Worth The Squeeze


If you ask Denis Armstrong, he’ll tell you it was never about injecting a little flavor into the neighborhood’s romantic life. “It was about lemonade.”

It was the longest and hottest streak the city of Fontana, CA had seen in 75 years. The normally cordial town was at it’s wits end. Public complaints, traffic tickets, and even disorderly conduct was on the rise. The heat has a way of changing people, bringing out the worst in them, testing their patience, and in one case inspiring them.

Leslie Armstrong, 8, couldn’t take the shouting any more. Her neighborhood had always been a safe haven from the torments of public school. But since the heatwave, Leslie began to watch her perfect cul de sac crack. She watched old man Bennett kick the tire of his truck, curse it, and throw a bag of garbage into the street. Shortly after that, she heard the Gundersons arguing about lowered expectations. And finally, she watched Mrs. Tiffany Tuft run a stop sign and murder the neighborhood cat. It was too much. So with permission from her parents, she purchased a glass pitcher, a card table, and 40 tumblers from Crate and Barrel. When they arrived, she did an internet search for delicious lemonade, and came across three recipes. Knowing now was not the time to take chances, she combined them all. The result was a thickly sour punch, best devoured with a fork.

“This would not do. Not do at all. I wanted to support my daughter. When you’re able to have kids, you hope they’ll grow up to be the kind of individual who wants to change the world.” That’s Denis Armstrong, Leslie’s father, chemical engineer. “And you’re not changing the world with a thick lemonade.”

Denis Armstrong had been a chemical engineer for twenty years. He had concocted a formula for cleaner burning lawnmower fuel, a new car scent with ten times the potency in one-tenth the concentration, and a gas that would make enemy troops engage in feverish mutual masturbation so that they could be easily overtaken. He hadn’t ever considered a formula for delicious lemonade, but figured it to be easier than shaming an entire platoon with video of them chugging on each other like fiends.

His first batch was thinner and sweeter than his daughter’s. They sold out in 45 minutes, so Denis, the loving father that he is, made fifty more gallons. That would last Leslie through the summer, and he and her could both take comfort in knowing they made their neighborhood and the world just a little better — residents routinely cited the lemonade stand as a heat-beating for the community to come together and amicably resolve their differences. That probably would have been that end of it, were it not for retired vice cop Duke Nottz.

Duke moved in across the street from the Armstrongs and generally kept to himself. He spent 17 years in and out of undercover, running with and busting some of the biggest drug rings in the Inland Empire. He was proud of his work, and he was ready to retire, but some habits just don’t quit.

It was probably a week into the Armstrong’s new product that Duke started to take notice. People were forming lines a city block long, anxious (but polite) while waiting for their next fix of lemonade. Duke knew that dead-eyed intensity well; he’d seen it in plenty of junkies while on the force.

“I had to do something. I’d seen enough addicts to know that if you want to clean up the streets, you go to the source—the pushers. You bust em, you impound their property, and sometimes, sometimes you bury a .38 slug in the back of their head.”

“The Armstrong’s weren’t pushers though. They were a family selling lemonade. They can’t be arrested.” That’s what the cops said when Duke reported their activity. So Duke took things into his own hands.

“I’d read a book once on Coke and Pepsi, and I remember it saying something about Pepsi winning the blind taste test because it was sweeter, but no one ever finished a Pepsi. So I thought, I’ll make a sweeter lemonade that will steal the customers away from the Armstrongs, but after more than a taste, these sad sacks will quit the stuff all together. I was basically cooking them up a hot dose; a hot cool sweet dose of lemonade that’d fry their tastebuds until they realized what they were doing to themselves.”

That’s exactly what Duke did. He wasn’t a chemical engineer, but he knew how to crush a lemon and add sugar and high fructose corn syrup. He also baked up some hot butter cake, because he’s taken up baking since he retired (unrelated).

The lemonade and hot cakes sold like hot cakes and lemonade. It appeared as if Duke had put the Armstrong’s out of business. That was until Denis got wind of the competition.

“What kind of father would I be if I let my little girl get her business crushed by some over-the-hill cop?” said Denis. That’s the reason he started tweaking the chemical compound using a basic gene splicer and an electromagnetic microscope.

“People don’t realize you can basically alter the genetic make-up of anything with little more than a light reflector and a microwave,” remarks Denis. What Denis effectively did was amplify the tartness of the lemonade and counter it with a hybrid pineapple extract, essentially making a drink so tart, the only thing that could quench it, was itself. It was the fruit juice equivalent of a heroine-methadone cocktail with two noticeable side-effects: it made your urine purple, and it made a man’s seminal fluid taste like pineapple upside-down cake (VERY related).

In a fit of competition Duke, sure he would get the best of the pair, began actually putting a black market anti-psychotic named Centurion inside his lemonade. Within a week, he’d effectively cornered the market, though the early onset of fall and the return of the school year for Leslie meant a dip in sales overall. Soon enough, Denis and Leslie were gone altogether, and that was left was Duke, pumping his highly addictive lemonade to the dead-eyed yet satiated junkie townspeople.

When word of the product’s potency made it’s way to Pfizer, the FDA investigated and banned all sale of lemonade in Fontana, and then the IRS came after Duke for the unpaid taxes. Duke, the only manufacturer left, kicked into his undercover mode and split in the middle of the night. Some say they’ve seen him at an Orange Julius  (unrelated) in Betteravia, but the truth is no one knows.

As for Fontana’s townspeople, they’re left wandering the suburban streets as dead-eyed lemonade-fiends, looking for their next fix that won’t come. The methadone clinics cannot be built fast enough, and the fabric of this community is coming loose once more. ✦