From chewing gum to model beer


The need to kick myself into gear and finish up furnishing my new 4-room apartment took me on a history and pop art ride this morning. I was being led through a four-story warehouse with the kind of interconnecting room layout that would require my GPS without my human guide. Between many of the rooms, large metal doors with cross bar closures had to be unlatched and pulled open. They were relatively light in spite of looking nearly vault-like and I asked after the previous history of the building, with its wide interior wooden staircases, occassional swathes of beautifully tiled flooring, and big windows.


Before its days as a furniture warehouse, as which its current owners have been in business for over a century, it housed the Curtis chewing gum company. That led my guide into reviewing with me the history of American spruce gum, oddly a topic that I had once rsearched at great length when I was in high school. What I didn’t remember from those long ago research days, if indeed I had even turned it up then, is Maine’s rightful claim to primacy in the American chewing gum industry, and how African chicle altered the recipe from spruce sap.

In its current incarnation as a furniture warehouse, the place continues to have a certain timewarp aspect: the staffing and the staff hark back to how such family businsses seemed to function 50 years ago: middleaged and older men in suits to the front, coiffed women of the same vintage in the business office. In what seems remarkably consistent here, everyone was authentically friendly, eschewing studied sales patter for going with what the customer sought.

And for the past 30 or 40 years, I have been an unabashed fan of plastic food models, often used to depict options in Asian restaurants. And that was the kicker in this whole explore: almost every table in the place sported such models, really excellently executed bowls of milky cereal, a spilled glass of red wine, a half full pot of coffee, an enormous chocolate layer cake, fried chicken with a side of celery sticks.

When one of the women saw me transfixed by the enormous fruit platter, she came over to enthuse with me…and told me the stuff, in this case, even feels real! She was right: the bun on the burger was soft, the potato chips next to the sliced ham, hard.

I didn’t stick my finger in the pitcher of beer.

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