Years ago, I had gone off to school at a college within half-an-hour of my hometown. This allowed me to visit my parents often enough to use their washer and dryer each week. Sometimes my mother would help me with my laundry, which then allowed her to sneak me care packages of cookies and cash without my father knowing.
One night in 1993, I had just completed one of these visits. I returned to my dorm room at Bruce Hall, unpacked my laundry, and discovered at the bottom a care package of different sorts. There on the floor of the basket was an old, faded tin of Spam, so old that if one wished to open it they would need to detach a turnkey and peel the can open along its sides. Slapped on the front of the can was a bold blurb, “Open this can and instantly win $1000” — the contest rules printed on the back indicated that “mail-in entries can be submitted until September 1986.” Doing the math suggested that this can was at least 7 years old.
A Post-It note from my mother and pasted on the can read only, “Hey, remember me?”
I had to think about that one for awhile.
Back in the mid-eighties, I was just beginning to blossom into an obnoxious teenager, setting the stage for the obnoxious adult I would soon become. What better time for me to be exposed to British comedy in the form of Monty Python! One afternoon, I was watching episodes of “Flying Circus” and couldn’t stop laughing at the Spam sketch. My father walked by, saw what I was watching, muttered that I was “sick,” and moved along on his merry own way.
One time after that day, I went with my mother to the grocery store, and we happened to stroll down the potted meat aisle. Its shelves were stocked high with signature blue and yellow cans of Spam. Like a good little parrot, I started quoting from the sketch I heard the other day. “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!”
Mom asked me if I had ever tried Spam. I hadn’t. Because she felt it was silly for me to talk about something I knew nothing about, and also because she was also curious to give it a taste, mom plucked a tin from the shelf, dropped it in our grocery basket, and the little pink bundle of joy came home with us that very afternoon.
It was my regular kid duty to unload and unpack any groceries we brought home. Into the pantry went the can of Spam, where it quickly became lost behind boxes of old Jell-O and stacks of expired veggies, forgotten in the mists of time like a salt-cured Ark of the Covenant.
That tin of Spam my mother gave me, aye I remembered it, brother. So I kept it on my shelf in my dorm room, and that tin of meat accompanied me as I moved in and out of the building each academic year.
In 1996, I still possessed the can the year I was hired as a resident assistant in Bruce Hall. Because of its decades-old architecture, each door frame projected out far enough to provide a narrow shelf above each portal. So as a joke, I propped the Spam up top and displayed it like some sodium-nitrate mezuzah for all to see.
One day, I returned home to find that the can was missing. It is entirely possible that I was angrier than Sméagol right after Bilbo burgled his bling. The next day, the can had returned to its perch, albeit in less-than-pristine condition. It was scratched and dented, with its azure sides puffing outwards as if inflated like a balloon.
I quizzed my residents to see if anyone could solve this mystery, and finally they confessed — they used it to play hallway soccer, and the game ended when a hard kick sent it flying into a wall. But what they told me next was quite queer: when the can hit the wall, it produced a sound described as a loud sucking pop. The walls then instantly puffed out like a car airbag going off. If one shook the can, the insides would rattle like a can of Guinness. They freaked out, put the can back where they found it, and vowed to never speak of it again (so much for the vow). I kept the can where it was until I decided what to do with it next.
After awhile, the can started to leak, producing a flow which oozed forth like sap from a tree. Except, replace “sap from a tree” with “never-ending flow of pork-based glycerin.”
I couldn’t bear to part with the Spam. After all, it was like family to me, and haven’t we all had a grandparent or four that is old & leaky yet still beloved? In an effort to stem the nitrate tide, I sealed the whole tin inside a Ziploc bag. Some time passed and the baggie itself began to ooze. I placed the whole mess within a new Ziploc, and this sequence repeated itself twice more until my tin was safely tucked into four baggies much like
ChineseRussian stacking dolls. Except, replace “ ChineseRussian stacking dolls” with “four degrees of wrong.”
In 1997, Bruce Hall celebrated its 50th anniversary and a week-long celebration was held to commemorate the event. One of the festivities was the creation and dedication of a time capsule large enough that every resident could enshrine one item each. It measured one foot wide and six feet long, and there was much ado the day it was to be buried — dozens of university officials were in attendance to witness its dedication and the placement of an elaborate marble marker. Various reporters and photographers from the city and campus newspapers chronicled the spectacle.
One by one, a line of residents strode forth to the open capsule and each laid a single personal item within its gaping opening. I was a part of this procession, and it soon became my turn to contribute something special. I added my hermetically-sealed tin o’ Spam.
The campus newspaper, either being the rare wit or too bored to print much else of interest, picked up on my actions and in the next day’s edition referred to me as “the Spamboy.” Everyone, including my best friends and fellow staff members, started calling me by this instead of my real name. And like my namesake sitting out overnight on a porcelain dish, it stuck.
The time capsule is due to be cracked open April 9th, 2022, twenty-five years after it was buried. So, if on April 10th you hear something about an unexplained plague of super-roto-avian-bird-flesh-eating-SARS ravaging the greater North Texas area, you don’t know me.