Monthly Archives: April 2013

An open letter to Big League Chew

Dear Big League Chew:

I’m writing for several reasons. I wanted to start out this letter by writing, “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news,” but I’ve decided against that particular opening. First of all, it works much better face to face, because I can make it more interactive, like, “What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?” and then you could decide, depending on whether or not you’d like the good news first, to build you up for the inevitable bad news. Or maybe you’d prefer to get the bad news out of the way, take that bitter medicine, and then take the good news to sort of chase down the negativity.


Anyway, I’d like to point out that I’ve always been a Big League Chew fan. Ever since I was a little kid, I preferred your gum to other little kids’ chewing gums. I’ve never been a fan of Bubble Tape. Between you and me, although I’ve never busted out the tape measure, I’ve always been skeptical about there being a full six feet rolled up in that package. Bubble Yum? Bubbleicious? No thank you. I did flirt with switching to Skittles Gum as my go-to brand, but after the novelty of them tasting and having the same chew as Skittles candy wore off, I realized that it would be Big League Chew for life.

Even if I didn’t get the reference when I was a little kid, that the pouch of gum was supposed to be shaped like a pouch of chewing tobacco, that the thin strands of gum were supposed to be similarly identical, it didn’t stop me from fully enjoying your product. Whenever I watched a pro baseball player chewing something from a pouch, which, to be perfectly honest, I can’t really ever remember seeing, but maybe if I saw a movie or something where the pitcher was chewing some chew, I’d just assume it was Big League Chew.

I love Big League Chew despite any baseball references, although the name made the baseball connection almost automatic. Also the cartoon baseball player on the pouch. But I prefer Big League Chew for several non-baseball related reasons:


  1. By not having individual pieces of gum, I’m free to choose exactly how much gum I want in my mouth at any given time. I’m not bound to individual sticks, having to decide between one or two. With Big League Chew, I can chew the equivalent of one and a half sticks, or one and three quarters sticks. It means more options for me, which I love.
  2. Unlike the other big gums, like the ones I’ve mentioned before, Big League Chew is definitely the chewiest. Nothing is worse than a big mouthful of gum that offers no resistance to your teeth. You’ll be chewing and chewing and it won’t stay in a cohesive wad. It’s totally unsatisfying, too liquid-like, too easy for stray pieces to get stuck in between the big molars in the back of your mouth.
  3. Big League Chew gets points from me in regards to flavor selection. I like how you guys keep it simple. Regular. Grape. One time I saw Green Apple, I think, although that might have been a dream. Regardless, it’s usually just regular. It makes the decision making process really easy, on my end.

Having said all of that, I do have to mention some areas in which I think there’s definitely room for improvement. (Remember the whole good news/bad news thing? Yeah, so I gave you the good news first.) Where Big League Chew has the best chew, like I said before, I think you guys could work on taste. While the initial few chomps definitely pack a lot of flavor, I feel like the intensity of that flavor drops precipitously after a minute, a minute and a half. I’m not expecting it to last forever, but maybe three minutes, four minutes, that might be an improvement.

Other than that, I just want to say, keep up the great work. I love Big League Chew to the point where I refuse to acknowledge any other chewing gums. In fact, I can’t even really chew anymore, because I’ve spent the majority of my life chewing Big League Chew. My jaw doesn’t close right, making chewing gum an impossibility. But I still buy it anyway. I’ll bring the pouch to my face and take deep breaths in. I’ll put some in my mouth and let the flavor just soak through my tongue. It’s still great.

Big League Chew For Life,

Rob G.

PS – One time I wrote to Pepperidge Farm telling them how much I love Milanos and they sent me a whole case of cookies. Any chance you’d like to up the ante? Let me know.

The American Express Black Card

I love it when people pay for stuff with an American Express Black Card. Technically it’s called the Centurion Card, but nobody calls it that. It’s always just the Black Card. It’s just like a regular credit card, except it’s nothing like a regular credit card at all. What’s yours made of, plastic? Ha! I’m laughing at you, because that’s pathetic. But I’m also laughing at myself, unfortunately, because I don’t have a Black Card either, I just have a stupid plastic card, just like you. Ha!

amex black card

How does it feel to know that I could be sitting next to you at a restaurant, and I could be waiting there with a pair of scissors, and when you take out your credit card to pay, I could snatch it out of your hands and cut it into pieces before you even realized what I was doing? You dumb jerk.

But go ahead and try that trick on an American Express Black Card. I hope you have enough cash to buy several pairs of scissors. Why? Because the American Express Black Card isn’t some shitty piece of plastic. No, it’s made out of metal. If you want to cut the Black Card, you’d need like a pair of diamond bladed scissors. And have fun trying to buy a pair of diamond bladed scissors with your stupid plastic cut-in-half credit card. The saleslady will be like, “Ha! That’s cute. Security!” and they’d toss you straight out of the diamond bladed scissor store.

Look, it’s not for everybody. If the Black Card were for everybody, like if American Express decided to change its policy, to make it easy for anybody to apply for a Black Card, people currently holding Black Cards would revolt, they’d all start applying for some new even more exclusive credit card, like a card made out of moon rocks, or mercury.

Because its exclusivity is what makes the Black Card the Black Card. You have to be really, really rich to get one. There’s a huge membership fee. You’re required to charge a ridiculous amount of money every year. And what does this all get you? What makes the Black Card different than any other credit card?

It’s about sending a message. It used to be that if you wanted to tell a complete stranger,

“Listen pal, I know that I don’t know you, that you don’t know anything about me, or what I do. But I want to let you in on something. Come here. Come closer. Ready? Here it is. I am super rich. Like much richer than you’re imagining in your head right now. Here’s a pad and paper. I want you to go ahead and write down how much you think I made this month. No, seriously, I insist. OK, let me see. Yeah, not even close. Ha! Let me put it this way, you could work you’re entire life, and that wouldn’t be half of what I spent on lunch. Now get out of my face, asshole,”

you’d have to actually call them over and make them listen to you.

Nowadays all you have to do is pull out your Black Card. It’s great, because most of the time, the people that are handling your credit card are exactly the people that you’re trying to put in their place: salespeople, waiters, the guy making your coffee, the gas station attendant. Now you don’t even have to say anything to them. Just barely acknowledge their existence, don’t look them in the eye as you hand over that hefty slab of a status symbol. Watch them try to act like they don’t care, like they’re not trying to bend it with their hands as they run it through their machines.

You don’t have to have any more of a human interaction with them besides rubbing it in their face, that you’re rich, that you’re a really, really, really rich person, somebody with so much money that all of the ridiculous fees, all of those stories you hear about how impossible it is just to be invited to be able to purchase a Black Card membership, it’s nothing to you, it’s a micro-fraction of half of a drop in the bucket, a bucket so big that most everybody else’s buckets, even if they were combined into one big bucket, it still wouldn’t be big enough to hold even half of one of those micro-fraction drops of yours, the one you used on your Black Card.

I hope that someday I’ll be able to have my own Black Card. I’ll walk into a restaurant, a car dealership, a yacht club, some private wine cellar somewhere, and if my eighty thousand dollar watch doesn’t give it away, if the people I’m dealing with don’t recognize my designer suits or my helicopter waiting for me outside, if for some reason I ever find myself in a position where a regular nobody for some reason doesn’t recognize who I am, what I’m worth, just exactly what I’m sitting on top of here, I can just pull out my black metal credit card as a subtle reminder to everybody of my lot in life. It does all of the same things as your credit card, only the money supply behind it is nearly infinite, no upward limit. It’s the ultra-wealthy equivalent of going to a screen-printing place and having a t-shirt made up that says, “I am richer, much, much richer than you are.”


I just love Fiji bottled water. People always say stuff like, “That’s so stupid! It’s just water!” and you get the same old tired arguments about wasting money, wasting plastic. It’s like every time I go to the store and buy a bottle of Fiji water, I can’t help but detect a look of disdain from whoever’s working the register. He’s like, “Anything else?” and I catch his eye, he’s making a weird face at me, and that tone of voice, the way he said “anything else,” is he mocking me? Hey buddy, if you’ve got a problem with my choices a consumer, why don’t you say something to my face instead of lacing all your forced little interaction with almost imperceptible contempt? Almost imperceptible. I’m very perceiving. Just, listen guy, next time, don’t say “anything else,” because if I want something else, I’ll let you know, all right? I’m not shy. “Nothing else, thanks.” “$4.99.”


People just don’t understand. They just don’t get Fiji bottled water. Yes, it is worth the price. It’s a premium product and you’re paying a little extra for it. Frankly, I think that, considering everything that you’re getting when you buy a bottle of Fiji, it’s not even that expensive. Before you even open it up, your eyes are rewarded by getting to look at that bottle. It’s square. That’s unusual, you might say. Already, your curiosity has been piqued. And no, I’m not just talking about people who’ve never seen a Fiji bottle before. I see at least twenty every day, and I still get that same reaction, my heart gets filled with just the slightest hint of mysterious apprehension, like, ooh, a square bottle, and my pulse starts to quicken, maybe my heart skips a beat.

And I think of all of the other “premium” waters out there, your Evians, your Pellegrinos. How utterly pedestrian. A plain bottle. Some generic looking label. No thank you. But the Fiji bottle – did I mention it’s a square bottle? – it’s got this label on the inside, like you can only see it through the bottle. Like the bottle is looking through you, too. It makes the Fiji logo sort of pop out of the background, and it transcends just the visual, it’s like, when I say it pops, it’s actually popping. Pop! My whole audio-visual cortex is just alive, synapses on fire, going crazy with delightful stimuli. The back inside label is a work of art in and of itself. It’s this lush tropical scene. I imagine the real Fiji is just like the paradise the label portrays. I’ve never been there, but I don’t think I’ll ever go. I wouldn’t want to be disappointed.

And the water. We haven’t even gotten to the water yet, and I almost hesitate every time I’m about to open a bottle. Dare I disturb the perfection that lies within? Does my insatiable thirst even warrant but a few drops of this precious life-giving elixir? Ultimately I can’t hold my desire back any longer, I cave in, I twist open the bottle and drink heartily from the font of Fiji.

What does Fiji taste like? If you’re asking this question, all I can say is, you ignorant fool. I’ve actually said that. One time I was at a pizza place ordering a slice. “Anything to drink?” the guy asked me. “Fiji,” I pointed to the fridge behind him. He kind of looked confused, turned the bottle back and forth in his hands a few times before putting it on the counter. “I don’t get it,” he started talking at me, “What’s so good about this stuff? Why do you want to pay five bucks for water?”

And I just stared at him, “You ignorant fool,” I started, before restraining my anger. I realized, this might be an opportunity, to shed light upon ignorance. But what could I possibly say? How do you begin to describe that which the English language is simply incapable of communicating? I tried, “It’s like … imagine you’re floating through a cloud … no, imagine that you are the cloud …” And then the phone rang, he held out a finger to me and was like, “Hello? Pizza place.” By the time he was done, he said, “Next!” and looked right to the lady behind me.

Someday I’ll have enough money to bathe in Fiji water, but for now I’ll have to live with just drinking it, using it to brush my teeth, occasionally moistening my toilet paper with its gentle touch. Fiji is more than a bottle of water. It’s something, an idea, an aspiration, everything that’s right with humanity, all of the beauty in the world turned to darkness and then soaked with Fiji to become something better, something more beautiful, more radiant than ever before, than ever imaginable. Fiji be to you, my friends, to your family. Fiji be to all.

Confessions of a button masher

Button mashing. It’s when you’re playing a video game against somebody else, usually somebody a lot better than you, somebody who’s wiping the floor with you, laying waste to your virtual avatar. It’s cheap. But sometimes there’s absolutely nothing left to do. You’re backed into a corner, chances of survival are looking grim. So you tighten your grip on the controller and you start mashing.

It doesn’t work on sports games. If you try to mash on a racing game, you’re going to wind up with Lakitu, that stupid cloud guy, hovering in your screen telling you that you’re going the wrong way. One time I tried to button mash on a game of iPhone Scrabble, and I wound up texting a whole bunch of gibberish to my boss.


It has to be a two-dimensional side-scrolling fighting game, like Mortal Kombat, or Street Fighter II. Different fighting games will feature different characters and various weaponry, but at heart they’re all basically the same (with Super Smash Brothers being the exception.) You and your opponent are facing each other, and you have to fight until they don’t have any more energy or life or whatever it is, and they die.


All of your buttons represent a rudimentary move, for example, A for punch and B for kick. Put simply, if I move my character over to yours and hit A, you’ll get punched, and you might lose like one percent energy. If I keep doing this, punching you a hundred times, you’ll eventually die. But that’s not very fun. And so fighting games employ combos. Combos make your fighter do cooler stuff, and they exact more damage from your opponents.

So you might press down, down-right, right, A, and your guy might shoot out a fireball. Or start hitting Y in rapid succession and you’ll start doing this hyper kick, totally demolishing anything that comes your way. In theory, you’re supposed to figure out these moves, and employ unique sets of combinations to overpower the enemy’s unique set of combinations.

That’s the idea anyway. First of all, none of the games ever tell you which characters work with which combinations. You’re kind of left to figure everything out by yourself. Or, that’s how it was when Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat came out when I was in the third grade, before the Internet, before we could go online and look everything up.

I had the Internet freshmen year of college. I was totally able to go on the Internet and look up the different combinations for every character in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, our dorm floor’s fighting title of choice. But try as I might, regardless of how many classes I skipped so I could memorize button combos, despite all of the hours I clocked in practicing level-ups and power-ups and special bonus combos, I could never really get to the point where I could rely solely on my reflexes and my bank of stored knowledge to successfully get through a fight.


Eventually there would come a point, I’d be getting clobbered, the end clearly in sight, I’d have no choice but to forgo any sort of strategy and start wildly hitting all the buttons. The thing about button mashing is, it works. You just take your thumbs and start hitting both sides of the controller as furiously as possible. All of the sudden all of those ultra high-level combos, the ones you’ve only seen performed by the highest level computer players, you’re doing them. Sure, it’s not happening in any particular order, and maybe you sent a couple of attacks in the wrong direction, but just keep mashing, keep going, it’s starting to work, you’re starting to close the gap.

The thing about button mashing, I already told you that it’s really, really cheap, but it’s also kind of unsustainable. It quickly depletes whatever energy your hand muscles have stored up. And if you somehow manage to get through the debilitating thumb cramps, pretty soon the skin on your fingers is going to give, the constant friction. A video game blister is nothing to laugh at.


And so you’ll start button mashing, the surest sign that there is of a desperate player staring death in the virtual face. And you’ll look to your real life opponent, and he’s just kind of like, really? You’re really going start button mashing? Fine. I’ll still kick your ass. But you start coming back. He can’t get close to you because you’re character is throwing everything it’s got, everything the both of you didn’t even know it had in it. And after that gap gets closed, holy shit, it looks you might actually win here. And then maybe you take the slightest edge.

Your opponent unleashes a guttural cry, “You fucking cheap fucking button mashing asshole!” and then he starts mashing buttons also. Now who’s desperate? But where your hands are calloused, built up, used to the unrelenting pain and pressure that come from the repeated thrashing button mashing doles upon your hands, he’s too technical of a gamer, unfamiliar with the art of pure gaming chaos, the wild unknown of giving everything your fingers have to a PS2 controller.

And so it’s a noble attempt, to stoop to my level, but it proves unsuccessful. As my opponent’s player hits the ground in 64-bit slow motion, he takes his controller and slams it to the ground, “Get out of my dorm Rob! You’re not allowed to play this game anymore! So fucking cheap!” He’ll calm down. It’ll gnaw at him from the inside, the chance to beat me fair and square, to prove button mashing isn’t a real technique. But I’ve got to tell you, it works. It’s not for everybody, but button mashing is a viable strategy, an art form even. OK, not an art form, but it works. Try it.

Movie Review: At Any Price

I really didn’t feel like seeing Pain & Gain this weekend, but the theater by my house wasn’t showing any other new movies. So I rode my bike downtown to one of those places where they show independent movies. I think they call them film houses or something. I’m glad I went out of my way – even though the concession stand only sold espresso and biscotti when I really wanted an extra large Cherry Coke – because Ramin Bahrani’s At Any Price opened this weekend, a pretty powerful story about family, about business, about the American dream.


Dennis Quaid stars as Henry Whipple, the current patriarch of the Whipple family farm. It’s the same family farm, but this isn’t the same farming business that Henry’s father or grandfather ever had to deal with. “Expand or Die” we are shown on an overhead projector at a local farmer’s meeting. Big Agro is only getting bigger, and Big Agro’s advice to Whipple and all of the other local Iowa farmers is, “Get big, or get out.”

It’s against this backdrop that the family drama plays out. Whipple has two sons. Grant, the likely scion to the throne, leaves for college but winds up retreating to South America after graduating rather than return home to inherit the family business. Standing next to an actual red carpet that Henry has laid out for his firstborn, realizing that he’s not coming back, his attention turns to his second son Dean, played by Zac Efron.

But Dean is a racecar driver and wants nothing to do with farming. He’s reckless and impulsive, tinged with a more-than-mild criminal streak that manifests strongly in the beginning of the movie and overwhelms toward the end. Henry tries to get closer to Dean. In an effort to lure him to the family business? To be a father and actually support his fledgling racing career?

We never really find out the specifics of Henry’s intentions – he doesn’t even really know what he wants in life himself – but his motives are painted by very broad brushstrokes of a desire to have an unconditional support for his son. How that desire translates to action, how it sometimes fails to live up to the ideal, how it ultimately costs him … everything?

Because we never really find out what everything is. Henry has the farm, but he doesn’t. It’s a family business. It’s his but it’s not, as we kind of glimpse with Henry’s elderly dad’s occasional intervention. He has an idyllic wife and family, and yet it’s plain to everybody that for Henry this isn’t enough. We’re given a taste of Henry’s past as a high school football champion. Similar trophies decorate Grant’s empty bedroom. When Dean wins one at a local race, Henry is shocked that his son is an actual driver. But Dean dismisses his father’s praise, telling him that he wins one every week.

At Any Price is about what motivates us, as members of a family, as parts of the economy, as human beings. Do we chase our dreams or do we succumb to the duties and responsibilities life has preordained for us to shoulder? In an era of “expand or die” how can we be happy with what we have in front of us?

Nobody really gets anything, and nobody gets off clean. There’s aggression, there are consequences, and the only people who aren’t screwing over anybody else are the ones at the bottom, the ones getting screwed so badly they don’t have any power or leverage to inflict harm upon somebody else.

At one point, as Henry laments to his father, wondering why things couldn’t be simple like they were when he was a kid, the old man interrupts, reminding him that farming was backbreaking work, that chemicals and GPS driven trucks and genetically modified seeds are better. And it all made me think of us, as a society, about progress. We have so much, everything’s getting bigger, constantly bigger, and better, there’s no doubt that quality of life has gone up. But at what price are we paying for such comfort? Who’s in charge now? What are they exacting for such luxury? Are we raising kids to chase dreams or to push the status quo, to deny their true natures in favor of the ever-climbing bottom line? Is our exponential rise heading us in the right direction? Is it possible for this giant, hurtling machine to change course even slightly? Or are we merely cogs, playing out our individual dramas, pointlessly, unable to right any wrongs? To expand or to die. Or like the prodigal son, to get big or to get out.