Bubblegum and Blueprints

Good god, what a beanpole I was.

I came across these two pics of me as a kid adding some details to my dad’s drawings while I waited for him in his office one afternoon. I believe I’m about 12 or 13 here. Dad was a draughtsman and worked at North York Hydro for all of my childhood until he retired, so I was no stranger to technical drawings.

In fact, he likes to remind me of when I was about 3 years old and he had placed his finished technical drawings for the city on the dining room table while getting ready for work. When he went to gather them up he found that I had taken my crayons and added my own details…all over his finished plans. Clearly I knew what had to be upgraded, haha!

Amazingly, he never made me feel bad about it. I’m not so sure I’d handle a similar situation as graciously, but he trusted me enough years later to let me do some work on his drawings in these pics here.

That Bubblicious T-shirt I’m wearing brought back a whopper of a memory though! To this day I see it as a spoil of war between two bubblegum giants, and not the product of a somewhat scrupulous bamboozle on my part. But you can decide for yourself.

Cruising the city on our BMX bikes in the hot, humid summer of 1978 or ’79, my buddies and I stopped into the Don Mills Center Shopping Mall to get out of the brutal Toronto heat and cool down.  We stumbled on the Bubblicious Ultimate Bubble Contest.

This was a  travelling campaign that was hitting cities all over North America claiming their bubble gum blew the biggest bubbles out of all the bubblegum in the world, and they had just set up a big stage in our neck of the woods to prove it.

Kids waiting in line were given a free pack of gum for their chance to get on stage in front of everybody and blow the largest bubble they could to win a prize.

Free gum! Competition! Prize! We were in!

We stood at the side of the stage wadding as much free gum as we could get into our mouths and chewing with the same enthusiasm as over caffeinated hamsters stuffing their face pouches. We chewed a lot of gum as kids and figured we were pros. But I had a secret weapon!

Hubba Bubba had just come on the market, but only in the US at that time. Their claim to fame was that it would not stick to your face if the bubble burst, and they backed it up with their TV ad: ‘Big bubbles, no troubles.’  They were gunning to be the biggest selling bubblegum, and their main competitor was Bubblicious.

I had been given a few packs of Hubba Bubba that came across the border, and I chewed enough to know two things:

1. It didn’t stick to your face, and

2. It blew huge bubbles.

I was convinced no other kid in Canada knew this. Not only that, I had a pack of Hubba Bubba in my pocket at that moment. It was my time to shine!

My free pack of Bubblicious went in the left pocket of my cut off jean shorts and my package of Hubba Bubba came out of my right pocket. Nobody saw what I did. Nobody except my buddy Rob (this may or may not be his real name, haha).

He was not happy with the switch I made. ‘You can’t do that!’

But I was sure I could. There was no rule saying you had to blow the bubble with Bubblicious, just blow the biggest bubble. Was it cheating? I didn’t think so. I wasn’t too concerned about which side of the moral ambiguity fence this fell on. Rob and I could argue about that later. I wanted to win!

About 30 of us got on stage and the announcer shouted: ‘Blow!’

The rules were simple: If your bubble popped you were out. The 15 kids with the biggest bubble stayed. Then the 10 biggest bubbles. Then 5. And then 3, where the kid with the biggest bubble of the 3 would be the winner.

Every kid on stage furiously worked their jaws, pursed their lips and stared cross eyed at the big pink balloons they were inflating under their nose.

Things went as I expected and I easily made it to the top 3 finals…and so did Rob. He stood to my right, and a younger blonde girl stood to the right of him. Rob was in it to win it and was clearly agitated that I was still there with him. He was fidgeting and looked like he was going to say something when we heard:  ‘Blow!’

And I did! I didn’t look to my right to see how the other two were doing, because dangling off my lips and swaying like a pregnant beach ball was the biggest bubble I’d ever blown! I wasn’t moving!

The crowd was pointing and applauding at my creation, and the judge walked over and announced me as the winner! I cleanly sucked up my bubble, accepted my new Bubblicious t-shirt, and saw a girl I liked cheering for me in the crowd!

I was golden! What a glorious day to be a kid! I was thanking the Hubba Bubba gods and already imagining myself cool as the Fonz, stepping off the stage drunk on the courage of victory to go talk to the girl in the crowd when I heard:  ‘He cheated! He used Hubba Bubba! Check his pockets!’

I turned to see Rob pointing directly at my pockets and stomping furiously on the stage. Angry and almost with tears in his eyes he had loudly and publicly ratted me out in front of the whole mall. I stopped chewing and froze.

The judge looked back at us confused and then looked to someone at the side of the stage. I panicked and said the only thing I trusted my voice to say that would convince any jury of my innocence:  ‘No I didn’t!’

A wave of heat and fear (and possibly a little guilt), washed over me. I stepped toward Rob, punched him as hard as I could in the arm and threatened him with about a dozen different deaths out of earshot of the judge while I nervously acted cool and innocent. My face must’ve showed my fear (or anger), because Rob shut up.

Things got weirdly quiet before the announcer anxiously shrugged off the accusation and quickly asked the crowd to give another round of applause for the winner. I scrambled from the stage as fast as I could, but not as fast as my persona publicly shrank from the Fonz into Richie Cunningham. I dodged the girl in the crowd at all costs to avoid having to plead my questionable case. Rob reluctantly left the stage in a hissy fit, whining with every step.

As it turns out the young blonde girl blew a bigger bubble than Rob anyway. So was he upset that he lost, or that I won? It didn’t matter. He snitched on me! The ultimate no-no between friends.

Things were pretty tense between him and I for a long while and I never did trust him again. But I wore that shirt as much as I could around him just to rub it in and see his sour reaction every time. In the end, that may have been more satisfying than the win. It definitely lasted much longer.

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