Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rubber Monsters

I used to collect rubber insects and monsters from the 25 cent gum ball machines. I kept them in a shoebox and I called them Hermans as in 'these are my Hermans'. It would make sense that I got the name from Jim Unger. Herman, as a name, would crack us up. So did Horace and Morris. We found these names hysterical for some reason. Fred too but to a lesser extent. Fred came more into prominence as a fascinating name in my early teens. I gave it to our second canary after our first, Tweety, went to the big birdcage over the kitchen sink in the sky. Fred the canary was ok. He probably felt that we liked his predecessor more. We were a bit older too by then and not as attentive to the poor little guy. Both birds never left their cage, which is a regret of mine. Let the songbirds out of the cage would be my MO if I dared live with birds today.
    Now the rubber monsters and bugs were fanciful creatures that I would piecemeal harvest from the machines at Les Galeries Saint-Laurent, a small shopping centre in Ville St-Laurent, our neck of the woods. My brother and I would do the rounds while our folks shopped at Dominion for the groceries. We would check out the pet store, the toy store and the head shop. The head shop in this smallish suburban mall (we didn't know this American word yet) was festooned with black light posters we would flip through, psychedelic velvety masterpieces. We gawked at Zappa sitting on the can, zodiac figures dancing their cosmic dance, rock goddesses wearing nothing but day-glo skin and tangles of red hair. The middle of the shop had glass shelving containing what I much later discovered were water pipes. As kids we would marvel at these bongs of skulls, globes and tubing. What were they? Just recently I recalled a vague impression that we thought they were candy dishes. If it wasn't our idea, I applaud the teenage head working the shop for his ingenuity in describing them thusly to a couple of kids.
    The bank of machines was right outside the grocery store. We would feast on gum balls and hard little pucks that looked as if they were composed of tiny bits of recycled gum. They were sour and multicoloured and I miss them sorely. I miss Jelly Tots more but candy and it's allure will have to wait for another time. We would get the occasional superball or tiny joke book from the surprise machine but mostly I went for the bugs and creatures. Tentacled beasties, finger puppets, gooey spiders, worms, a total alien menagerie that lived in a shoebox.
    It is a testament to my childish naiveté that I lent my entire box of Hermans to a kid I hardly knew a few scant days before summer break. I never saw them again.