The man at the front of the bus has gum, a lot of it, and he’s not afraid to the show the world.
Such a display of strength! Jaws working tirelessly, the bones in his face flex like he’s being paid by the chew, like chewing gum is his full time job.
My mother would pass out.
My mother’s idea of gum was – and is – Juicy Fruit. One whiff of that gum, to this day, and I’m sitting in a church pew, tiny white patent leather shoes jutting out before me. My mother tears a stick of gum in two, gives one half to me, one half to my brother, and my pudgy pink fingers unwrap it, put it up to my nose, eyes closed, inhaling that first precious flood of Juicy Fruit-ness.
In five minutes, we will be spitting it back out into her outstretched hand.
“I won’t have you kids chewing like cows,” she’d say later.
But oh, how we wanted to chew like cows! Like the sassy, defiant children we yearned to be, snapping our gum and boldly putting our hands on our hips.
“What are you, a Jet or a Shark?” my dad would say. “Get that hand off your hip.”
“I think they’re looking for something to do, Paul,” my mother would intone darkly.
Something to do? Oh, for cryin’ out loud, fellas! I’m – I’m busy – I got places to go! A clever, fleet-footed child would ankle it toward the screen door about this time or find herself faced with raking up the shag carpeting. Sure, you can dance with the rake when your mom’s not looking, but it’s still indoor raking!
The jaws of the young man at the front of the bus are working, working. Rather than sit, he stands, and I am free to stare until I can stare no longer. His skin tone a dark red that implies high blood pressure and, possibly, gout in later years, he chews like a man with a grudge.
Meanwhile, at the back of the bus, I give up admiring the Mandibles of Death and turn to watch the early-morning world slide past my window.
And I think I smell Juicy Fruit.