Monday, June 1, 2009

Remember Those Giant Jaw Breakers?

It's lunchtime for me at my office desk and I am sharing unsolicited commentary on my meal:

"MAN. Salads take a long time to eat."


That's OK, the designers probably have their headphones in. Or, maybe my statement was so true and incontestable that there was nothing more to be said. As I sit in this silence proceeding my salad-eating epiphany, I am suddenly struck by an image from long, long ago.

My eyes are closed, my head is bent at the neck. My feet are swishing left, then right, creating a dragged circle in the sand beneath my body. The weight of my body is held by a suspended tire swing on the elementary school playground. I hold onto the metalic-smelling chains with my left hand and in my right hand is my most prized possession... It is like an egg from an exotic bird, it is a jewel crafted from the unique whittling of my own mouth, it is my very own, very precious, sanctifyably sticky, 
Giant Candy Jaw Breaker.

I do not have the statistics to indicate whether this was an isolated fad of the early nineties, or if perhaps it was reserved to the Midwest, but Giant Jaw Breakers were most certainly a delicacy if not a status symbol when I was in elementary school. If you were part of this elite crowd, your mom or dad purchased one of these baseball-sized hard candies for you at the General Store. Once you had the perfectly round, perfectly mysterious object in hand, you had to stop admiring it and start licking it. Once you began, there was no turning back – Basically, you embarked on a two week project to get to the middle of that mother fuc**r so that you could show your friends your accomplishment.

See, as you worked your way down, new colors were revealed with what we believed to be new flavors and textures. In truth, our mouths were so raw and ravaged by the time we hit the epicenter of those balls that all we could taste was pasty sugar mixed with stale saliva. Proper etiquette was to hold the jaw breaker in the same thin, tissue papery plastic that it was sold in. The slow dripping of acidic saliva would burn holes into that paper, thus giving your jaw breaker an even more weather beaten appearance. Like a pair of worn jeans with the perfect amount of fringe at the seams, a weather-weary Giant Jaw Breaker gave you street cred in the third grade.

I remember what it was like to observe friends who were further along on their jaw breakers. It was intimidating and inspiring at the same time. To see the odd lack of spherical form (they would become cavernous and then eventually flatten out on top) was like seeing the girls grow leg hair. There was jealousy, there was awe mixed with silent disgust, and there was also the underlying promise that, someday, I would get there too.

When I was in college studying art, I learned about a Contemporary Artist who freaked me out to the point of fascinated-revulsion. (This was a similar emotion that I felt when I viewed those advanced jaw-breaker-lickers on the play ground.) Janine Antoni created works of art out of blocks of chocolate, soap, and lard. In "Lick and Lather" she licked her self portrait out of chocolate. In "Gnaw" she did performace-based art where she slowly gnawed away at 600 pound blocks of chocolate and lard. The point was something about blurring dimensions and love/hate, yada, yada – but here is what has stuck in my mind about Antoni all this time. Somewhere I read that from her work on "Gnaw" she developed numerous canker sores from gnawing away at the chocolate and she would puke from gnawing on the raw fat. YIKES!

Dare I say, I feel that from my jaw breaker experience I can somewhat relate with Ms. Antoni. See, at first you were real excited about your jaw breaker. You convinced yourself that yours was somehow special, with superior markings and color-bands in comparison to the other Giant Jaw Breakers you spotted during recess (We could only suck on them during recess. They had to be put away, safely inside our desks once we were back inside the classroom. I hated this rule because I would get pencil shavings on mine.)

Eventually, the newness and wonderment of the Giant Jaw Breaker wore off, and soon it became a big fat pain in the a$$. Problem was, no one was willing to throw in the towel. You had to LICK IT OUT, I mean, stick it out, to the very bittersweet end. This, of course, resulted in multiple canker sores, swollen tongues, ill-tasting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunchtime, and, of course, exhausting sugar comas.

I remember the day I finally got to the center of my Giant Jaw Breaker. It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon, 12:40 PM, and we had just lost the kick ball game. I was wearing my red corduroy jumper (...I am totally kidding). No, but, I do remember when I finally got to that g*d forsaken core of that Giant Jaw Breaker. I think I remember feeling a sense of loss and relief. It was common for most kids that, once they reached the center, they bailed on the remaining half. Much like how I have bailed on my now wilted salad after getting through all the exciting toppings. The rest is just, well, the other half, which is boring.

Moral of the story? If you decide to go get yourself a Giant Jaw Breaker, just be warned. Your co-workers probably won't find it as awe-inspiring as the third graders on the playground, but it will still prove to be a challenge for your grown-up mouth. There is no outwitting those things. You too will be sucked up into the tangle of curiosity and enslavement, wanting to know what color is next in the never-ending bands of jaw-breaking flavor. My advice? Buy one, give 'er a few licks, then smash that bit*ch on the sidewalk. Show no mercy.

That's what we did, once we got to the middle.


  1. ouch my tongue is sore just reading this!! -Beanbag

  2. I was just telling my kids about jaw breakers when we drove by the General Store the other day. I hated those things and always wondered why we just didn't buy the smaller size. Wouldn't that have been easier? Although I'm sure the street cred on the GL playground wouldn't have been as great.