1581 No One Chewed Gum
LONG ISLAND CITY 4, NY (Wessays™) -- These days, you don’t need a map or a GPS to know you’re in New York City. All you do is stand on a street corner. Any street corner. If you can see at least one Starbucks, a bodega, a Duane Reade and an Asian deli without turning your head, you just know.
Here in former postal zone 4, now the overdecorated 11104, a few brackets east of the Ed Koch Bridge, it’s a little harder than in midtown Manhattan. You might have to turn your head a little. But it’s all there.
Here, a few brackets over from the 59th St. Bridge, the prevailing winds are from the west. And in the days just after World War II, when three or four people -- immigrants, mostly -- still called it the Queensboro Bridge because that’s what the signs all said -- every day was an aroma festival.
Just down the Boulevard was a large and prospering factory area. Not a “complex,” not an “industrial park,” not an architected commercial zone. Just a bunch of factories and warehouses. Random buildings with missions.
Eagle Electric, Bulova, Adams gum, CN disinfectant, Executone, Swingline, Borden’s, Silvercup, Sweetheart Soap etc. Slightly to the north, the vast Pennsylvania Railroad switching yard 192 acres of open space, the Howard Johnson central commissary and the factory where Steinway made pianos.
But it was the scents that defined Zone 4. The good and the bad.
The good: Silvercup, now a movie studio, was a bread factory. They baked seven days a week in the wee small hours in the morning. By the morning rush hour, the air was filled with the delicious smell of baking bread. It didn’t matter that the smell was better than the taste. Especially after we learned the bread was held together by calcium sulfate.
Calcium sulfate is what they put on food labels once they had to list ingredients. Calcium sulfate goes by two less innocent and more common names in the non-food real world: gypsum and plaster of Paris.
No matter. The smell made you hungry. It made you hunger for a sandwich. And plaster of Paris or not, Silvercup was better than its biggest competitor, Wonder Bread.
One day, a resident kid took a visiting relative to the candy store up the block for morning coffee (no Starbucks, Duane Reades, bodegas or Asian delis yet) and she noticed the chewing gum rack was full and dusty.
Why? No one in Zone 4 chewed gum. Candy bars, sure, strange sweet concoctions probably loaded with dangerous “food grade” chemicals, wax lips, wax bottles of sweet syrups, Necco Candy Buttons glued to long strips of paper… sure. But no one chewed gum.
And therein lies the story of the second dominant aroma.
Boiling gum base, the indestructible “delivery” ingredient in chewing gum. When they cook it, it smells like a tire fire. They win wars by boiling this stuff on enemy lines. And Tuesdays and Fridays, Adams, the people who made Chiclets, Dentyne and Black Jack gum turned the zipcode into a multi-acre stinkbomb.
Those winds from the west did a fine job carrying the stench far and wide, but mostly to the east. On a really windy day, you could smell it from the Midtown Tunnel to Douglaston.
Okay, it stank. But what harm is there in a little extra air pollution from an area with almost as many active smokestacks as people?
Well… we just didn’t want to inhale rubber, latex, wax, fats and emulsifiers. So no one bought chewing gum, and no one chewed it.
--Speaking on behalf of many people who do not celebrate, please understand that we are pacifist conscientious objectors in the so called war on Christmas. But we wonder if there’d be less paranoia if people actually practiced what the man for whom the holiday is named preached. Merry Christmas.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015