Growing up with a mad scientist does have its drawbacks. Even though Dad's crazy-ass inventions profited the company where he worked, like his automated back-scratcher way back in 1960, some of his creations at home were a little too out there.
For several years, he limited himself to the kitchen, driving Mom up the walls for that was her domain. He concocted recipes which involved onions, green peppers and garlic as a base. Not to mention jalapeno peppers. The man was wild about jalapeno peppers to the extent that he introduced them to his colleagues.
One day, his office bud, Jordan, decided to have a jalapeno eating contest during lunch at work. Makes you wonder about people, right? Especially people who work at military defense. The two men sat down at a table across from each other and ate jalapeno peppers one after another. Sweat poured in rivulets from their foreheads. Colleagues cheered them on. Until the EMTs carted Jordan away to have his stomach pumped. Since then, he never touched spicy food of any kind.
Proud of being the undisputed champ of jalapeno pepper ingestion, Dad made sure Mom added jalapeno peppers to every meal, not taking into account he had young children. Between the onions, green peppers, garlic and iceberg lettuce, the jalapeno peppers insured I had gastric seizures for nearly fifteen years.
I have to admit, though, he made a mean chili, aptly dubbed, "Art Stone's 5 Bean Chili." It was a hit. But precautionary measures had to be taken: only ONE bowl was allowed with a glass of milk and a chunk of bread. Otherwise, one flirted with death.
Years later, I made that chili for a colleague's summer pool party with the same stipulations. Hell, I hauled a gallon of milk in a cooler as well as several loaves of bread. The party took place two hours away by car. My boyfriend at the time hoped the radiator wouldn't blow as it must've been around 110 degrees. We looked forward to a swim, yet once we arrived, the officemate informed us the pool was filled with algae. Desultory, everyone lurked around chugging beers and vying for seats in the sparse shade.
I caught him with his third bowl of chili. Without the glass of milk or the chunk of bread.
"Are you crazy?" I screamed. "That's going to ruin your stomach!"
"It's the most delicious chili I ever ate."
"You're eating that with BEER? Are you suicidal?"
He laughed at me. "Sometimes you're so melodramatic."
I arched my eyebrow.
An hour later, he came up to me. "I can't take this heat. Let's go back to the City where there's air conditioning."
We said our good-byes and during the drive, I said, "Why don't we stop off at one of the beaches for a nice swim?"
Grim at the wheel, he said, "No swimsuit."
I laughed. "So what? We'll jump in our clothes."
"We'll get sand inside."
Knowing he wouldn't change his mind, I sat quietly and watched his stern profile. He seemed grim, a departure from his natural happy-go-lucky demeanor. Throughout the drive back, he didn't say a word. When he pulled up in front of my apartment building, I asked, "Wanna come up and fool around?"
"No," he said. "I'm tired."
"Tired? It's only nine o'clock on a Saturday night." I put my hand on his bicep and he shrugged it off. "Okay, be like that," I said and left the car.
A week later, he phoned, outraged. "I never in my life had such gas! There were times I thought I was going to die!"
Dryly, I replied, "I told you to eat only ONE bowl of chili with a glass of milk and a chunk of bread. But, did you listen? NO!"
Needless to say, we broke up shortly thereafter. I think it may've been due to the chili.
Dad's chili, though, was printed in numerous recipe books with a warning in skull and crossbones. That made him proud. Prouder than when he discovered a microbe while stationed in Okinawa during World War II as an Army surgeon.
That was the more innocuous of his inventions. Dad was a visionary of sorts. Sadly, what he envisioned was better off for military defense than for his home. Ah, the little things in life!
When I was a teen, Dad decided he wanted a water pump in the middle of the garden, only 40' from the lake. He went out and bought a bright red antique pump, fully functional and a ten foot pipe.
"It's simple. Just hit the pipe with the sledgehammer and you'll hit water. We're close enough to the lake."
I looked at the 10' pipe and asked, "How do I do that? Do I need a ladder?"
He looked at it as well and said, "You got a point," and ran to a hardware store. Later, he emerged with a three foot pipe. "Try that for starters."
Going down on all fours, he held the pipe up at the base. Before I whacked the end with the sledgehammer, he came to his senses and yelled, "Don't hit me!" scuttling far over. No doubt he belatedly realized I wielded a lethal weapon.
Once again, I hoisted the sledgehammer and hit the end of the pipe. A resounding THUNK that shook my arm and my teeth. The pipe didn't budge.
"Go ahead, do it again. With more force."
I kept whacking the pipe over and over and managed to break through at least a foot. My arm ached as well as my teeth. I no longer had feeling in my right hand. "Dad, I don't think I can do this any longer. It ain't budging."
Out of disgust, Dad stood up and pushed me aside. "You don't know what you're doing." He picked up the sledgehammer and, with all his strength, smashed the top of the pipe. The sledgehammer rebounded and he toppled over, backwards, his bifocal glasses flying off his face.
On his back, he bellowed, "I can't see!" I scrambled around the lawn looking for those glasses while he yelled orders, "Watch where you step. Don't crush them."
From the house, my mother emerged. "What's going on here?"
"Dad lost his glasses," I volunteered.
"Watch where you step!" she shouted. "Don't crush them."
With the two of them screaming orders, I ended up on my hands and knees scouring the weeds and crabgrass. Suddenly, my mother said, "Found them!" They flew over 20' away near the house.
Later that afternoon, my father suggested, "Why don't you go out and hit that pipe for a few?"
Snootily, I responded, "Dad, I just got feeling back in my hand. Isn't this YOUR project?"
For the following twenty years, despite his chronic nagging for me to hit that pipe into the ground, my father never saw his dream fulfilled. We ended up putting the water pump on top of the short pipe. I did a good job sledgehammering it in. To this day, it can't be removed.
Several years later, Dad got a great idea. "We should put these mutts to work."
From the kitchen stove, my mother muttered, "Here we go again."
Inspired, Dad said, "Listen, two of the dogs are big. They can pull a sled."
Rusty was a 'polluted' Airedale - my mother's term. We had papers that he was a thoroughbred, but convinced he had crocodile genes in his lineage. And Champy was a Rottweiler, a big brute of a dog, loyal to my father.
Champy posed a bit of a problem in his loyalty: he rarely left my father's side. At night, he'd find his way into the master bedroom and slept at my father's feet. My parents kept the door closed to their bedroom, but the dog found a way to punch with his paw that somehow clicked the door open. My brother and I tried various ways to emulate how the dog managed to do that to no avail. Champy had the magic touch.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of my father's voice, "Sonuvabitch," accompanied with growling. Then, the dog roared while my father dragged him off the bed. Dad wrestled with the beast until he pushed him into the hallway. Quickly, he slammed the door shut and locked it. The dog sat outside and whined, scratching the door with his paws, sniffing underneath. That's when I knew my parents had sex. Nothing like subtlety.
It's a miracle I never associated sex with a growling dog. At any rate, Dad sat at the kitchen table and said, "They'd be perfect to pull a snow sled."
"Snow sled?" inquired my mother. "These dogs are feral. They never learned how to sit, let alone follow any orders whatsoever."
"Don't worry, they'll like the sled. Hell, the kids'll like it as well."
"Kids? They're teen-agers," said Mom.
"Okay, I'll like it."
At work, Dad drew a few schematics of an ideal sled for two dogs to pull. Then, he went to the lab in the engineering department. That department was responsible for translating designs into reality. They were busy working on projects for NASA as well as an array of projects for the government.
That didn't impede Dad. He and the guys sat down and redesigned his schematics to make it lightweight, strong and easy to harness two large dogs. As well as able to drag a 250lb man. They spent several hours doing this, mostly at lunch. It was a project that all enjoyed, more fun than his automated back-scratcher from 20 years' earlier. Something tells me they must've partnered in several other strange projects over the years.
Months later, he came home, elated. "The guys at work made a prototype."
"Of what?" asked my mother stirring something on the stove. Something which included onions, green peppers, garlic and jalapeno peppers.
"The dog sled!"
"You're still working on that?"
Dad rubbed his hands in glee. "They had to set it aside for some NASA projects. Don't worry, it's gonna be beautiful." He leant over and kissed my mother on the back of her neck.
It was also too large for the station wagon. My father came home, upset. "I'll get someone at work who has a truck to bring it home."
"And then what're you going to do with it?" asked Mom, deboning a chicken at the kitchen counter. "It's spring."
"I'll train the dogs."
Seated at the kitchen table, my brother perked up. "This I gotta see."
The momentous occasion occurred that weekend. Jordan drove up with a truck. He and Dad hefted a metal structure off the back of the truck to the middle of the weed-infested lawn.
Proudly, the two men stared at it. I ran inside and yelled, "Mom, you gotta take a gander at this!"
Mom came out of the house. "What is it?"
Chest puffed, Dad pointed, "The dog sled. The only thing left is to get tethers for the dogs." He looked at my mother. "You see, we made holes. You can do it, right, honey?"
Mom rolled her eyes. "I just knew I'd get roped into one of your projects."
Yet, my father was pleased. For some reason, this project made him happy. Joyful. Elated. Watching him pleased as punch, Mom broke down and spent weeks measuring and testing different forms of fabric. Then, she made duvets or whatever it was for the clasps.
I had to hand it to Dad, though. His dream finally became real. Although, he made my brother and I heft that monstrosity into the garage.
"This is lightweight?" I asked him.
"The lab guys made sure it would be sturdy enough to encounter any type of situation."
These are the same guys who made a $14,000 toilet for Skylab. They added features for any kind of contingency. Of course they would do the same for a dog sled.
Mom wailed, "I can't park the car inside."
"Judy, it's only until we get snow," he reassured her. "You can park the car inside the garage all winter."
Months passed. Then, it was winter. It was the first winter we never had snow. Disgusted, Dad said, "Next winter. I'll show you."
The dog sled stayed in the garage. Despite its size, it just blended into the background. Mom got accustomed to the car on the driveway. We forgot all about it.
The following winter, it snowed, a mere 2". Elated, Dad said, "It's time for the dog sled!"
"What dog sled?"
Dad looked at us, amazed. "The one in the garage!"
We bundled up and my brother and I hoisted that thing out of the garage and placed it on the front lawn. My father collected Rusty and Champy and my mother put tethers onto their bodies and then dragged them to the sled.
From across the street, one of our budinsky neighbors peered out from her kitchen window. Unlike the denizens of the 'hood, we pretty much kept to ourselves. In the center of the snowy lawn, my robust father on top a sled with two dogs must've been quite a sight.
Those dogs weren't stupid; they knew something was up. And they didn't like it. For the first time in their lives, they both sat down, quiet, tails resting flat on the snow.
Dad mounted the rear platform of the sled and yelled, "Mush!"
My brother piped up. "Dad, they don't know what 'Mush' means!"
Exasperated, Dad yelled, "Get them up and move them."
We hollered at the dogs and agitated, they stood up.
"Now, get them to move."
Nothing would induce them to budge. I yelled out, "How about giving them jalapeno peppers? That's a surefire way to make them move."
Ignoring my suggestion, Dad said, "How about you and your brother pull on each side of the sled to get it going?"
My brother and I ran to each side and yanked with all our might. The damn thing was heavy.
"Dad, can you get off for a sec so we can see if this thing can move?"
It didn't. It was way too heavy for such a light snow.
Meanwhile, the dogs sat down again, quietly panting. After a few more attempts, Dad gave up. "I'll wait for a heavier snow."
For seven years he waited. By the time we eventually got heavy snow, I worked full-time and my brother lived in California. No one could drag the monstrosity out of the garage. Not only that, the dogs were old, too old to pull a 250lb man on a 400lb dog sled.
Although the dog sled was a total debacle, I marvel at my father's dedication to a dream. A crazy one, perhaps, but that dream made him happy for nearly two years. Yet, I wonder today, whatever happened to the dog sled?
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