Kati with Earl (Courtesy of Kati). She looks just the way she did when I took care of her.
This post has NOTHING to do with my mother. But it’s still fun!
Today is the birthday of one of my favorite babysittees, Kati Kovacs. She is now grown up; she teaches law at Rutgers University. But she is still young at heart. (I obviously set a good example.)
Kati and her brother Toby enjoyed the stories I told them when they were little. When I wished her a happy birthday on Facebook, I added a wish that I could tell her a story today. She suggested I put one on this blog.
So here is a story I originally wrote for my nephew Michael. Michael used to LOVE stories about my friend Alice from Dallas. (I think he really just liked her name.)
I started out telling him absolutely true stories, but over time the stories added just a little bit of fantasy. I’ll leave you to judge whether this one is strictly true. I will tell you this: Alice has won TONS of contests. She is the luckiest person I know.
Enjoy—and happy birthday, Kati…..
ALICE FROM DALLAS AND THE FIRE CRACKERS
Many years ago, when I was in school in Knoxville, Tennessee, I lived with another student whose name was Alice from Dallas.
Alice had many wonderful qualities.
She was smart.
She was funny.
She was highly efficient.
She was a terrific athlete: she was always winning tennis tournaments and bringing home awards, mostly silver trays we used for serving everyday food like peanut-butter sandwiches and doughnuts.
Alice was also lucky: she spotted every four-leaf clover she walked by, and she almost always won the many contests she entered. Some of the prizes were exciting, like a car she won by guessing how much money the Ford dealer had pasted onto it.
Some were less glamorous, like a five-year supply of laundry detergent or a box of pencil erasers.
Above all, Alice was adventurous. From time to time, her sense of adventure got us into a little trouble. This story is about one of those times.
One day, as we were munching on a snack of apples, cheese, and crackers, my friend Alice from Dallas said to me, “T.W., we need some new crackers.”
“No, we don’t, Alice,” I replied. “There’s a new box of wheat crisps in the pantry.”
“I don’t mean ‘new’ crackers as in just another box, T.W.,” said Alice. “I mean ‘new’ as in unusual, special, imparting a sense of wonder and excitement to our existence.”
“Actually, Alice,” I retorted, “I’m not sure that crackers’ purpose in life—if indeed crackers can be said to have a purpose in life—is to bring wonder and excitement to people’s existence.”
She glared at me and passed over the newspaper. “I disagree. Read this.”
I saw that she had circled this article:
GET MORE OUT OF LIFE WITH FIRE CRACKERS:
CRACKER COMPANY SPONSORS CONTEST TO FIND “FIRE CRACKER GIRL”
Today the Patriotic Cracker Company announced the launch of a new product known as Fire Crackers. These spicy cheesy wafers are designed to add flavor to anyone’s life.
To celebrate the new product, the company is holding a contest to identify a “Fire Cracker Girl” who will serve as a spokesperson for the crackers. Females between the ages of five and 99 are encouraged to submit an essay telling the company why they need Fire Crackers. The winner will receive a lifetime supply of Fire Crackers.
“A lifetime supply,” I mused. “That could be an awful lot of crackers, Alice.” But she was too busy scribbling her essay to pay any attention.
A few minutes later, Alice from Dallas cleared her throat and began reading aloud.
To whom it may concern:
My life is dull, monotonous, and in fact hardly worth living. I have boring friends.
“Thanks so much, Alice,” I muttered, but she continued:
And I spend much of my time doing tedious work such as writing papers and reading poorly written textbooks.
Yet I know life could hold so much more … if I only had Fire Crackers!
Fire Crackers would introduce me to novel taste sensations. The crackers would give me new opportunities to socialize. Above all, they would make my world infinitely more exciting.
Please name me the Fire Cracker Girl and bring Fire Crackers into my humdrum life.
Very truly yours,
Alice from Dallas.
“That ought to do it!” she said, and slid the paper into an envelope. “I can hardly wait to hear back from the cracker people!”
In fact, many weeks passed with no word from the Patriotic Cracker Company. We went about our lives, which were not in fact so very humdrum—doing our homework, going to class, playing tennis, giving parties for friends, and working at odd jobs to make money.
We pretty much forgot about the Fire Crackers.
One afternoon, we heard a knock at the door of our apartment. Alice opened it to see a man wearing a red-and-white-striped coverall with the words “Patriotic Crackers” on the front pocket.
“Where do you want your crackers?” he asked.
“What crackers?” Alice wanted to know.
“Your lifetime supply of Fire Crackers, of course,” he said. “Aren’t you Alice from Dallas, the new Fire Cracker Girl? I’m the truck driver from the company that makes the crackers.”
“I guess I AM the new Fire Cracker Girl,” said Alice with what I can only describe as a gloating grin. “Please bring the crackers into the living room here.”
“I’m not sure they’ll all fit in,” said the truck driver, looking around nervously.
“Exactly how many crackers do you have with you?” I asked in alarm from inside the doorway.
“Quite a few,” announced the driver. “I’ve got a hundred cases with twelve boxes each in them. My truck’s full.”
He disappeared from the door and returned with a hand cart full of boxes. “These are the first eight cases.” Before we had finished unloading those cases into the living room, more cases had appeared.
“We’ll just have to spread them throughout the apartment,” mused Alice.
“NOT in the bathroom,” I cautioned. “It’s too small, and anyway the crackers might get soggy.”
So the crackers didn’t go into the bathroom. They did go into both of our bedrooms, into the living room, into the hallway, and into the kitchen. “They’re blocking the dishwasher,” noted Alice, “but we can always wash dishes by hand for a while.”
She thanked the truck driver and sat down to gaze in awe at the big boxes stacked all around the room. “Let’s try a cracker,” she suggested.
“I’m not really hungry right now,” I said. “You go right ahead, though.”
She opened the first case, and pulled out a red, white, and blue box. It held ten large, red-speckled crackers.
Alice from Dallas looked carefully at the first cracker and without further ado sank her teeth deep into its crunchy surface.
Suddenly, her eyes took on an eerie glow. Her face turned bright red. Smoke began spurting out of her ears. And she emitted an extended, high-pitched squeal that got louder and louder and louder and louder. It sounded something like this:
“Water!” she gasped. I ran into the kitchen to oblige. When I returned with a glass of water, Alice had finished eating her cracker and was lying on the floor exhausted. She gulped the liquid down quickly.
“That was totally AMAZING!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never tasted anything so spicy and exciting in my life. I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat more than one a day, though. I’m pretty tired.”
“Let me see,” I thought aloud. “Let’s say that the two of us can each eat one a day. That’s 365 crackers a year each, for a total of 730 crackers. You have 100 cases with 12 boxes in them, and each box holds 10 crackers. So we have 12,000 crackers. They should last—let me get out the calculator………. Good grief, Alice, we won’t see the dishwasher for another 14 years!”
“I told you we can wash dishes by hand, T.W.,” she insisted. “But I agree that this is not an ideal situation. Let me see what I can do.”
Alice was quiet for the rest of the day as she tried to come up with a plan for dealing with the Fire Cracker crisis. Eventually, I went to bed. From time to time during the night I woke up to hear the sound of typing.
In the morning, over a breakfast of Omelets à la Fire Cracker (scrambled eggs with cheese and crumbled crackers), Alice revealed her solution.
She had typed up press releases to all the newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in Knoxville. She had composed a chain letter for all our friends to pass on. The releases and letter invited as many people as possible to come to our backyard the following Saturday evening for something Alice was calling Fire Cracker Craziness.
Luckily, we had a HUGE yard—and it was filled to capacity Saturday at seven o’clock as people from all over East Tennessee gathered to see what would happen. Alice asked our fellow students to distribute Fire Crackers and cups of water throughout the crowd. She told them not to let anyone eat a cracker until she gave the signal.
Alice and I stood on the balcony of our apartment and faced the thousands of people waiting with crackers in hand. “Get ready for the most amazing experience of your life!” shouted Alice.
“On your marks,” she said, and everyone lifted up a Fire Cracker.
“Get set,” she laughed, and the crackers moved toward mouths.
“EAT YOUR FIRE CRACKERS!!!” yelled Alice.
For a moment, a hush fell over the crowd as we heard only the sound of all those teeth crunching into crackers. Suddenly in the twilight we saw plumes of smoke erupt from everyone’s ears. And then we heard the deafening cry of nearly 12,000 voices screeching:
Our friends videotaped the news reports of the event to watch later that night. The next day we learned that the smoke had been seen—and the shrieking had been heard—as far away as Asheville, North Carolina. But no one who wasn’t present in our yard that evening will ever appreciate the full thrill of Alice’s Fire Cracker Craziness. Just thinking about it now, years later, makes my heart race.
The next day as we cleaned up the yard I apologized to Alice. “You were right, and I was wrong,” I told her. “Crackers can indeed bring a sense of wonder and excitement to people’s existence.”
“True enough, T.W.,” said Alice from Dallas. “But you had a point, too. Next time we need crackers I think maybe I’ll just buy ordinary ones from the grocery store. There’s a limit to how much wonder and excitement a girl can stand.”