Recently I decided to refocus on learning a skill I had abandoned in frustration when I was approximately 11.
Blowing bubbles. With gum, not soap. I mastered the latter when I was four.
Why, you ask, at the age of 55, am I suddenly obsessed with inserting wads of a cavity-inducing substance into my mouth and, using my still-functioning original teeth, generating a habit that nobody, most notably my dentist, would encourage?
Two words: Javier Baez.
The Chicago Cubs’ second baseman, for a short time last week, became a viral sensation thanks to video of him blowing a bubble milliseconds after smacking a home run in the National League Championship Series. It was his second four-bagger of the game and helped Baez break out of a zero for 20 slump in the series, eventually won by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite Baez’s brief heroics, all the bubble gum in the world couldn’t have woken the Cubs’ ice cold bats from their slumber. Ironically, the Cubs play half their games at a field named after a chewing gum magnate.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was, somehow, a connection between producing a globule of the pink confection and performing at one’s peak. Numerous YouTube videos show Baez blowing bubbles while fielding hot grounders and turning double plays. After Game 4, he was living proof that bubbles improve both offense and defense.
As I write this column, my mind is wandering and I am having trouble stringing together humorous sentences, a skill my editors expect me to perform weekly. My mouth is also gum free. I’m willing to forego caffeine in favor of gum if randomly producing prodigious bubbles will help make me a more humorous writer, a funnier standup comedian, even a better husband. But first I had to master the craft.
Growing up, I was never a fan of bubble gum’s taste or texture. Numerous pals thought different, as evidenced by their jaws, in constant states of vertical motion, and their breath, which continuously reeked of Bazooka Joe, Hubba Bubba, Big League Chew or whatever brand caught their fancy at the convenience store. Despite my dislike for gum, I found myself insanely jealous when friends would engage in contests, the winner being whomever produced the largest bubble, an event that always ended with all contestants peeling the exploding remnants from their chins, lips and noses, amid gales of laughter. I was relegated to the role of “judge,” evaluating each contestant’s entry and, occasionally, inserting my index finger directly into a bubble, subtly signaling my boredom.
Desperate to be part of the “bubble crowd,” I asked friends for tips; most obliged with detailed verbal tutorials: “Use your tongue. Here, watch me.” That’s like Jordan Spieth explaining that, in order to drive a golf ball 325 yards down the middle of the fairway, just “do what I do.”
Eventually I convinced myself that bubble blowing was a skill akin to whistling; it wasn’t something that could be learned. You’re either born knowing how to perform it or you will never have it on your life’s resume.
But now, with the internet at my disposal, I discovered a seven-step bubble blowing tutorial, courtesy of WikiHow. Well, six actually, for step one was “buy some bubble gum.”
I mentally processed tips such as: “Use the back of your teeth to help flatten (the gum) by pushing the ball (of gum) into them,” “Breathe air into pocket of gum around your tongue,” and “The appropriate way to push air into the gum is like producing a heavy sigh. Use your diaphragm.”
Sitting at my desk, I raucously chewed a wad of still blah tasting gum, tried to execute the “tongue, teeth, push, blow” maneuver, and launched my mouth’s contents directly onto my computer screen. I believe I experienced a similar outcome in 1975, though the gum ended up on the bathroom mirror. Experiment over.
Now, as I switch back to caffeine and finish this column, I’m left with two thoughts:
- I will never, ever be able to blow a bubble with gum.
- If Javier Baez spent less time working his diaphragm in the middle of games, maybe the Cubs would be in the World Series.