Like many kids of the sixties, I had an obsession with the cool and fun stuff that was advertised in comic books, on bubble gum wrappers and on the back of cereal boxes.
This list was endless: weird and wonderful things like “Sea Monkeys”, “Charles Atlas Fitness Courses” (“With Dynamic Tension!”) and “X-Ray Specs” were available to anyone bold enough to send a bit of hard, cold cash in the mail. With cereal box and bubble gum prizes, there was an additional step of collecting the requested amount of proof of purchase tickets, and add those to the envelope as well.
As a curious child, I viewed this practice of ordering stuff (from New Jersey, no less!) as an act of small town rebellion; I mean, surely kids who mailed off carefully collected box tops and weekly allowances to the big city to buy things in blind faith showed bravery and courage rarely seen in their cow-tipping peers, right?
I don’t know if they did or didn’t; what I DO know was that my seven-year-old self sure believed this to be the case! He also prayed that whomever was at the other end of this magnanimous transaction was honest enough to hold up their end of the bargain… But there was only one way to find out.
My first adventure in mail-in ordering was to join The Bazooka Joe Fan Club. For the unfamiliar, Bazooka was (is?) a common brand of bubble gum, costing a mere penny a piece back in the day. Pink, square and covered in white power that always wound up on our clothes, the gum was wrapped in two waxy layers: an outside wrapper bearing its name in pink and blue, and an inside wrapper that doubled as the comic.
Ah, the Bazooka Joe comics… these were where the genuine treasure lay! Each one featured Bazooka Joe; a wise-cracking-eye-patch-sporting-ball-cap-wearing teenager in a story that lasted three or four panels, plus an additional panel containing a mail-in offer for the kind of stuff that made juvenile gum chewers salivate.
I’m talking about things like mini erector sets, 24-carat gold plated rings (yeah, right) or exclusive membership into Bazooka Joe’s Fan club; obviously a highbrow assembly, one that my seven-year-old self immediately decided I just HAD to join, but wasn’t sure why. Pray tell, what did I need to do to become part of this secret organization?
Apparently, not much. According to the comic, to join this elite organization required 100 comics, or a mere 15 comics and fifty cents in cash (Take that Masons and Illuminati! You ain’t got nothing on Bazooka Joe!!). The problem is that I didn’t have anything close to 100 comics, so I chose the latter route, trading my mom 12 cents – a.k.a. all the cash I had – for two quarters to secure this stealthy transaction. Thanks Mom.
Once comics and two quarters (carefully taped to a cardboard square) were assembled, I stuffed them into an envelope which was then stamped, addressed, and run all the way to the mailbox where I dropped it into that little slot. Little did I realize that this moment was the beginning of an important life lesson; a lesson in delayed gratification taught by Bazooka Joe himself.
Here’s why: These days whenever we want to order something, we usually go to a company website or amazon, strike a few keystrokes, maybe tick the box for “overnight delivery” and then watch on-demand movies while we wait for our parcel to be delivered, usually in 24 to 48 hours.
Once our item arrives, we pull it out of the box, admire or curse it, post a few photos on social media to show our great pleasure or displeasure with it, then quickly become bored after checking how may “likes” show up. This last act is often the signal to begin the whole expensive process again, which many of us do. If we’re honest, we’ll admit this demand for instant gratification often extends well beyond our online ordering habits.
Things were different back in the sixties; like, MUCH different. A week later I began checking the mail, and would continue to check it every day for the next three weeks. Each day I’d hope my package had arrived; and each day I had to accept that it hadn’t, but eventually would. And while I waited for those weeks, two important things happened. First, I went about my life; and second, my appreciation and anticipation for the item I had ordered grew and grew.
After four weeks, a large brown envelope postmarked “NY” arrived, and I couldn’t have been any more excited! I ran up to my room, jumped on my bed and shredded it open. Rather than dumping it upside down and have the contents all tumble out, instead I gingerly took each item one at a time, carefully examined it before putting it down and moving onto the next.
The first item was the official Bazooka Joe Club membership card, which I immediately signed and put in my wallet. This proved to the world that I, David Knapp-Fisher, was a member of good standing.
Next there was a nice a certificate (suitable for framing!) acknowledging me as said member, signed by Bazooka Joe himself. I remember thinking that for a cartoon, he had pretty good penmanship. After perusing it carefully, I began wondering which of my walls deserved to be adorned with a document of such magnitude. After a brief moment, I pulled out the next item: A cool badge of Joe I’d pin on my jacket proving to the world that I was one of the rare inductees of the Bazooka Joe Fan Club.
And finally, there was a secret decoder ring that decoded what, I still don’t know. Maybe it was in case another club member spotted it, surely they would use their own secret decoder ring to send me a secret message that only I could decode… Makes sense, right? Either way, I pulled it snuggly onto my pinky and waved it around with an air of superiority, because now I was superior, right?
Of course I wasn’t. In fact, I was the same kid, but with one small difference. Getting to open a package from New Jersey that I’d paitetly checked the mail box for over four weeks waited four weeks (or 28 days) for made the whole thing a big adventure; an adventure that filled me with happiness. Even if I was the ONLY member of the Bazooka Joe Fan Club and had nobody to decode secret messages with, I didn’t care. My seven-year old self was bursting with pride for joining the club through the mail, and all by myself (okay, and with a little help from mom).
How is it that some fifty years later I can write of this seemingly insignificant memory with such fondness and clarity? I think it’s because waiting so long for the Bazooka Joe parcel to arrive as a child gave me lots of time to notice how special I’d feel once it arrived. The wait made me appreciate it even more.
I also believe I took so long to unpack the envelope because I truly wanted to savour each moment, and the treasure contained within. Had the same package arrived in two days from amazon, nothing it contained would have felt even 1/100th as special.
While the trinkets soon lost their allure, I still kept them around, mostly because the memory of what I went through to have them made me feel good. And it’s because of this that I believe Bazooka Joe is responsible for teaching me patience, appreciation, and the importance of delaying gratification, even if it’s just for a silly wallet card, a pin, and a certificate signed by a cartoon character. I also learned that while the approval of others is nice, we need to approve of ourselves first.
I’ll always be grateful for learning such valuable life lessons at a young age; even if my mentor was a cartoon teenager with an eye patch found inside a piece of penny candy.
Thanks Bazooka Joe.
Author Bio: David Knapp-Fisher
As founder of The Inspired Humans Project, David loves sharing inspirational stories. His TEDx talk, “Discipline or Regret, a Father’s Decision” been viewed over 100,000 times, and his first book, “Punch Failure in The Face, Then Buy It a Beer” has 36 five star reviews on amazon.ca.
David lives in Victoria B.C. where he spends most of his time trying (& usually failing) to stump his son with movie trivia, or planning his next big adventure; both while drinking great coffee, of course.