The string theory of Cracker Jack

There are a lot of women with babies in strollers in the deli. One is tempted to assume they are mothers, but Odin assumes nothing.

One is very slender and dressed in black.

One has bright red hair.

The pre-packaged sandwiches and salads look depressing, but Odin gets turkey breast and cheese anyway. On whole-wheat bread.

And a mylar bag of “honey”-glazed peanuts.

He eats peanuts on his way to the bench. This afternoon, they remind him of what was, for him, the best part of what he as a boy knew as Cracker Jacks, real name Cracker Jack, an American snack treat made of popcorn coated in molasses flavored candy, candied peanuts and a cheap toy surprise, originally in a waxed box, now probably in a mylar bag (he hasn’t eaten any for decades), invented in Chicago by German immigrant Frederick William “Fritz” Rueckheim, registered in 1896, making it America’s oldest official junk food.

According to one theory of the multiverse, one universe can arise in another universe via a quantum tunnel, and continue to expand and exist there, without being detected by observers in the firstĀ  universe (Odin assumes). Although he can sense a Cracker Jack universe now, somewhere nearby, where he is a young boy peeling back the foily wrapping on a waxy box, and tearing it open and shaking out some candied popcorn and eating it, and fishing around for the prize (a ring in this case, or a little plastic game where you roll a small metal ball around a maze) looking forward to the candied peanuts that always seem to sink to the bottom of the box.

Eating his glazed peanuts Odin thinks this is like cutting to the chase of eating Cracker Jack. He liked the peanuts more than the prize, although the prize was ostensibly the culmination of a Cracker Jack session, which for Odin (back in the Cracker Jack universe) was a special occasion, perhaps once a month or when his aunt visited and brought Cracker Jack and Swedish fish candy.

At least that’s what he thinks the fish candy was called.

It’s been almost fifty years.

No crows show up at the bench, only blackbirds, which Odin ignores because he doesn’t want to start anything with a new species, although blackbirds (although nice songbirds) lack the intelligence of crows – they are dumb (or daring) enough for his cats to catch now and then, and one flew into his car last week, expiring in a cloud of feathers, which still makes him sad when he thinks about it.

He hears a crow cawing, however. He gets up to throw away the garbage from his lunch – mylar peanut bag, plastic sandwich package – and saves a little of the sandwich, because he senses the crow he heard was talking to him. From the garbage can, he can see the third crow, the grey one, waiting at the bench. It is nervous and skittish, so he tosses it the sandwich he saved from a greater distance than usual. The bird flies off with it in its beak, landing on the roof of a garage across the street, where it eats at its leisure.

The honey-roasted peanuts Odin had for lunch today were not very similar to Cracker Jack peanuts. The coating on today’s peanuts was crustier and duller; the Cracker Jack peanuts he remembers having a thinner, shinier coating.

They were the only junk food he got as a boy, and only about once a month.

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