"St. Pete or Bust! 2000" story # 18

Grand Rapids, Michigan           December 23, 2000

With school out for christmas, I returned home to Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's a rather boring town, with lots of ugly buildings, but it does have snow! ...which I hate.
     You may not have heard of Grand Rapids, Michigan, but it gets hundreds of visitors each year! And which town, you're probably dying to know, was ambitious enough to first put fluoride in its water supply? That's right! My town. If you come from America or Europe, and you drink Mexican or Morroccan water and become violently ill, you have Grand Rapids, Michigan to thank for lowering your immune system to the potency of the Kuwaiti border patrol.
     Also, Grand Rapids, Michigan has been progressive and cocky enough to call itself "The Furniture Capital of the World." Thousands of young couples around the world made out for the first time on furniture pieces made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Heck, my parents even met in a furniture store! Furniture and making out go hand-in-hand, which would almost make my hometown "The Romance Capital of the World" too, if not for places like Paris, Rio De Janeiro, Venice, Hiroshima, Austin, Texas, and loads of other cities whose buildings are much less ugly than ours.
     As you can see, Grand Rapids, Michigan is an ambitious, progressive, cocky, romantic town that plays well with others, and I'm proud to say we go waaay back.
     We grew up together, and I've got a lot of traditions there. One of my most unique Grand Rapids, Michigan traditions is a tasty treat called sweetchum.
     I share the tradition with a friend, Jason. Before Monday, everyone in the world but us wondered what sweetchum was (didn't you?). But, on Monday, some kids had gathered at my house.
     Jason called me aside to discuss the special occasion. "What do you say we invite the others to a sweetchum? I mean, I got a new girlfriend, you haven't seen your brother in a year, Bill's a good friend, and Pat ... well, we don't really care about Pat."
     "Let's do it," I said.
     A few minutes later, we were joined in the kitchen by: our big, baby-faced pal, Bill; my brother, Brandon; Jason's girlfriend, Michelle; and my brother's friend, Pat.
     The others waited anxiously for their first taste of sweetchum. Jason and I took six spoons, a bowl almost big enough to swim in, and we began shaving the ice. Jason's girlfriend said, "Sweetchum? That doesn't sound good at all!"
     She brought up a good point. Our dessert's name called to mind a bloody mixture of raw meat fed to sharks. I reassured her, "Oh-h-h, it is good!"
     Soon, our big bowl was filled with shaved ice, cranberries, cranberry juice, and some lemons. Jason's girlfriend offered to stir it, as Jason poured in the sugar.
     Jason dumped two or three cups of sugar in, but his girlfriend stopped him. "I'll monitor the sugar," she said. Jason quickly snuck in another two or three cups, and she stopped him again. "I'll monitor the sugar!" Jason walked to put the sugar in the cupboard, but he suddenly turned around and dumped in five or six cups before his girlfriend caught him.
     We convened at the table, circling the sweetchum. "Why don't we just all have our own bowls?" asked Jason's girlfriend.
     "The beauty of sweetchum is getting to eat communally out of a big bowl," I said. "Like pigs from a trough."
     Jason explained the rules. "We all eat at the same time. You want to get all the best pieces for yourself, even if you have to steal them from another person's spoon. When only a quarter of the sweetchum is left, you have to really battle to get as much as you can.
     "Shall we?"
     We all ate a spoonful, and one-by-one our faces puckered up like prunes from all the cranberries. "More sugar," everyone said, and Jason rushed to pour six or eight more cups in.
     The biggest-ever sweetchum began. The mixture was a perfect texture of mouth-conforming mush, with enough taste crammed inside that it could've woken up a dead person.
     "Now, we all talk about how good this sweetchum is," said Jason.
     I took a bite and said, "I like the combination of extreme coldness, extreme sourness, and extreme sweetness."
     My brother said, "I like how the roof of my mouth is experiencing degrees of temperature it's never felt before."
     "I like it," said Bill.
     I said, "Pat, now it's your turn to say something about the sweetchum - GOOD!"
     Pat thought for a second. "I like how you can eat a lot of it without really gaining weight."
     I couldn't believe he'd said that. Unacceptable! Sweetchum wasn't about dieting or staying thin. It was about getting to eat like pigs!!!
     Some good battles were going on in the bowl. Jason kept robbing other people of their cranberries, and Bill bullied his way to a monopoly on the lemons. Jason's girlfriend struggled to avoid Jason's greedy spoon and slopped sweetchum all over the table.
     "Ah, ha ha!" Jason and I laughed madly at her, as was the tradition when someone spilled sweetchum.
     Jason took a spoonful from the bowl, but his girlfriend swatted it out of his hands and on the floor. "BAH, HA HA!" we yelled.
     Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bill said, "When no one's looking!" The next thing I knew, his mouth was swelled like a pufferfish.
     My brother was amazed. "That was the biggest sweetchum ever."
     Bill eye's rolled back in his head, as he fended off a torturous ice cream headache. "I think I took a slight lead." He stretched his hands to indicate the size of the bite. "I could barely get it in my mouth." If the six of us were sharks, Bill was a great white.
     Only a quarter of the sweetchum now remained, but Pat didn't understand how competative it was going to get.
     My brother said, "Ideally, all of the sweetchum would be yours."
     Pat's eyes widened. A lot of sweetchum was left.
     "It's a frenzy to the finish!" I announced.
     We scrapped, clawed, jabbed, pushed, and stabbed our way after the remaining ice and cranberries. Jason's girlfriend was the first to drop out, with a headache from the cold.
     The sweetchum vanished quickly. Soon, there was none left, and our spoons simply scraped the bottom of the bowl.
     I dropped out when I looked at Bill. He was leaned over the table, a level of seriousness and intensity on his smooth face that I'd never seen before, and his spoon-arm sped between the empty bowl and his open mouth with a hummingbird-like zoom.
     After a minute, the sweetchum-less bowl was given a rest by everyone but ultra-competative Jason. He scooped up a tiny purple puddle. "The last spoonful is mine." He tasted it. "I win!" He stood up and raised his arms.
     Jason's girlfriend interrupted him. "That's not the last sweetchum." She'd been hoarding a whole spoonful!
     I attempted a risky spoon-intercept maneuver, but she got it into her mouth.
     "I can't believe a newcomer won," said Jason.
     Bill offered advice. "The secret is to get it when no one's looking."

From Grand Rapids, Michigan, this is Justin "Modern Oddyseus" Breen wishing everybody a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, or, if you're Canadian, a Wacky Boxing Day, and may all your yearly traditions be as festive as a good sweetchum.


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