chewing away their cud. It’s quite a hilarious site. But then again, it never took much to amuse me.
What isn’t amusing, as we all experience, is the occasional gum stuck to the bottom of our shoes. The sidewalks in most cities are littered with hardened gum spots where the wad, having reached the near end of its chewing life, has somehow managed to escape the jaw trap and leap for a chance to a make semipermanent impression. Once securely flattened, the wad becomes one with the sidewalk.
When I was growing up, I did the bubble gum thing once in a while. But even that was rare. Once, in 8th grade, as I was taking a test and my jaw working a piece of bubble gum, the nun (catholic school) came up to me and said, loud enough to get the classes’s attention, “spaghetti, spit it out.” She held her hand under my chin. At first I didn’t know what she meant. When I hesitated, she yelled “spit out the gum, spaghetti.” All eyes were on me, but I was already seated in the front row. So I opened my mouth and let the wad drop into her holy hand. She then proceeded to show the class what happens to those who chew gum in school by placing and pressing (smashing) the wad onto the bridge of my nose. She said that I had to keep it there for the rest of the class. Finishing the test while looking over the large pink wad protruding up through my vision added a kind of staccato to the testing thought process. The funny thing was, prior to that, I had no idea that gum was a banned substance in school.
That experience had nothing to do with my adult relationship with gum. I was never against popping a chiclet once in a while as a mouth refresher.
The week before I left on this trip, I had a follow up appointment with the swallowing and speech phd. When I explained that my mouth was constantly in scum mode, she recommended that I try chewing gum. But, it should be sugarless. I tried a few brands available at the local pharmacy, but the flavors were so strong, that I had trouble choking past the first ten minutes. Once past those ten minutes though, it was an amazing discovery that the act of chewing cleared up the pasty, clammy sensation and also helped with the dryness. While chewing, I didn’t need a water bottle hand-ready for rescue.
Before I left, I found this gum at Whole Foods that is blander than bland. No choking until the flavor is gone so I stocked up for the trip. What I didn’t think about was the fact that I’d need several pieces throughout the day. There is no gum in this part of the world. People here don’t chew to chew. It’s more of a western thing as a nervous habit.
So last night I go to dinner with my perspective business associate and a couple of host Malaysian guys as kind of a follow up business dinner. It was relaxed and again, we were on the Mekong outside enjoying a fresh fish caught in the not so clean river. Before going to dinner, I told myself to pack some gum. But not being a habitual chewer, I forgot. Just as well, I’m thinking, I had to conserve and ration the little chiclets. The difference between having gum and not is extreme.
So as dinner was served, knowing that we would be going out afterwards, I had to protect the afternoon piece that was already in my mouth. As it was, I had been nursing it somewhat prolonging its lifespan with barely detectable, intermittent chews. But it had to come out for food. I am just not that good with food in my mouth so I deftly extracted it with chopsticks and placed it at an indiscrete location on my rice dish. And, I had to keep an eye on it in case the efficient waiters decided to change plates.
In the end, all worked out as planned. I was able to pop the abc afternoon wad back in place so that it could continue its work doing double duty. That wad did me right. Now, as I write this in the back of a car driving from Laos back through Thailand through rice paddy fields with a fresh new wad, I’m reminded of yet another irony, of how I’m stuck on gum.