Was thinking about my early years living in symmetrical, careful, planned, 1970s ‘cul de sac’ suburbia before we moved out to the abject chaos of the jungle.
Food was constantly on my brothers and my minds. Mum and Dad were young parents trying to find a vocation (stints at real estate, sound system installation) to provide for three growing boys and their insatiable appetites.
From an early age apparently I used to sit perched on top of the letterbox from which to survey the coming’s and going’s of the street and yoga-like stretch my foot up to my face and eat my toenails.
The neighbours used to comment to my mum on my sense of balance and finesse with which I did so. He’s destined for great things they’d say.
Well no, they didn’t say that – I’m making that up. I think they thought of me as a curious freak of nature to puzzle over when folding the washing and gazing out the window.
Was it hunger that drove my search for sustenance in the keratin protein of my toenails ? I’ll never know.
The fishmonger in his truck would venture down our street each Friday and we local kids would barrel after him together with a gaggle of haggling housewives to buy the fish of the day. We were interested in looking at the different varieties of fish on display gazing up at us with their glazed, cloudy, dead eyes smelling somewhere between fresh and week old.
Occasionally, a novice ice cream driver would take the wrong turn and head down the street with his jingle playing. That was a ‘call to arms’ and every kid running, on bikes, skateboards, crutches or whatever came to hand would corner him in his truck and watch as one or two lucky ones got to choose a chocolate dipped and sprinkled single scoop.We always hoped he’d give us one for free, but he never did.
Anyway, this gets me to the point of this memory and that is the mystery of my brother’s chewing gum stash.
My brothers and I got 10 cents pocket money. Once it was in our hot little hands we’d immediately dash off to the local dairy for our 10 cents worth of mixed lollies – our sugar bliss. The lollies came in little brown bags pre-made by the dairy-owner, all ready for the kids. We’d chow through our various spearmint leaves, milk bottles, jet planes, wine gums and assorted gelatin pretty darn quickly. No room for civility. You pause, you lose.
Yet my brother always had wads of chewing gum left over which was curious as there was no chewing gum in the 10 cent mixed lolly bags to the best of our knowledge. He’d gloat and show us the juicy load of gum in his puffed up Marlon Brando ‘Godfather’ cheeks, all the time stretching it out with his tongue and playing with it at will. But he was always coy on where it came from.
So we spied on him for the next couple of days and it soon became clear.
He’d head off to our garage and get a small gardening trowel, wash it under the tap – undoubtedly for hygiene reasons – and take off down the street or ‘cul de sac’. There every piece of discarded flattened gum he came across on the footpath and road, he duly scraped up and put in a plastic bag. Once he’d finished his hunter gathering, he rolled the stringy bits of gum together to form a solid mass and stuck it in his mouth, and that was the source of his everlasting gum stash.
There can’t have been any flavour left in the gum that could have been out in the elements for years, run over, walked over, and possibly pissed on by dogs. But whatever it was it gave him a sense of satisfaction and satiation. Who were we to judge?
But we didn’t follow suit and we stayed clear of anything to do with his food for the rest of our lives, even to this day.
Frankly I’d prefer my dirty blackened toenails to pissed on gum any day, but that’s just me.