Seventy-two popsicles are currently melting as a result of my dying freezer. Having that many on hand is ridiculous, I know. I blame my wife. She does the shopping. Admittedly, I do the eating, but still, even for an avid enthusiast such as myself, seventy-two is a bit obsessive.
My love of the cold combination of sugar and water began when I started to grow a beer-gut. Oddly enough, I don’t drink beer, and yet, there it was. My bulging belly, distorting my perfect waistline, announced to the world my new-found freedom in retirement. Freedom apparently to eat. Sure, I worked forty years to earn the luxury of structuring my own time, but, now, that luxury was mocking me in the form of fat. Something had to be done, so I traded my nightly bowl of ice cream and bag of Cheetos for a low-calorie flavored stick of sugar-water.
Each evening, after the lawn is mowed, the boat covered for the day, and the trash taken out, my evening ritual begins. I can hear the whispers from the rear of the garage, calling me to make my nightly visit to the freezer. I pull the handle of the top door, and I hear the delightful squelch of the seal releasing, followed by a quiet hiss. A chilling rush of cold, stale air hits my skin. After a warm day, I linger in the breeze, feeling the cool crystals melting and tingling on my nose and neck.
Reaching into the depths of the freezer, I grab hold of the damp cardboard box. It collapses slightly as I pull it out, and the contents shift around. I’ve already ripped off the top flap to make access easier, so I look down into the box to see all the bright, white wrappers looking expectantly back at me, hoping to be the chosen candidate. I’m not usually picky, so I grab whichever wrapper my fingers touch first, and as I slide it free of its neighbors, I hear the tantalizing crunch of the cold plastic wrapper gripped between my fingers. After returning the box to its designated spot, I close the door and head for my rocker on the back patio. As I walk, I remove the wrapping and discover my prize.
In the beginning, orange, grape and cherry were sufficient. I asked my wife to purchase the standard box to see if the change would take. To my delight, I discovered that popsicles are more complex than their two-ingredient list implies. Their fruity flavor awakens the taste buds, and their cool, smooth surface quenches the thirst while bringing my core temperature to a happier level. As an added bonus, correctly eating a popsicle takes time and patience, something I am flush with now. It is an activity that cannot be rushed.
Oh, sure, I could crunch my way through in just a few bites, but my sensitive teeth would never endure the torture and the brain freeze would quickly end the habit. Instead, I have perfected the art of the slow enjoyment; a calm contemplation, where no drips hit the deck and summon the ravenous ants from the garden. A few licks from the top, then a few maintenance licks from the bottom. No sticky fingers, no mess. Plenty of time to solve the riddle or joke on the stick before I reveal the answer hidden beneath the layers of ice.
Each night, after tossing the wrapper in a trash can stationed next to the back door for only this purpose, I ease slowly into my favorite rocking chair while taking the first lick. The chair was a gift from my daughters many Father’s Days ago. It is a wooden frame, with a green canvas swing. As I sit, it envelops my body similar to a hammock, but the armrests make extrication a smoother, more graceful process. The canvas creaks as I settle in, the fabric stretching tight across the wood, and I smile every time I hear the sound.
Surprisingly, I found contentment in popsicles quickly overcame my previous attachments, but after about the fiftieth stick, something more than the standard triad of orange, grape and cherry was needed. Making my own way into the freezer section this time, I rediscovered an old friend: the tri-colored bomb pop. Nothing beat the joy of working through the cherry to lime and finally blue raspberry. Even better was the way it turned my lips from red to purple. Yes, purple. The cherry red mixed with the blue raspberry made a delicious purple. If you can’t picture it, you need a trip to your nearest ballpark or grocery store stat.
For another fifty sticks, I was engrossed in memories of my childhood. The jingle of the ice cream truck bell. The call of the umpire. The sizzle of a sparkler in my hand. Yet, as before, after a while, the purple lost its luster, looking more like a sickly gray, and it was time to move on. I needed something new, exciting. Adventurous.
My wife, who loves to shop, took up the challenge, and returned with the most disgusting, saccharine box of sour, candy-flavored sticks that I have ever tasted in my life. The flavors were a muddle, and even the colors were wrong. Ironically, the gray of my bomb pop lips was now immortalized in the stick itself and titled Grapetastic Twist. I took one lick and pursed my lips. It was too revolting to finish.
I sat in my rocker debating what to do, when two ducks waddled into my yard. They came ashore to eat the birdseed under my wife’s feeder. She encourages them, against my wishes, by sprinkling the seed on the ground just for them. Little poop machines, if you ask me. She doesn’t. Don’t feed the visitors, I say, or they’ll never go away. She feeds them anyway.
I looked down at my neon vomit stick and smiled a wicked smile. Maybe they’d like a popsicle.
Instead, they took a dump right in front of me. Thwarted, I turned to the lake and chucked the offending sweet into the air. I turned away so quickly that I didn’t see a new visitor snatch the popsicle out of the air.
A few nights later when I tried the next choice option, which was a color so neon green it looked like the slime from Ghostbusters, the flavor was a tango of lime and something unidentifiable. Again, I could not stomach the sour treat and offered the mutant popsicle to the web-footed munchers. It was rebuffed, so I chucked it at the lake. This time our new visitor was lying in wait. Behind my back, it greedily consumed the, to him, tasty treat. We now had another muncher patrolling our home for a handout.
However, I was not stupid enough to attempt another sour stick, so ninety percent of that box is currently melting into a puddle. I attempted to throw them out, but my wife told me to save them for the grandkids. Why would I do that? I like my grandkids. She persisted, and I reluctantly shoved them as far back in the freezer as possible.
After the novelty disaster, I briefly returned to the trinity of orange, red and purple, but it wasn’t long before the news proclaimed high-fructose corn syrup a gateway to diabetes. Sadly, the legendary trinity obtained its sweetness from the unholy, high-octane, interloper for sugar, so I had to move on to natural ingredients. I resisted at first, insisting I was now too old to learn new tricks, but unless I wanted to do the shopping or eat the revolting sour sticks in the back of the freezer, I had no choice but to eat what my wife bought.
All-natural arrived, and this old dog begrudgingly admitted that he liked new tricks. The flavors were still fruity in origin, and although my old standby grape was still in attendance, he brought a few new friends: raspberry and strawberry. The only difference was that now there were little tiny seeds of texture to convince you of their organic authenticity. The novelty was nice, but eventually those tiny seeds were making my mouth feel odd, as if, my tongue was getting a deep cleaning and was rubbed a bit raw.
At some point my wife got creative again, and a box with coconut, pineapple and mango appeared. The pineapple and mango were good, especially if consumed back-to-back, which led to double fisted consumption. If I closed my eyes, I could pretend I was on a tropical beach with the salt spray in my face and a steel drum reverberating in the background. I expected the coconut to have the same affect. No such luck. Coconut sounds good in theory, but somehow comes out wrong. I quickly sent my sampling out into the lake and our visitor’s waiting stomach before shoving the rest into the box of offensive rejects. They are also now melting into clear puddles due to the broken freezer.
Did you catch that? Clear puddles. That was another major fault of coconut. It was clear. I might as well eat frozen water without the sugar. Come to think of it, was the coconut sugar free? It might have been. Three strikes and you are out. Sugar-free popsicles are the worst. I mean seriously, without the sugar you now have water and chemicals. Who wants to eat that?!
After the coconut disappointment, I actually tried another sour stick from the depths of the freezer on the off chance they were not as bad as I remembered. Strawtastic Watermelon in neon pink. Yep, still nauseating. By that time, my bad habit of chucking rejected offerings in the lake was cemented. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had noticed the popsicle catcher and named him Charlie.
Although my popsicle routine is usually the quietest part of my day, tonight, I am eating my nightly treat with a new urgency. Upon opening the freezer, I was not delighted with a cool, kiss of air. Instead, I received the stink of warming meat. Realizing the death of our freezer, I got my priorities in line and frantically grabbed every box of popsicles and headed for my chair.
My wife finds me surrounded by wrappers and sticks, with my lips a dark shade of red.
“What are you doing?” she cries.
“The freezer’s broken,” I mumble.
“How many have you eaten?” she asks, mortified. “You know, you could have just thrown them away.”
I scowl at her logic and take another lick.
“What can I say,” I reply. “I’m from the clean-plate generation. We can’t let them go to waste.”
“Ok,” she replies slowly. “But what are you going to do with those?” She points down at the only remaining box, filled with sour and coconut treats.
I look at the box and then at the lake with a shrug.
“Don’t do it,” my wife tells me. “It isn’t a good idea.”
I shrug again. “I’ve never found any floating sticks, so something must like them.”
Striding over to the lake, box in hand, I begin unwrapping the treats. Before I can launch the first one, the water begins to bubble and churn. I watch in awe as several long, octopus-looking arms emerge and grab the shoreline. Then the biggest mouth I have ever seen appears, gaping expectantly in wait for my offering. Frozen still, I stare at the mouth.
“Honey,” I finally yell.
“Don’t feed the visitor dear, or it will never go away,” she shouts back.
I gulp and lower my arm. Maybe from now on I’ll give popcorn a try.