Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from The Great State Of Texas

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“Our Neighborhood Wizard”


We got ourselves into so much trouble that our Mothers would take shifts whooping everyone’s butt just to give the other moms spanking arm a break.” It was 1956, and that’s how it was for my neighborhood pals and me.

Summer was our best and our worst season because there was more playtime outside, increasing the opportunity to get ourselves into predicaments that never ended well. Our moms didn’t buy into that “Dr. Spock crap.” I would bet that none of the moms in my neighborhood ever heard of that weirdo. There was no negotiating out of corporal punishment, and trophies were non-existent.

My neighbor, Mr. Mister, was the neighborhood scientist and inventor; our very own Mr. Wizard. Not the dweeb on television, but a real-life mad scientist with a movie star wife.

We kids would spend our weekends sitting underneath his Mimosa tree, watching him build his oddball inventions in his garage that doubled as his laboratory. Looking back, he was more a “mad scientist” than an inventor. The only thing missing was the Frankenstein monster lumbering out of his garage.

Mrs. Mister, his Hollywood-looking wife, would keep a steady supply of cold Kool-Aid and cookies flowing. She closely resembled the movie star Jane Mansfield but could bake a cookie-like Betty Crocker. Always with a frosty martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other, she was the dream Mom none of us had. No butt whooping’s around the Mister household, no matter what we said or did. So we were free to be our feral selves.

Some of Mr. Misters’ inventions were downright crazy. My two favorites were his motorized and drivable charcoal griller and the half-size rocket that took Fred and Ginger, his wife’s twin poodles, into the stratosphere, returning the two. “Dog-o-nauts” small space capsule safely to earth; via an Army surplus parachute.

After the spectacular launch, which also torched the Misters’ back yard and part of their garage, Mr. Mister was paid a visit by the F.B.I. and the Air Force. Who in the world knew it was a national security violation to build and launch a solid-fuel rocket from your backyard?

That incident caused Mrs. Mister to suffer a minor breakdown, so no more using the pooches.

As in most neighborhoods, there are disagreements with other groups of kids. A gang of mean and nasty punks lived across the railroad tracks from us. They were older, bigger, and made our lives miserable. We called them “The Hard Guy’s.” A few of them carried switch-blade knives that had been smuggled in from Mexico.
We all attended the same elementary school and suffered their daily attacks during the school year; now, they were sneaking into our neighborhood, cutting our bicycle tires with their switchblades, egging our houses, and stealing our goodies. So we devised a plan to get even, and of course, it involved our hero and mentor, Mr. Mister.

Mr. Mister said that he had experienced a similar gang of kids growing up in East Los Angeles. So he suggested a way to retaliate using every kid’s favorite firecracker, “Cherry Bombs,” delivered by an ancient invention called the catapult. Wow! what a guy. With his help, we built a small wagon-mounted catapult in a few hours. It was a beaut. He donated a shoebox full of the little bombs for the cause.

The first Cherry Bomb we launched from the weapon went 50 ft and exploded; not enough weight. So Georgie suggested putting a Cherry Bomb inside a sidewalk biscuit, like the ones his sister and her friends make.

For the folks that didn’t grow up in the 50s, the “sidewalk biscuit” is purely a kid invention native to Texas. It’s made by putting a large glob of dough on a red-hot 250-degree sidewalk and letting the heat do the rest.

We stuffed a Cherry Bomb into a fist-size glob of dough and placed it on my front sidewalk. Within an hour, we had our weapon of mass destruction. The hot concrete produced a biscuit-bomb the size of a grapefruit with a beautiful golden crust. Georgie tried to eat one and chipped a tooth.

The test shoot was a success; the biscuit bomb flew about 100 yards and exploded as it hit the ground; perfect. We were ready for revenge. Mr. Mister beamed like a proud Father.

Word in the neighborhood was that Chucky, the leader of the “Hard Guys,” was having a backyard birthday party, and his gang of hoodlums and their families would be attending. Unfortunately, we also learned that a few of our neighborhood girls would be there, which made them traitors to the cause in our minds. We tried to warn them without revealing our battle plan, but, oh well, they will be sorry when the crap hits the fan.

At dusk, our small group of commandos, wearing our best Army surplus helmets and packs, pushed the catapult to the edge of the railroad tracks. The party was in full gear, Elvis was on the record player, parents were dancing, kids were yelling, and a clown was making balloon animals; we could smell the hamburgers cooking, reminding us that it was supper time.

Skipper, our math wiz-kid, calculated the trajectory and distance with his father’s slide rule. Georgie loaded the “Biscuit Bomb” into the catapult pouch and then pulled a can of Ronson lighter fluid from his pack and doused the weapon. Countdown from five to one, I lit the fuse and the soaked bomb and pulled the release lever.

The “Flying Burning Biscuit Bomb” sailed high and long, leaving a trail of black smoke and flames as it soared toward its target. We gasped in awe at the beauty of our weapon.

The first biscuit bomb bounced once, landed on the charcoal grill, and exploded. The adults sitting nearby were coated in charcoal-broiled hamburger patties, weenies, and biscuit chunks. A piece of hot charcoal set Chucky’s mom’s beehive hair-do on fire, and his father wasted two cold Schlitz beers dousing the flaming mess.

The second “biscuit bomb” blew up “Squiggles The Clown’s” prize table, sending balloon animals, Captian Kangeroo penny-whistles, and birthday cupcakes in all directions. It was pure pandemonium at the Chucky place.

The third bomb was a dud. We were in the process of loading a fourth when the “Hard Guys” came running towards us, followed by their fathers. We had no plan of retreat, no “plan B.” So we did what any commando would do; dropped our gear and ran like hell towards Mr. Mister’s back fence. Reaching the fence, we vaulted into the backyard and to safety.

Mr. Mister knew the attack was a bust, and he gathered us around the Mimosa tree. Mrs. Mister gave us a cold glass of Kool-Aid to calm us.

The “Hard Guys” and their fathers stood at the back fence yelling obscenities. Naturally, this didn’t go over well with Mr. Mister, so he walked to the back fence and addressed the lynch mob.

Mr. Mister didn’t sound like himself. His voice was deep and foreboding as he spoke to the group. ” Millard Mister here, Colonel, U.S. Air Force, this is my wife, Captain Jane Mister, U.S. Air Force, is there a problem here gentlemen?” The fathers jerked to attention, eyes forward. This sounded serious.

Chuckies father explained the scenario. Mr. Mister replied, ” I am aware of the operation and why it took place.” He then explained to the fathers all the havoc their sons were creating in our neighborhood. The gang of hoodlums realizing the jig was up, took off running for their homes, angry fathers right behind them. We had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Mr. Mister turned, gave us a salute, and said, “job well done men.” Three kids stood as tall as nature would allow and returned his salute.

The rest of the summer was great for us, and Mr. Mister invented the first Air-conditioned Riding Lawnmower.


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