The Gold Standard
You choose them your way, I’ll choose them mine.
Let me tell you about one of the best friends I ever had. I knew him in High School and through most of my twenties. I am a strange guy, and kind of a jerk, and I have lived a weird life…some of it by design and some of it just by fate. Because of this, being my friend can be exhausting, and often a trial …unless you are also those things. If you are also strange and a jerk with a weird life…then it is not exhausting, it is a roller coaster of maniacal laughter and false regret.
Allow me to lead you to a window of our shared apartment…past the ant hanging from the kitchen light from a piece of thread that was painstakingly fashioned into a noose…past the VCR with the samurai sword jammed into it in a vein attempt at removing a stuck tape…past the bullet holes in the wall the story to which is not as interesting as you would think…past the 80 gallon aquarium that housed a pet alligator that was such a disappointment it was replaced with goldfish…past all that to a window.
This second story window had a direct view of the split in branches of a tree where several squirrels made a home. The squirrels came when the lady downstairs decided she would feed all the birds of Milwaukee with half a dozen sickeningly cute chinese made bird feeders. Anyone who has lived near bird feeders knows that it not only feeds birds. It feed birds, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, small raccoons and any other furry creature able to climb up to it. The yard had turned into a starbucks for lazy fist sized mammals. It was fun for awhile to be able to burst out the back door with your arms out like a wizard and yell “ATTACK MY PRETTIES!” and have several dozen animals streak off in different directions as thought following your command. It was fun for a little while, but mostly it was a pain in the ass… especially after they got used to you bursting out the back door and yelling, and just gave you the finger instead of streaking away. But it really became a problem when the squirrels moved in. These were hearty city squirrels. About a foot long not counting the tail. They built a nest out of whatever they could find, newspaper, cardboard, tar paper…and eventually ..shingles off of the roof. They started pulling shingles off the ROOF and the roof started leaking.
We decided it was time for the squirrels to go. Being jerks who had allot of weird stuff lying around…we settled on taking out the nest with some old timey, chrome, 3 gallon fire extinguishers. These weren’t the modern ones that sprayed foam or carbon dioxide, these were old models that you filled with water and hooked up to a tire pump until the pressure nozzle was in the green. We decided “green” wasn’t good enough for these squirrels so we plugged it into the 3HP air compressor until we though we heard metal fatigue. Then…from the window I have brought you to…we blasted the nest right out of the tree, sleeping squirrels and all. Oh how we laughed. We laughed until we cried…we laughed until…the alpha squirrel climbed onto the window sill and barked at us angrily!
Now, before you say “good, that was an asshole thing to do”, let me remind you they were destroying the house, not only that, but let me tell you were they got some of the paper and cardboard. They got it from OUR KITCHEN. Yes, one day we left the porch door open and in marched the squirrels to take whatever wasn’t nailed down, whatever they could carry in their flea bitten paws before I woke from my hangover and chased them out. THEY STARTED IT. They stole stuff out of our house, they stole stuff out of our cars, until you open your glove box at 7am and have a squirrle jump out and scare the shit out of you, or have one chew a how through the rag top of your 77 Olds cutlass, I don’t want to hear your judgement on us for soaking some squirrels. Back to the action…
We had only shut the screen of the window after strafing the tree, and the two grown men who had laughed so hard were now peaking up from behind furniture as a squirrel barked angrily and chewed, shoved, and clawed at the screen. I’ll be honest with you…it was terrifying. I went to run for the door when my friend reminded me that there are three other squirrels unaccounted for..and this could be a set up. We considered blasting him again but that would surely take out the screen and if he hangs on he’d be on our ass before we could close the window. We made a plan …I would run up and slam the window shut and he would cover me with his rifle. It worked. It worked so well we realized that we were foolish to be frightened in the first place. It worked so well that the NEXT day we blasted the squirrels again, this time with dye mixed into the water. As you could have guessed we then had a bright red squirrel clawing at the screen and had to do the whole bit over again. Eventually the lady downstairs got tired of hearing shrieking squirrels and having strange colorful liquid streaks down the side of the tree and took down the bird feeders. She eventually gave up on having anything nice in the yard, and eventually gave up on living there.
Aside from screwing with other people, and fighting with dumb animals, we would screw with each other. My favorite thing to was to push instead of pull. See often one of our cars would break down or we’d need to move some old muscle car we were fixing (breaking) and we’d have to both push it out of the garage or into the garage …I would say “okay on the count of three” and on “three” I would pull while he pushed. He would push and strain and then realize I was doing the opposite. I loved that …I would do it every single time like lucy with the football .I would do it while the engine was on fire and we needed to get it closer to the garden hose. I would do it when the car was broken down in busy traffic. I would do it every time. Loved it.
Don’t feel bad for the guy, he gave just as good as he got. Know what happens when you try to put jumper cables on a car when the other guy puts them on the working car backwards? I do …I found out every single time he helped jump start a car.
Lost in all this may be the friendship…the brotherhood of the jerk. Sure we were a danger to ourselves and everyone around us, but when push came to shove we looked out for each other. Medical emergencies, bar fights, problems of any kind large or small were never faced alone. I will honestly say we would have risked our lives for each other without thinking twice …I say that because we did. It is a shame that some of my best stories can never be told …because quite frankly, they are felonies. Felonies done out of friendship. Think back to the friends you had as a child, back when you still believed things like vampires and witches…and would go side by side with your friend to get the ball out of the yard of someone you both genuinely believed was a witch. That is friendship…it is a rare thing at any age but even more rare as an adult.
I tell you all this to explain this picture of old gum.
I got it at an estate sale at the time because I like old packaging…when I got it home I realized there was gum inside. Judging by the package my guess was 70 year old gum, my friend thought closer to 50 year old gum because of the price. Either way it was freakin old gum. As you can guess it didn’t take us long to wonder what decades old gum tasted like. “we could be chewing the same brand of gum as Teddy Roosevelt or something!”
Of course the odds of it tasting good or even tolerable where slim. So, we broke off a couple of pieces and made a pack. On the count of three we would each put our pieces in our mouth and chew. We looked at each other with “okay…don’t f@ck around, we’re really doing this” on our faces.
we counted to three…
It may be the camaraderie we had, or the stalwart friendship, or it may have simply been the urge in each of use to actually taste that gum and knowing this was our one chance to do so…but we chewed that gum on the count of three.
Well, “chewed” may be an exaggeration because after one bite the gum disintegrated into a powdery paste. A paste the instantly absorbed all the moisture out of whatever it was touching…and kept absorbing moisture from your body through that spot…you could literally feel yourself dehydrating, and the taste…it was a cross between shoe rubber, a “D” battery, and bussel sprouts…times a thousand. It was the worst taste I have ever tasted. It was the worst taste anyone had ever tasted. And that horrible taste was burning itself into our tongue….it was transferring its dna into our bodies through the same spot it was sucking out our moisture…you could literally FEEL how bad it tasted as it robbed your body of h2o. All this information was instantly sent in a blind panic from our mouths to our brains.
We RAN to the sink…it was so bad that the two jerks who never passed up a chance to do something terrible but funny to someone did not impede each other. I clawed desperately at the sink handles and he flailed through the cabinet for cups. It was five minutes of panicked spitting, drinking, scrapping of tongues, gagging, shoving of wet towels into mouths. As we struggled in blind panic for a method of removing the taste and every spec of that “gum” the look on our faces was not a “ha ha look at you” that normally showed forth when one of us was in pain..it was more of a humanitarian pity/ longing to help a fellow-man escape his agony. Any method that stunted the horrible taste was instantly handed to the other with “try this try this”. I don’t think all the clever wording really does justice to how bad it was…I was one of the worst things that ever happened to me…I shit you not. Divorce, loss of loved ones, The first time I ever had my heart broke, getting my finger torn off, and this gum…all about a degree apart in awfulness. It was horrible. When it was over we both sitting on the kitchen floor exhausted…”feel like I was raped by gum” was the consensus.
That incident is really the gold standard on friendship. The elements that make a good friend-the courage, the whimsy, the curiosity, the equality,the trust, the trustabilty, and perhaps most important dependability in a crisis were all summed up in that gum incident.
Whatever happened to that guy? I don’t know, I’m sure he’s fine, but the older you get the more of your time and attention turns to the opposite sex. It’s the natural order of things. No one wants to grow old and gray with their buddy. Also…no matter how much fun it is accidentally starting a car on fire, it’s usually not as fun as sex. So you sort of out grow each other, and lose track while pursuing things other than friendships. Funny though, as you get older you realize more that what you are looking for is a best friend…just with opposite sex organs.
That’s why I still have this gum. Marriage certificates, and “I Do’s” are one thing, it implies unbreakable long-term commitment, but in the end it is a ceremony not an act. It may mean something…then again sometimes it doesn’t. I am a cynical guy, and I have had one marriage go bad …which makes you even more cynical but this gum…It is a tangible defense against my own cynicism that would otherwise prevent me from ever really really trusting again, because …when I think I have “the one” I’ll know for sure …because we’re eating that fucking gum.