Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just Brushed Feeling

I would like to confront my chewing gum. Allow me to explain.

I bought a pack of the new Maui Melon Mint sometime last week at some checkout stand or another. I try new Orbit flavors every once and awhile. In general, Orbit is decent enough, a level of quality no gum will likely ever aspire beyond for me, except for Big League Chew and select other enamel-ravaging, novelty-packaged goodness that advertised between Ninja Turtles episodes when I was seven. Even the days of six-feet of delicious grape gum are largely beyond me, though. My body has lost most of it's tolerance to sudden surges of sugar, and the concept of "too sweet" at some point came to inhabit my personal existence.

So I go with sugar-free these days, and Orbit gum is decent enough. Also, the constant variety of new flavors keeps a certain novelty in place, not to mention providing all kinds of good questions. For example, how many people spend their entire workday trying to think of new kinds of gum? Is there some brash new employee making up crazy, reckless flavors by their own rules, and an old veteran a hair away from retirement who thinks up gum by the book and chewed Wrigley's classic while he fighting alongside patriots in the trenches of Korea? Do these two have a contentious but rock-solid bond, solidified by the common challenge of breaking new ground in chewing enjoyment? Did the Korean War even have trenches, or did I just make that up?

I enjoy pondering these mysteries while trying new Orbit varieties and commenting on them internally as if I have been hired by Gum Aficionado. (Raspberry Mint, Midwestern sugarless, 2007. Inconsistent, Dimetapp-like beginning eases into pleasant and fruity impression, mild finish: 78/100). It's generally an experience worth the 89-cent per pack price, and unlike many other cheap, checkout lane impulse buys, Orbit gum does not immediately make me feel bad about America or the human condition. Orbit gum does not inexplicably promise me five hours of energy despite just basically containing an extreme overdose of vitamin B. Orbit gum also does not attempt to tell me how much cocaine Lindsey Lohan might be doing or that Angelina Jolie now has fifteen children. Orbit gum does not offer extensive summaries on what happened on General Hospital this week. Orbit gum knows I do not care.

Yet, despite this very comfortable arrangement, I couldn't help but feel slightly jilted when I picked the latest new pack, it's newness colorfully advertised in the top right corner:

Flavor escape? Hold on.

First of all, I have no idea who could possibly be achieving any appreciable degree of escape through a two-gram serving of processed, artificially flavored gum base, chemically altered as it is. I do not understand what possible level of life boredom could cause me to want to get away from it all with a just-brushed clean feeling. Perhaps I'm just not getting it, and once the world truly understands the ascendant qualities of melon-mint fusion, we won't need Scotch, Xanax or Flavor of Love to tune out anymore. Maybe we will instead get together on Thursday to play Chubby Bunny with Bubblicious and responsibly discourage our friends from operating heavy machinery after three or four pieces. Our RAs will warn to mix gums responsibly with the helpful rhyme: "Sugarfree before sugars, wake up feeling like boogers". And maybe we will sit down with one of our childhood friends and show them the pile of empty Extra packs we found while trying to find their cable remote, and tell them we think they have a gum problem, but that we'll be there to help.

Yes, I'm kidding. I don't think anyone is going to walk into a hotel room anytime soon to find Kid Rock dead from sorbital overdose. It is not the danger of flavor escape that truly disturbs me. I am disturbed because we already have countless sources of escape, retreat, and avoidance at our disposal. Yet we drink, or take pills, or gorge ourselves on food, and end up zoned out in front of the TV or Youtube. We achieve escape. Then, we wake up. It is a new day, and we are hung over, annoyed, exhausted, and craving a bacon-muffin-egg-ham-sausage-croissant breakfast sandwich, and we just want to escape again. And apparently we can tide ourselves through the day with Maui Melon Mint. We have escaped, yet we wake up still living the same lives we were the day before. I do not understand why we still believe escape is a real solution.

Of course, there are plenty of serious problems I'd rather not wake up to everyday. Despite the former major causes of human death being demolished into largely either curable or preventable conditions in the industrialized world, I wake up everyday in a country facing massive amounts of chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in large part due to basic, modifiable lifestyle choices. I wake up everyday in a city where I can expect to find traffic on the freeway, mostly caused by preventable crashes due to speeding, reckless driving, and a failure to pay attention. I wake up in a world where a significant proportion of people who die in those accidents will do so out of a failure to take two seconds to buckle the seat belt that came standard in their car. I go to work at my public tutoring center, and talk to kids who have a tough time believing they can accomplish anything because their parents don't involve themselves and their teachers demonstrate that education is about poorly explaining the worksheets copied from a textbook, taking tests, and assigning grades. I understand the desire to escape.

I also understand these problems are themselves caused because we are constantly retreating and avoiding our own lives. In trying to escape our problems, with or without the assistance of new gum taste sensations, we start paying less attention to everything around us. We zone out driving home from work, and don't notice that we're following too close to the car in front of us. We too tired to cook, and so we drop through a drive-thru on the way home, and order whatever we feel like because we're not thinking about it that much. And we have kids, because that's just how it worked out, but we're tired so we watch TV instead of talking to them or making sure they have a book to read. We get away for awhile, and then we wake up with the same problems, day after day, week after week.

Escape has been attempted. It does not work. And if it didn't work with American Idol, cocaine, or the delicious food offered at Wendy's, it will not work with ten to fifteen minutes of chewing gum enjoyment.

I do not want a flavor escape. I want flavor confrontation, flavor approach, flavor attack. As a culture, we should not aspire to develop gum to help us get away . We should aspire to have gum that gets the taste of bland, healthy, baconless food out of our mouths. We should aspire to confront the problems we want to run away from, and accept that which is inescapable. We should aspire to show up fully to our own lives.

I abuse the pronoun "we" intentionally, if inelegantly. Tuning out our own lives is not a "them" problem, it is an "us" problem. It is a problem that does not disappear with money, a college degree, or our ability to compare ourselves to others who we think act more stupidly or foolishly than ourselves. We cannot avoid the need to pay attention, we can only confront that need. We have no reason not to. I can see no reason why we should run away from the ability to have power over own our thoughts and lives.

So with three simple words, Orbit gum has somehow led to believe that even it, in its innocuous bright pink and green package, represents in some small one of the greatest threats facing human health and happiness: mindlessness. Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe these are just three arbitrary words, with no greater intended purpose than to stand out in the checkout aisle more than Peanut Butter Twix. I don't think so, though. Advertising isn't a game won by random messages. I cannot help but believe that out there, somewhere, is the record of a meeting where those three words won out among all other possibilities. Whatever the truth is, this package of Orbit has already led me to ponder far less pleasant questions than whether anyone has ever been fired for unpopular gum flavor ideas. Maybe these are questions that need to be asked. On the bright side though, Maui Melon actually lands among the best flavors so far. So I try and accept it for the cheap gum it is and ignore the suggested usage. It is not a perfect arrangement, but it is decent enough.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Well, It's 3:44 AM Somewhere"

Dinosaurs changed my life.

Long story short, I was figuring out my remaining required class. I’d overestimated the pace I need to graduate in four years. I had eight classes required still and four quarters left. People who don’t have intensive jobs, activities, or the masochism required to pursue an engineering degree are usually fine with four classes a quarter. So I decided to embrace this freedom and take a comfortable load of three classes. And I decided just to take whatever I wanted for my third class, for the hell of it.

As I cruised the registrar website, I recalled a class occasionally heard of in hushed but overjoyed tones around campus. A class that recalled all the fun, laid-back general education classes that are synonymous with freshman year, although less than the constant fear that someone would do something gross in the one toilet that for some reason is currently receiving basic respect. A class more epic than any other: Dinosaurs and Their Relatives. A class with a lab scheduled for two hours that actually takes 55 minutes and a five page front-to-back worksheet you fill out with a group and check your answers with the TA. The only reason my electrical engineering major roommate has not come back from a three-hour lab and killed me over this? He took Dinosaurs too. Lucky break for me.

So not only in this class like a college-level version of an educational summer program one might get sent off to for a week, but apparently everything my Zoobook and Jurassic Park (Now A Major Motion Picture!) say is totally outdated. So I’m going in to get the facts, and I’ll report back once we get past talking about horse fossils for some vague comparative reason that will hopefully be clearer to me once my lecture slides are filled with some rad-ass, take no prisoners dinosaurs who eat the guy who plays Newman from Seinfeld because that’s what dinosaurs do and, let's face it, he had it coming.

In the mean time, I’ll keep you posted on the stress levels of my roommates and friends who are actually doing work, demonstrate the degree to which I’m willing to be a terrible influence on all of them, and also keep a record of how my quarter goal to watch more Netflix movies pans out.

I’m keeping records. I leave you with my log from Sunday:

Number of Extenze commercials seen: 2
Cadbury Cream Eggs consumed: 2
Reading done: Animal Farm, 4 pages (Not assigned)
Percentage of current textbooks not yet opened: 100%
Deep insights about Comedy Central programming: 1
First beer opened – 3:44 AM