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.
Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg
by Richard Hugo
You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he's done.
The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can't wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs--
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won't fall finally down.
Isn't this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn't this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don't empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?
Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I'll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You're talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it's mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.