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Food11.14

Worth The Squeeze

by

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. ✦