This post originally appeared in the October 19, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
My nervous energy isn’t a product of this pandemic, but it’s gotten a thousand times more intense since, you know, all of this. My trips to and from my cherished espresso machine are now on the half hour. I open and close the window. I spray and wipe and spray the counter. I vacuum the floor, I check the mail, I start a pot of rice for dinner — at 10 a.m. And as of late, I chew an ungodly amount of bubble gum.
The chewing is a physical release for my anxiety. It feels a little wrong that before I’ve even had my first cup of coffee or made a bowl of yogurt, I’m smacking loudly on a cube of watermelon bubble gum, blowing huge, loud bubbles in my empty kitchen as I open the shades. I’m chewing a bright-pink square of gum! At 8 a.m.! The artificially sweet thrill fades right around when I check the news, but those few moments of happiness give me the energy to wash my face and put on real-ish clothes, and when the gum has lost all integrity, there’s always another piece ready to be unwrapped. That’s because I’ve taken to buying bubble gum by the boatload.
Before shelter-in-place, it had been years since I chewed a piece of bubble gum, and I more or less avoided gum altogether. I’m allergic to the artificial minty flavor in most chewing gum, and it makes me sneeze explosively and constantly — not a good look, particularly when one sneeze could trigger a COVID-19 catastrophe. But a few months ago, on a trip to the corner store, I noticed an impressive array of gum that I couldn’t pass up. I grabbed a tube of Hubba Bubba. And one of Bazooka. Some Dubble Bubble and a neon-pink block of Bubblicious too, for good measure.
None of these gums hold their sweetness for very long or push the envelope on flavor, but they’ve provided me with what I need right now: an excuse to leave the house for something whimsical and totally unnecessary. I’ve yet to return to restaurant patios or dining rooms — I’m sticking to takeout for now — so my time in the outside world is largely confined to grocery store visits, early-morning runs, and bike rides through my neighborhood. Once every few weeks, as my technicolor stash of gum dwindles, I put on my mask and head out in search of more.
The square-ish cubes of pink and yellow bring a sense of nostalgia. I look forward to unwrapping the top layer of wax-coated paper on a piece of Bazooka, exposing the tiny comic strip folded around each piece of gum. Because of this classy touch — admittedly, I never read the comic — Bazooka is my favorite. But each brand offers something, adding to my ever-growing collection: I have no idea what Juicy Fruit is supposed to taste like, but I love the sunshine-yellow blocks; Bubblicious has the best flavor, but loses its saccharine oomph most quickly — I keep it around, but go through a pack quickly. If you’ve become exhausted by sourdough, discouraged by dead houseplants, and altogether too tired to keep up an actual hobby, I recommend buying eight or nine packs of bubble gum. There’s no one coming over any time soon to judge you when they open a cupboard and many, many packs of gum come cascading down upon their head in a deluge of strawberry, banana, and je ne sais quoi.
Will this new habit do more to distract you from the horrors unfolding each day than it will to exhaust your jaw? Unlikely, but for $1 or $2, it’s worth a try. Do I intend to keep up my gum-collecting once I can pick back up my near-hourly trips to the coffee shop or visits to the bodega or any of the other routines that kept me balanced in the Before Times? Probably not. But in the absence of much joy these days, it’s a relief to have something to think about other than poll numbers or infection rates. Even if it’s just five precious minutes of chewing, before a juicy piece of gum loses its bounce.