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Rutherford..aka Grab a Tab and a Smile!
by Dave LeGates
In the 1960's Coca Cola came out with an innovative
beverage for the time. It was amazing in the respect that
it was soda-pop like Coke, however it had no sugar in it,
hence none of the calories. The average Coke has hundreds
of calories and therefore at 15 calories per teaspoon,
it contains about a dozen teaspoons! Made with the sweet
taste of a miracle product called saccharin, the new
beverage was ideal for a dieter or diabetic who was
craving something sweet.
soda became so popular that its name became synonymous
with diet soda. For the usual sugar consumer, the soda
had a nasty aftertaste, but to someone who was
watching calories or couldn't have sugar, it was a
Godsend. By now you know I am talking about TAB, which,
because of the amount of synthetic products that it
contained, was rumored to have stood for Totally
Other sodas copied the revolutionary process of adding
saccharin as a sweetener. saccharin became a central
feature in many productsintended for dieters,used in
coffee and baking like Sweet n' Low and Sugar Twin ---
which I think was also part fructose.
A Government study in the late 70's concluded that
unionized laboratory rats got cancer when they consumed
saccharin. With cancer fears on overdrive, the study was
considered such a revelation that the government felt it
necessary to put a world ending warning label on every
product on Earth that even might be on the same shelf
with a saccharin product. Panic was under the big top as
people took on a completely unnecessary fear of
saccharin. Dieters and diabetics panicked, as many of
them had already consumed tons of products containing
This was devastating news to companies who manufactured
diet products. What the government left out of the
information to the public was the fact that in order for
the average person to ever get cancer from
saccharin, they would have to consume an ungodly amount
of the product, equal to about 40/ 8 oz glasses of Tab a
day for over 5 years, which was highly unlikely. Speaking
of things named Equal, it was amazing that less than 2
years after the saccharin warning came out, just by
coincidence, a new 'safer' product called NutraSweet was
As far as Bill Webster was concerned, he would've
volunteered to be one of the laboratory rats to see how
much Tab he had to drink to get cancer. His garage was
loaded with cases of his beloved 1 calorie passion. Bill
was seldom seen without a pink can in his hand. He
would've told you that if it wasn't for Tab, losing the
over 120 lbs that he lost would've been impossible.
Bill Webster was a fat little kid who at his heaviest was
280 lbs. In high school he resembed the squared headed
friend of Wally Cleaver's, Clarence "Lumpy"
hence the nickname "Lumpy" (oddly enough he had
curly red hair of their other "friend"Eddie
Haskell). Bill was kind of a nerdy kid who didn't have a
lot of close friends, but everyone seemed to know him,
for good or bad.
Bill had another passion..sports! Not able to be an
Bill still loved to be around sports and athletics. All
sports, any kind! In high school, in order to be close to
the sports teams he volunteered to be the manager and
score keeper for many teams, earning team letters and
jackets. Bill was as much of a team member as anyone
else, and can be seen in many of the team photos. The
problem was that Bill could be SEEN in the team photos.
Tired of the still many closed-minded weight insults he
endured and perhaps himself, he went to his doctor and
sought help for his ever increasing girth.
Bill was at the time considered an extreme case and he
was put on an unheard of 500 calorie a day diet,
something today that would be considered deadly. It was
during this time that Bill replaced his undying love for
sweets with cool refreshing Tab. Bill started his diet
over the summer while he worked scoring the softball
games for our Rec
Department, like I did, and tempting his diet at times
working the concession stand.
Over that summer you could see a change coming and by
the time he had goneback for his senior year, he had
already lost sixty pounds. At the softball games, Bill
was a favorite of all the teams and he was kind of a
mascot who the guys would take out with them.
loved it, because they often went into bars (he was still
underage), where sports was the high topic of
conversation. Bill wasn't interested in the drinking, he
just loved the conversation about sports with the people
and everyone was impressed with his unbelievable
knowledge. He was like a walking encyclopedia.
Bill had a glazed kind of smile as he talked to you that
if you didn't know him better, you thought he was
perpetually high! He loved to talk and he loved company
of people of who liked sports. He also relished his
solitude to get caught up on sports things and to play
with another passion, cars.
By the time Bill was 18, he had lost well over 100 lbs
and he was looking really trim. He wasn't a real handsome
guy, but the fact that he was loaded with personality
made him quite popular. He could expound on so many
subjects even outside of sports. He was very polite and
respectful. He had no real college plans for after high
school, but one
of the guys who owned a bar offered him a job to tend bar
in the place, and Bill was a natural there. Some teams
just started going there because Bill was working the
Bill's life outside of work was like a living ESPN. Bill
was ESPN before ESPN! Able to go anywhere at the drop of
a hat and had the cash on hand to what ever he wanted,
Bill would load up his car with a case of his beloved Tab
and sought his love of sports. Any sport, anywhere,
was around this time that I got to be friendly with
him,and occasionally he'd call up and ask if I wanted to
go to a hockey or indoor soccer game, or I'd call him if
I had tickets for something.
Having worked together at the Rec Center and been
friendly with him, we get into many sports related
subjects. I was a few years younger than him, and thought
real highly of him. I always thought I knew a lot but
Bill was simply incredible. Sometimes the rides were the
best part because not only did you get caught up on the
latest sports news, but he'd also give me a laugh by
telling me what latest sporting events he had been at.
For example he'd get all excited over telling you about a
lacrosse game between two schools from some far away part
of the state. He'd give you details and the names of some
of the better players.
Sometimes it was ridiculous, because he'd call and ask if
you wanted to see a girls waterpolo match in the next
state. Anything at all. If you just happened upon a
sporting event like a tennis match or an out of the way
college baseball game, everyone who knew Bill had a story
that they would go by a sporting event and see his car or
if they went to watch it, he'd be there with that glazed
smile and a Tab. Bill loved our local minor league hockey
team, and was the only person I ever knew with one season
ticket! He was at so many of those games that some people
the team would go home if he wasn't at the games.
When ESPN came out and rendered Bill obsolete, people
could tune into them to find out the latest on Australian
Rules Football, instead of asking Bill! In 1984, Bill had
no real ambitions it seemed, until the guy who owned the
bar he worked in, wanted out of it and offered to sell it
Bill got excited, because having worked in the bar for
a while and knowing he had such a great rapport with the
clientele, the sky was the limit on what he could make.
He wanted to turn it into a sports bar and restaurant,
which were starting to become popular. Bill didn't have a
big investment, but he had savings for a down payment and
he thought getting a business loan for the rest wouldn't
be a problem.
However going to bank after bank turned out to be
fruitless, as nobody seemed to want to lend money to a
young guy for what was viewed as a passing fad.
The real business crazy 80's hadn't kicked in and the
huge loans hadn't been distributed. He spent a lot of
time trying to raise the money for the investment, but
the owner wanted to sell very badly and had another
buyer he was forced to sell.
Bill not only wasn't going to be able to buy the bar, he
couldn't work there either anymore. Depressed and
unconsolable, Bill went home and instead of reaching for
a Tab, opted to drink a bottle of dry gas. His mother
found him dead shortly after.
Bill's mother at one point down the road called my
mother. The two didn't know each other, but she wanted my
mother to tell me what had happened. I was living out of
state and had lost touch with Bill, having no idea he had
passed away. Bill's mom told my mom that Bill thought
highly of me and she wanted me to know. My mother assured
her that I always spoke well of him and she would give me
A few years later, my brother Mike and I were at one of
the minor league hockey games with my son DJ. Between
periods, we were relaxing in our seats and Mike looked up
at the rafters at the retired player numbers
banners and the championship banners and said "You
know, they ought to have a banner of Lumpy up there
smiling that smile with a can of Tab." I found it
hard to disagree.
I think he is up in the rafters watching anyway, or where
ever particular fans congregate! Today he is probably at
a cricket match in England! He was a nice little guy and
I think of him often.
Business for Tab has never quite been the same since. Was
it the saccharin? I don't think so!
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