Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wacky Packages

I was cleaning out my basement over the long weekend in preparation for moving to a new house and I came across my framed, uncut sheet of Wacky Packages. I love Wacky Packages and I was really pleased to see that they'd started doing them again a couple of years ago--and that they'd gone back to including gum in the packages.

My memories of Wacky Packages are intimately connected to the smell of the stick of gum that used to come with them. Getting a whiff of that gum smell instantly takes me back to grade school and stirs feelings I don't have any language to articulate. Of course, my original collection is long gone--lost in the mists of time with all the other cool stuff that would be worth a small fortune today if only I knew where it went.

Years ago, right after I first found out about eBay, I discovered a thriving market for Wacky Packages. The first thing I bought was the uncut sheet of original Wackies I just rediscovered in my basement. It was my first successful bid and I was thrilled--I could barely wait for it to come. But then, when it finally arrived, I was irrationally disappointed to find that it didn't have that gum smell. Of course, an uncut sheet wouldn't have the smell. They were never packaged, so they were never exposed to the gum.

So, I delved further and actually found some people selling unopened boxes of Wacky Packages. I think I bought five boxes. This was, you understand, before I had kids--back in the days when I had disposable income and free time. Now, I didn't expect that the gum would still be edible, I just wanted the smell of it on the cards. Imagine my surprise when I opened the first box and discovered that there was no gum! These were re-issues from the 1980's rather than from my childhood in the 70's. Apparently, Topps had determined by then that collectors were only interested in the cards and didn't care about the gum. Me, I was heart broken. I consoled myself by going through the cards and reliving some of my memories of the great Wackies.

Then I had kids, and my Wacky Package collecting got put on hold. I shelved the remaining unopened boxes and buried my "no gum" heartbreak. The uncut-sheet poster came down to make room for alphabet flash cards--A is for Apple, and I forgot about that gum smell.

And then, about three years ago, while browsing the Internet, I came across a reference to new Wacky Packages. Topps had started up the line again. And there were rumors of gum!! So, despite the protests of my wife, I started buying them. And there was gum, and it was good. The gum was thoughtfully packaged in a plastic sleeve to stop it from damaging the stickers--so the stickers didn't have the smell--but the gum had the smell, so everything was fine. I could sit there, pouring over the stickers and sniffing the gum like a glue sniffing junkie and get that weird rush of half memory, half emotion. I dutifully bought each new series as it came out.

Until the most recent one. They've stopped putting gum in again! Bastards! I still don't have time to keep up with all the details of what's going on in the Wacky Packages world, but I can't help but feel that this signals another end to Wacky Packages. At least for me--because for me it was never just about collecting the stickers or chewing the gum. It was about being eleven and buying my first candy with my own money and making fun of the products my parents bought (even if I didn't really understand what they were exactly) and sharing a new currency with my peers. All of which flooded back to me as I stood in the basement holding my Wacky Packages uncut sheet poster. Which is where my wife found me.

"You're not taking that to the new house, are you?" she asked, with that tone that suggests the question was rhetorical rather than legitimate.

"Of course I'm bringing it," I answered.

"You're not thinking of hanging it in the new house, are you?" Same tone.

"Above our bed," I answered.

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