An amusement park can collect a horrifying amount of chewed gum over the course of a season. Sure, the regular cleaning crew would scrape off whatever they saw, or more likely, whatever they felt like, during their early morning shifts, but there was always more. This realization hit Dan hard when he pulled the short straw and wound up on gum duty on his last day of work for the year. Dan’s manager handed him and Antwon two long handled metal scrapers and two buckets and ushered them out of the supply closet and into the weak September sun.
“We should start on the wall,” Antwon said as he took off towards the Thunderstorm.
Dan grimaced, “Why? That’ll take forever.”
“Exactly. Better now than three o’clock when the sun will be hitting us right in the face. I had gum duty last year, trust me.”
So Dan trusted him and they went to the edge of the park where the old wooden rollercoaster sat. They hopped over the railings that normally divided riders into a twisting line and went to the front. At some point in the now distant past someone decided to stick their chewing gum to the wall that divided the line and the loading zone, and it started a trend that was still going strong. When Dan rode the coaster for the first time as a scared ten-year-old, his older brother had told him it was like a wishing well. You made a wish and then stuck your gum on the wall. Dan eagerly complied, making a wish that he wouldn’t puke from fear. Now he felt like puking at the thought of all of the chewed gum he was about to get involved with.
“Well, dig in,” Antwon said, expertly scraping the pieces on the far end so that they dropped in his bucket with a tinny plunk.
Dan joined in, trying to mimic the technique, but still having to pick some off the ground with his gloved hand.
“You know these are people’s wishes we’re throwing away, don’t you?” he asked Antwon.
“Yeah, so I’ve heard.” Plunk, plunk, right into the bucket.
“Kind of makes you feel bad, doesn’t it?”
“Nope. If they’re making me work like this, I don’t care if they don’t come true.”
Dan stopped. “Do you think they won’t come true if we scrape them off?”
Antwon rolled his eyes. “No, I think they don’t come true because it’s gum.”
“So you’ve never wished on gum?”
“What about on a penny in a fountain?”
“A shooting star?”
“Listen man, I make my own luck.” Antwon continued scraping, each piece making less and less of a sound as it hit the growing pile in his bucket.
Dan scraped too, but with less enthusiasm. He looked down to the edge of the wall. A dab of neon orange stood out, right as the wall gave way to the platform. He had put it there three months ago. That night, he hung around the park after his shift with his friend Josh. Dan managed to talk him into riding the Thunderstorm three times in a row. Most of it had to do with Marissa, the girl who worked the control booth. On the first two rides he couldn’t catch her eye. But on the third time through the line, he stuck his gum to the wall. Sure enough, when he was loaded into his seat and looked her way, she had seen him. He smiled. She smiled back.
“This stuff isn’t going to fall off by itself,” Antwon said, staring at Dan.
“Right, sorry.” Dan renewed his efforts. His body removed gum, his mind replayed the summer. He had meant to talk to her, but all he managed was an occasional “Hi, how’s it going?” She was always on her way somewhere and he never had anything to say that could keep her in the same spot.
Now his time was almost up. This was the last day for the seasonal crew. As the gum piled up in his bucket he thought up things to say to her, but none of them sounded like they would lead anywhere. He could ask her about her fall semester, or music, or he could just up and ask her out. But then again, his one piece of luck was about to be scraped into a bucket. Dan tried to maneuver his way in front of Antwon, but as the hour wore on they ended up shoulder to shoulder at the edge of the wall. He eyed his orange piece.
“Hey Antwon, how exactly do you make your own luck?” He asked, nervously eyeing his scraper.
“I dunno. Whatever it is I really want, I go after it. Maybe I have to scrape gum to get there, but that’s the price you pay for having dreams, man.” He reached in front of Dan and dislodged the last of the pieces. Dan watched as the little blob of orange fell into the bucket and disappeared among the others. “Come on, I bet we can get Kiddy-Land before lunch.”
Although Kiddy-Land seemed like it would be worse, the regular cleaning crew had obviously paid it more attention, so Dan and Antwon arrived in the staff room early. As he grabbed his lunch bag from his locker, another crew came in. Dan looked up and saw Marissa. He fumbled around for a moment, giving her time to get her things. When she walked past him, he called out to her.
She turned. “Yeah? Dan, right?”
He smiled. “Right. Hey, are you busy after work today? I was going to go out and meet some friends downtown. Do you want to come?”
She hesitated, looking over at the girls waiting for her. “Uh, no, sorry. I’ve already got plans.”
“Oh. Another time, maybe?”
“Yeah, maybe.” She turned and left, faster than she normally moved.
Dan looked down at his lunch, feeling more like puking than eating. A hand clapped him on the back.
“That was rough,” Antwon said, in a laughing kind of condolence. “Come on, let’s eat.” Dan followed him back outside. They sat at the edge of the plaza, Dan keeping his back to the rest of the crew. He sighed a lot and Antwon worked to keep him cheered up. Maybe it was his jokes, or maybe it was just the crisp early fall air, but by the end of lunch he was ready to get back to work. Maybe one morning scraping gum wasn’t enough to get the kind of luck he wanted. But just in case, he got a piece of gum out of his pocket and stuck it in his mouth, chewing it into a perfect, sticky blob.
Written by: Leslie Martin
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens