Psychedelic Clowns      
      popcornjack.gif (20908 bytes)     
     And the Ultimate Popcorn     

    When I was four or five years old, the local Jack in the Box had a coloring contest: “Color Jack!” (For those of you who are in the wrong time or place, Jack in the Box is a fast-food restaurant that pioneered the use of the “drive-thru” dining experience. Their speaker was concealed in the mouth of Jack, their scary clown-icon, so you got the feeling that you were ordering from Jack directly.) My mother got three entry forms, and sat me down, and asked me if I would like to enter.

    I was not a particularly artistic child. While other children in my nursery school class could draw flowers, trees, people, monsters, and traffic accidents in such a way that you tell what they were, I was still having to explain my pictures to people. “This is Superman giving Nixon a ride to an island that you can eat… no it is NOT made of candy, it is just an island that you can eat and this is the hat that lives on the island and his name is Cousin… no it is NOT my cousin, his name is just Cousin…” I was not the sort of boy who won coloring contests, nor had any interest in entering them. But Ma (or “Mom” as I called her then) sat me down and took the crayons out of the refrigerator.

    Yes, you heard correctly. These were special crayons; extremely brightly colored, and they glowed in the dark. But they had their disadvantages - they smelled foul and if they were not refrigerated, they would melt into a sticky glop. But they glowed.

    “Coloring” always bored me, because I liked making my own pictures, cryptic as they were. I didn’t see the point in coloring in someone else’s picture. So I decided not to use the lines. I don’t mean “coloring outside the lines” in the sense that pseudo-radicals use the term to justify a sloppy parasitic lifestyle. I meant “ignoring the lines entirely.” I drew Jack the Fast Food Clown as if the paper were blank. I remember that picture now, and I have to admit, it didn’t look much like the creepy jester. If I was coloring a region, and I was bored with the red crayon, I would switch to a purple or yellow one and keep going. Sometimes my other hand would rest on the picture and smear part of it but I was too busy to care. After I finished, I took entry form number two and did it again. By entry number three, the crayons were severely melting, but that didn’t disturb me; it made it easier to fill in regions because I could lay a thick line down and spread it with my fingers.

    Three clowns were colored. Mom wrote “I glow” on each of them, in the lower right hand corner. Her act made me very angry, crying angry, because she wrote something on my entry, which was, by definition, cheating. But she told me that she hadn't "written" on them; she had "annotated" them, and I was happy again. We sent the artwork off.

    There is one thing that I should probably have mentioned - this all took place in the late Nineteen Sixties. My entry won first place.

    I couldn’t believe it! I had never won anything before. And now a piece of my artwork was undoubtedly resting in a golden frame right above the huge desk of the President of Jack In The Box. And I won! I won! I won!

    We were given a catalog, and I could pick out any prize that I wanted, up to $100. At this point, my memory becomes a little hazy, it was a long time ago. Somehow I remember that Mom narrowed the prize selection down to three choices. I don’t know if that was because all the other catalog items were much more expensive than $100, or if it was that they were all much cheaper than $100. I wouldn’t even swear on the $100 figure; it seems a little high, doesn’t it? My subconscious mind may have adjusted a lower figure for inflation in the (erm) thirty years that have taken place since I won the coloring contest.

    Did I mention that I won the coloring contest? I did. Me.

    Of the three prizes, I chose the popcorn popper. I remember pointing to it, and I remember Dad instantly coming home from work with it in his hands, but I’m sure that some time had elapsed in between the events. The wait must have been so difficult that I blocked it out of my memory.

    The popper was powered by a light bulb. The top half was a transparent truncated cone. You put half a cup (I remember my mother reading the directions out loud. “Take half a cup of corn” I wondered why she didn’t pick our biggest cup to use, so we could make more) in the top hole and it funneled into a cylindrical chamber within the cone. The chamber's bottom was metal with small holes in it that stopped the kernels from resting directly on the bulb. You reached under the popper to turn on the light, and then you waited. And waited. And waited. Then … like a rabbit being produced from an empty hat … like God creating the Universe … a piece of popped corn appeared from nowhere. You then picked a kernel to stare at, hoping to see the miracle happen, but suddenly there was another Pop! And soon they were all popping before your eyes! And you got a little cylindrical chamber of popped corn, that wouldn’t have popped if you hadn’t had the popper, which you wouldn’t have had in the house if Douglas, the youngest child, hadn’t won the coloring contest.

    Then you put this thing that looked like a tiny plastic broom in the top hole, and you “swept” the popped corn off of the metal part into the sides of the machine. The bottom was an inverted truncated cone, with a door at the bottom like the doors at the bottoms of gumball machines. The popped corn came out of that part, and then you turned this lazy-susan thing that I can’t begin to describe that rotated the bottom of the machine to get all the popped kernels to come out of the little hole.

    The brand of popcorn we bought was “Popeye!” brand. The kernels were multi-colored, so when they popped, the center parts of the popped corn were red, yellow, blue, and green. This was the late sixties, remember?

    We were a salt, not a butter, household. After my prize’s maiden voyage, we had to wait for mom to apply the perfect amount of salt. I got to take the first piece. It was hotter than movie-popcorn. Unfortunately, there were no purple pieces, so I settled for a blue one. I didn’t like the fact that my mother, my sister, and a brother were staring at me while I ate it.

    I want to say, “It tasted like … Victory” or something like that. But it didn’t. It tasted like a piece of popcorn. But the very best tasting piece of popcorn I ever had before or since.

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© Douglas J. Shaw,  2001