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Chili Dog Gone it, Wish I was a Pumpkin Ice Cream Cone Eater

15 Nov


                           After dropping our boat off at its second home— the repair shop for the rest of the year,  my wife Diane and I stopped at a roadside drive-in,  where she had some  birthday cake ice cream (which  apparently is vanilla with blue and white icing mixed into it) and I made my customary mistake  of getting a very messy foot-long chili cheese dog. She  didn’t care much for the flavor, but I was envious— I could smell sugar.   In recent years I’ve  become  partial to sugar-free pumpkin  frozen yoghurt, but you seldom see it around  until Harvest Homecoming time.

                   Ever since we moved here, I have  been impressed by how much Hoosiers like  their ice cream.Indiana is the nation’s second largest producer, followin gCalifornia  and about 9% of all the milk produced is used for ice cream. Seasonal  ice cream places, like Zestos and Polly’s Freeze,  always have  long lines  and    Dairy Queens seem  to do a brisk year-round business.   

                  I grew up  near St. Louis and my father never told me that the St. Louis  produced almost  two dozen Nobel Prize winners,  But being a man with his priorities straight, he must have told me a thousand  times that the ice cream cone was invented  there in  1904 at the  World’s Fair.  

                        As a kid I was crazy about ice cream, until I was about seven years old. That’s when my older brother,Norman,  asked me if I knew why the ice cream cones at Baxter’s  Confectionary (my favorite place)  tasted so good. I admitted I didn’t know and Norman proceeded to tell me in graphic detail  how crotchety old man  Baxter, who  constantly smoked a pipe, drooled on every cone, as he made them.  Although I closely observed  the suspect Mr. Baxter I personally  never witnessed any such act.  Just the same,  that image  put me off ice cream until I graduated from college, when inexplicably I started smoking a pipe.  It’s funny how a mental picture  can have such an impact in your life, even if it’s not true.

                      Norman’s vivid stories of food atrocities also  convinced me not to eat, eggs,  mustard,  andClarkbars throughout most of my childhood.  There are also several brands of soft drinks I still won’t  touch,  because of the fellow who fell into the vat  at the bottling plant and drowned and then  the acid in the soda –  well you get the picture. Today urban legends on the internet have picked up where Norman left off. For example chocolate  milk  was ruined for me when I read  a  bogus report that claimed that they make chocolate milk  out of milk  that has been tainted with blood and appears pink.

                       Surveys show that 91% of adults and 98% of children enjoy ice-cream.   However, as a youngster,  Diane was notorious in her family for actually disliking ice-cream. Such a thing was simply unheard of in Wisconsin.   To add to the irony, she comes from  Two Rivers which  is one of the claimants for being  the “home of ice cream sundae”. Diane  never cared much for cheese either– another “Dairy State” blasphemy. They must have thought she was from the planet Remulak. She eventually had to leave the state.  

                         But I suppose Diane came by her dairy mutiny, legitimately. When the Wisconsin legislature banned the sale of oleomargarine, her  father would drive to Michiganjust to buy it,  instead of butter. And instead of wholesome natural Wisconsin cheddar,  her  mother preferred to serve Velveeta— which according to dubious Wisconsinlore was swept up  from the leftovers on the floor, after they made the real cheese. 

                       I remember when the first ice cream trucks came to our neighborhood. Children have a special radar and can  hear that ice cream truck music ten miles away.  Some kids followed those  trucks  around on their  bikes all day. They were  like remora attached to  sharks. They were the same ones who  would trail the city jeep, when it  sprayed the alleys for mosquitoes. I think they got  a little intoxicated  from inhaling that white cloud of insecticide and were addicted. I’m not sure which  had  the most negative heath effects, consuming the chemically saturated artificial ice cream or breathing all that toxic  bug killer.  


                                 Over  20%  of Americans admit to binging on ice cream  in the middle of the night and about 10% say they actually lick  the bowl clean.  Once  we were shoveling ice cream into our eighteen-month old granddaughter,  when  suddenly she  balled up her little fists and pressed  them against  her temples. This was the youngest example of  an “ice cream headache”, I‘ve witnessed and we all felt a little guilty.

                    There is a   nerve center  in the back of the mouth and when it’s  rapidly cooled   the blood vessels constrict,  causing  pain receptors to overload and refer the discomfort to the head.  Sort of like a governor on a motor, that won’t   allow it to run faster than a designated speed, this mechanism punishes us, if we get greedy and eat our ice-cream too fast.    I don’t know why they don’t teach this in school, but   scientists claim that you   relieve “brain freeze” by rubbing your tongue or sucking hard on the roof of your mouth to warm it up.   

                    About one in twenty  people  report they share their ice cream with pets  and I’ve noticed that many stores sell frozen novelties designed for animals. They look pretty tasty,  but in this economy, do dogs really need ice-cream sandwiches?   

                    But  we love our pets and  nothing symbolizes indulgence better than ice-cream. Like pie alamode, it’s  that extra treat,  literally  on top of another treat. We recently took our grandchildren to the Newport Aquarium, which they found somewhat entertaining, especially the gift shop, where we spent most of the time.  On the way home we stopped at an ice cream shop. There were  way too many flavors to choose from and the busy shopkeeper grew highly impatient and annoyed at all the indecision.  I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t make up my mind, they didn’t have  sugar-free pumpkin or chili cheese dogs.



Shocking Inventions

6 Oct




              It is usually assumed that inventors possess a high degree of genius. When we think about the electric light bulb or telephone, we figure that some advanced intelligence must have been at work. But perhaps this is    erroneous, it may be than inventiveness and intelligence is actually unrelated. As evidence for this hypothesis I offer the Stawar family inventions– prime examples of creativity without necessarily intelligence.

            My father was a self-taught electrician and as I grew up I was exposed to variety of his attempts to advance the science of electricity.  Nearly all of his inventions involved having several exposed live electrical wires hanging about so that any false move could result in a life threatening electrical shock. This danger may have never occurred to my father because he was personally immune to electrical shock. Like a snake handler who had been bitten so often that the venom was no longer toxic, my father had been shocked so many times in his 44 years as an electrician, be could literally hold two “hot” 100 volt electrical wires in his hands with no obvious ill effect—I’d like to see Thomas Edison do that.

            My father built an elaborate workshop that included a long workbench with a one inch thick rubber mat to stand on to keep from getting grounded—although he could longer feel shock,  he seemed to realize that it still could kill him under the right circumstances.

Dad built a test light into the workbench so he could test electrical circuits. This device consisted of two exposed live electrical wires which when touched together completed a circuit illuminating a 100 watt light bulb. The device was always on and could not be shut off. As a child I quickly learned to only touch the insulated part of the wires and I often played with the device, burning up flashlight bulbs and defibrillating small animals.

              I believe my father may have actually designed and built one of the first fully electric lawn mowers. Now this was in the time before plugs had three prongs (ground fault technology) so using an electric lawn mower on dewy grass was like sticking a wet fork into a toaster. And the ever-present lethal possibility of running over the cord was an added source of excitement.

My father never grasps the basic principles of mechanical engineering,  but he loved electrical motors. After several experiments  he decided that he needed an enormous electric motor to power the mower. This motor resembled a turbine from  Grand Couleedam. To support the gigantic motor he needed a very strong frame. Since he was able to arc weld a little,  he constructed a square box out of heavy gauge metal. He hacksawed pointy grooves in the front and fitted it with a push handle made out of thick steel pipe. The mower now resembled a Shermantank with sharp teeth and weighted about the same. Although it actually could cut grass, it was so heavy you needed to take a nap after every 10 feet.




After using this Frankenstein of a lawnmower for a while, our old push mower seemed virtually weightless. Dad may have inadvertently invented the first Nautilus exercise machine.

              In the fifth grade I took one of my father’s inventions to school to a sort of “show and tell” program. This was his famed electric hot dog cooker. He had soldered wires on to two nails, which he then mounted in a small wooden rack, the length of a standard hot dog. Then he attached the wires to a plug. When plugged in the hot dog completed the circuit and the meat was essentially electrocuted. Of course if you touched the hot-dog you stood the chance of also being cooked. A hot dog cooked in this manner develops an awful peculiar acidic taste. It also had the odor of searing flesh, which was reminiscent of the execution chamber at the state prison. When I demonstrated the device my science  teacher yelled at me about the general hazard this miniature electric chair for wieners represented and the horrendous smell, which quickly filled the entire school.

              Another time I took an electric magnetizer my father invented to school and was told to immediately take it home because it was too dangerous. Never discouraged by any setbacks,  one Christmas my father decided to put red and green lights  up on our front porch. However instead of using regular Christmas lights, he installed porcelain sockets and used full sized 200 watt red and green light bulbs with a timer which made them flash on and off. I thought it look pretty cool, my mother said it made the house look like a “God-damn tavern”. I suspect my father sort of liked that look.