May 6th, 2019

caillebotte_man at his window

No Prize

Rummaging around in the stuff on top of my refrigerator, which is there only because my iffy shoulder won't let me reach into the cupboard above it where the stuff ought to be, I came across a box of Cracker Jack. I think I bought it in January. As it had sat there so long it had all fused together, like an oblong popcorn ball, so I pulled the whole thing out of the box and just bit off chunks of it.

Cracker Jack is pretty much the same as I remember it from the 1950s, though the boxes are smaller, and there are fewer peanuts. I remember getting at least a dozen peanuts in each box, but this one had only three. The drawing of Sailor Jack on the box is different, too. Only his head, shoulders ad arms can be seen, the rest of him hidden behind an enormous baseball atop which his dog (I think his name was Bingo) sits. Both Jack and the dog are drawn cuter now.

I always like the jaunty, bowlegged Jack on the old boxes, wearing his bell bottomed sailor pants. I always wondered idly what sailors had to do with candied popcorn and peanuts, but never let the confection's seemingly odd choice of mascot bother me. I would just look at Jack and wonder what I might look like wearing ball bottoms. I found out in the 1970s, of course, and sort of wish I hadn't. Another childhood illusion destroyed.

The biggest difference in Cracker Jack now from the 1950s is the prize. Cracker Jack used to have interesting prizes. Rings with colored plastic "stones" in them were common, and if you dared to wear the ring for very long it would leave a green residue around your finger. Whistles of various sorts were also common, though the prize I got most often was a small magnifying glass, made entirely of plastic, which did sort of work. Once I got a tiny compass, that also actually worked. I remember having a tiny, functioning harmonica too, but I don't remember if I got that from a Cracker Jack box or not. It might have been a cereal box prize.

My dad used to look at the prizes I got and pronounce them junk, saying that he got much better prizes from Cracker Jack when he was a kid— things like metal cars with wheels that actually turned, and miniature navy ships, also made of metal. I wonder what he would have made of the prizes Cracker Jack gives out now? They are pieces of paper that you peel open to reveal an invitation to download an app onto your phone, use your camera to capture an image under a sticker that lifts up, and "reveal a fun digital experience!"

I haven't done it, so I have no idea what the fun digital experience is, but I'm doubtful that it would please me as much as that little compass did. It makes me a bit sad that only kids with smart phones can get a prize with Cracker Jack anymore. But then maybe kids now who do have smart phones do like that sort of prize. I wouldn't tell them that the prizes were better when I was a kid, as it might either disappoint them to find that they had missed a golden age of plastic prizes, or cause them to laugh derisively at the old guy who grew up without a smart phone. It was enough to be pitied by my dad for my cheap plastic prizes. I don't need to be pitied by a bunch of damned post-millennial kids too.

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