Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Kids aren't usually the greatest long-term planners. Instant gratification is most likely the only type of satisfaction they know, regardless of the longstanding consequences of their actions. If you ever doubted that kids favor the immediate over the enduring, look no further for evidence than a fluorescent hued-stick of Fruit Stripe Gum. Case in point, the gum offers a mere three minutes of desirable flavor time followed by a persistent output of bland non-flavor for the duration of the chew. But hey, it comes with tattoos. That's got to be some sort of consolation, right?
Fruit Stripe Gum was nothing less than a candy craze, launched in the 1960s but enjoying a serious rejuvenation of popularity throughout the 1990s. The brand and its zebra mascot Yipes are decidedly kid-friendly, luring in children with promises of an enchantingly colorful sugar high. The alluring five juicy flavors drew us in time after time. We never learned, particularly if we'd purchased a rather large pack of the gum. Even though we'd experienced multiple times for ourselves the flightiness of the flavor, we continued to chew our beloved Fruit Stripe on the premise of its novelty alone.
Though the gum claimed to come in a wide variety of fruity flavors, in reality it tended to come in a variety of fruity colors. You'd have to be a taste connoisseur to distinguish between these subtle differences, so we relied on the vibrantly colored sticks of gum to show us the way. We could only assume that the red was in some way vaguely symbolic of wild cherry and a yellow/green combination of hues represented the lemon lime delegation. The system wasn't perfect, but it was sweet, which is usually more than enough to satiate even the most precocious of children.
It was wonderfully convenient that the gum tended to come in a large pack as it provided a handy solution for its minuscule flavor life. It didn't take a genius IQ to figure out that adding another stick would freshen the ever-growing was of gum slowly taking over our cavernous mouthal cavity. Run out of flavor? No problem. Simply add another stick. Then another. And one more. Alright, so this clearly was not the perfect solution and our teeth weren't bowing down in enamel-depleted gratitude, but our parents probably were big fans of this trick. After all, a kid can't speak with a mouth chock full of Fruit Stripe gum. Sure, there was a minor choking hazard, but that's a small price to pay for ten minutes of silence in the car.
The Fruit Stripe people knew it would take more than a lamely-flavored albeit colorful gum to pique the fancy of children. They weren't taking their novelty product halfway, they were going for gold here. Hence the inclusion of the tattoo. Oh, the coveted tattoo! It was inexplicably desirable, despite the fact it was both worthless and blurry. Each stick came with its very own temporary tattoo, because what kid doesn't want a semi-permanent splotch of color smack dab in the middle of their cheek? I know I was keen.
The magic of the Fruit Stripe gum tattoo was in its pure, unadulterated simplicity. There were no bells and whistles on this thing. The instructions were brief: simply wet the tattoo (nearly all of us subbed the verb lick at this point), and apply with pressure to the desired skin surface for about 30 seconds. What could possibly go wrong?
Apparently, lots of things. The temporary tattooing process was not quite as straightforward as they'd led us to believe. We usually ended up with more of a smudge than a zebra. It was time for us to take drastic measures. Namely, to put the tattoos on our tongues. Yes, that's right. This non-toxic ink blob clinging to our taste buds was usually our greatest and wisest alternative. Sure, it wasn't necessarily the most attractive, or tastiest, or functional, or sensible, or...wait, where was I going with this?
Regardless of our questionable Fruit Stripe tattoo practices, the gum remained amongst our favorites for years. It was certainly a cheap thrill, and a short-lived one at that. It was one of those food fads for which we liked it because we liked it, and don't bother asking us any probing questions as to why. We'd suffer through endless wads of gooey, chewy, tastelessly bitter gum so long as it was colorful and came with a cheerful zebra on the package.
Like so many of our favorite snacks and candy in the 90s, we were foolishly lured in by a fast-talking anthropomorphic cartoon animal and vibrant neon colors. If they made it look fun in the commercial, you could bet we'd make it fun in real life. That's simple deductive logic. It didn't matter if a cereal tasted like cardboard or a gum tasted like unscented Silly Putty, it was ours. We as kids took ownership and laid full claim to novelty foods and there was nothing adults could do to stop us. We'd sooner loyally defend our beloved novelty sweets than cave to adult logic. Unless, of course, we had the entire pack of Fruit Stripe in our mouths.*
*This was a likely situation given the instantaneous flavor loss. Sure, you couldn't talk back to your parents, but you could blow a head-engulfing bubble. All in all, sort of a toss up.