May 23, 2013 — You’re going to get some big victories in life, I promise you. But, unless you’re a college kid with coding skills and a trendy social media platform, you probably won’t be able to live off them. That’s what the little victories are for. Survival.
Today, my little victory involved a piece of gum the size of two golf balls.
I’ve been going to my local Toys R Us here for about five years. I’ve had a kid for three. The place is a nice enough representation of the chain. Bright, well stocked. They play Jesus Jones a little too often and devote too much space to infant apparel, but those are minor complaints, as well as commentaries on time and life.
Upon leaving the store, I have to pass by the normal gauntlet of claw machines, vibrating rides, and toy and candy vending machines. But one of those vending machines has always drawn my attention.
Because it’s full of massive dinosaur eggs.
So massive, in fact, that the machine doesn’t fit in the normal rack of classic red vendors. It needs its own customized, stand-alone bubble-top.
These candies have been sitting in the foyer of this toy store for the entire five years that I’ve lived in this town. Who knows how far back they actually go. Possibly, they deserve National Historic Site accolades. I do know that they never replenish the candy. Because the level of dinosaur eggs has never gone up, only down…and that, very slowy. Today, there are but three dozen or so eggs just barely covering the bottom of the tank. When I first laid eyes on this seductress, there were only maybe twice as many.
But I’ve never been able to get one.
The problem? You need a dollar. Actually not a dollar, but four quarters exactly in a cashless society that I’ve embraced with all four of my limbs. So for years I’ve just passed it by on every Toys R Us visit like some past lover where things didn’t work out but went far enough to be awkward.
It was a normal Toys R Us trip for me. I was feeling a little down, and while that sends most people to the bar, it sends me to the toy store. I perused at random the different aisles, looking for some new toy advance or entertainment property to drag me from the sloughs. I saw a three-foot-tall Superman figure, a set of Ewoks, and a Dolph Lundgren figure from The Expendables (Who is that market? Besides me). When I left, looking only half-interestedly into the depths of the toy torture device that is the claw machine, I hit my pocket casually.
It jangled slightly.
I checked my billfold, and there deforming one of its flat pockets was exactly four beautiful silver discs whose reverse featured Midwest states that I’ve never visited.
I don’t know where I got this change. Part of me thinks it’s left over from some city jaunt where I thought I’d have to park at a meter. Another part of me thinks I might be cheating on my washing machine. But all that doesn’t matter. What matter is I felt as if I’d just won on a slot machine with a glorious row of severed George Washington heads.
So I squared off with the Dino Eggs vending machine. Honestly, I’d never really investigated these dinosaur eggs too closely. I didn’t know if they were jawbreakers or candy shells hiding toys or what. I’d always been too embarrassed to spend time in a toy store vestibule looking longingly at something I couldn’t buy like some random nine-year-old in the action figure aisle. I’m in my thirties, for goodness’ sake. I should be able to buy anything in a toy store that I want.
I still embarrassed myself, though. The machine is right by the automatic doors, which kept opening and shutting every two seconds while I crouched down and fumbled with the alien physical currency while simultaneously trying to figure out how to stick four quarters into two slots. I got looks from every single cashier.
After I got the quarters inserted, I turned the dial with a satisfying metal clank followed by an even more satisfying soft plunk. I opened the hatch and was dismayed to find shards of broken candy dinosaur egg pouring into my cupped palm. Of course they were too old to maintain their integrity through whatever magical wormhole got them from the tank to my hand.
But then my egg fell into my hand. A pristine, whole white egg with blue, yellow, and red flecks. The exact colors and pattern that I’d always wanted the outside of my house painted.
The broken pieces were from the egg of some other poor schlub who had gone through Herculean tasks to dig up four quarters only to get the rubble of a prize. His dream had shattered, but mine was intact.
The candy egg was comfortably large. I couldn’t close my fist around it. But it wasn’t heavy like a jawbreaker. It was light, and rattled when I shook it. I looked more closely at the label on the machine. It showed a dopey green T-Rex and a dopy khaki-clad paleontologist. Friendly, orange letters explained that it was a bubblegum shell filled with dino-shaped sour bits.
I was cool with that.
“Can I have one?” asked the daughter I’d forgotten was there and who was looking disdainfully down at her pathetic blue raspberry Push-Pop.
“You think I’m made of quarters? Get a job.”
I buckled the egg carefully into the passenger seat, jammed my daughter into her car seat, and went home to enjoy the taste of dreams-come-true.
But I couldn’t crack the freaking egg. I tried my teeth until the pain registered slightly under that of stainless steel fork shards penetrating my enamel. I then ruined our bread knife on it. Finally, I tried our orange-handled Furi chef knife, the Nuclear Option of our kitchen.
It still did nothing but scar the egg.
Five-plus years had turned this dinosaur egg into an honest-to-God fossil. And I was planning on putting this through my digestive system. That’s okay, though. Candy can age to perfection, too.
Finally, I was able to pry the top of the egg off using a combo of knife and teeth that, if what physicists say about the universe is true, should have left me with a punctured palate.
It wasn’t just age that had made this egg a hard one to crack. The bubblegum wall was a good quarter of an inch thick. Had there been a real dinosaur baby in there, it would never have made to eventual extinction.
Inside the egg were 14 extremely tiny candy T-Rex’s that were as hard as BBs. That’s fine. I’d already mentally prepared myself that this was the kind of dollar investment that could yield thousands of dollars in tooth damage. I ate them first, and then turned back to the egg.
It took me over the course of two Regular Show episodes to gnaw that thing even halfway down. What I learned was that bubblegum is still the best flavor ever invented by either man or nature, and that gnawing is a pleasure we really lost when we evolved past the bestial.
As I tried to chew the thick wad of gum that had previously been shaped into the perfect architecture that is the egg shape, I reflected back on the days when a prize like this one would have been the end-all of life for me. A piece of weird candy and some equally weird cartoons. I really miss last Friday.
But eventually my jaw started aching, and I had to leave the egg half-consumed. It’s now an artifact in my study. At least until tomorrow night, when two glasses of port make anything edible fair game.
But I got my little victory, and it will carry me through this rainy Memorial Day weekend. Even if I can only eat through a straw for the next few days.