My 12-pack cost $0.95, and I wasted no time. I was mildly annoyed that the gum was easier to chew than I remembered (I owe my powerful, bone-crushing jaw to years of Bazooka chewing), but pleased that the taste was as awful as ever. The mail-in prize being replaced by 'VISIT BAZOOKAJOE.COM TO COLLECT COOL STUFF!' didn't bother me much, though I did miss being enticed by erector sets, decoder rings and real cameras. No, the comics themselves were what killed the experience. Not because the jokes were bad, or because the fortunes were bad--I expected that. No, what got me was that, after 4 pieces, I had just two different comics, including the same three in a row. A fluke, I was sure, until the next piece was another repeat. Same for piece #6. Frustrated, I unwrapped another. Finally a new comic. The next was a repeat, as was the next, and all the rest. By the time I popped #12, I had almost a whole pack of gum in my mouth, but just three different Bazooka Joes on my desk. Four of each.
With my gums receding and my inner child dying, my question was: when did Bazooka start mailing it in? The stuff is still manufactured by the Topps company, the same folks who removed the brittle, terrible stick of gum from its packs of trading cards sometime in the 90s. That's when people started taking baseball cards too seriously, handling them like Fabergé eggs, searching for flaws and acting like a photograph on a piece of cardboard has any real value outside of a child who loves baseball mutilating a card with sticky, adoring fingers. When I got a new pack of Topps, I chewed the fucking gum. I liked that one of the cards was stained with sugar. I rifled through the stack hoping I'd get at least one Cleveland Indian. To me, netting a 1983 Alan Bannister as my teeth and saliva reintegrated a dozen shards of shattered pink gum was the height of bliss.
So when baseball cards became glossy, when they stopped printing full career statistics on the back, when they ditched the gum in favor of holograms, that's when I checked out.
Do I digress? Only slightly. It's no fun to collect comics if the collection ends at three. If I'm a kid who's just scored a 12 pack of Bazooka, I want 12 different comics. I think Topps could figure out a way to make that happen. If I buy my son some baseball cards, I think there should be gum in the pack. I don't want some adult telling him to be careful because the cards might be worth something, someday.
Are you listening Topps? I want my gum back.
And here's what 9 pieces of Bazooka look like, in case you were curious:
Do not chew 9 pieces of Bazooka at one time. You will be sick.