My First Grilling Attempt – an Explosive Moment in History


A quick way to shave the legs

A quick way to shave the legs

Growing up on Prytania Avenue did a great job at educating me in the fine arts of making stink bombs (read me), but in the area of culinary skills not much time was spent training in the Alley with my cohorts there. That’s too bad as I might have avoided a scary, (and stupid), episode in the first summer of my marriage.

I married my high school sweetheart in the Fall of 1978 and the tender age of 20. Like most young couples, we moved into an apartment complex. I liked our first apartment. It had a pool, where the local cuties would often sunbathe, (in the words of Grumpy Old Men – “holy moly”), it was close to my workplace and best of all – it was located directly behind a Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurant.

Frisch’s was, (and still is), a great franchise division of the Big Boy chain, home of the original double decker hamburger sandwich. Big Boys are predominantly located in the states of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. I had the benefit of growing up with a Frisch’s in my hometown of Hamilton, Ohio. They have their own ‘special sauce’ which is a mild mayonnaise-based tartar sauce and is used on their double decker sandwich. It is one of those tastes that you just absolutely love if you grew up with it and probably ‘don’t get’ if you did not. I grew up with it – I love it. Frisch’s also has a secret weapon. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the waitress hits you with the dessert menu and there it is….tantalizing hot fudge cake!

When made correctly, the hot fudge cake is more addictive than nicotine, heroin and cocaine combined, (according to relevant government agency reporting). My addiction occurred in 1973 when I became first exposed to the hot fudge cake by one of my so-called “friends”. I lived a few miles away from Frisch’s and I grew up in a Brady Bunch family of 9 kids so needless to say we didn’t frequent too many restaurants. My friend Joe Copas first introduced me to my first hot fudge cake when I was in 9th grade. There were no warnings of its addictive tendencies, no signs anywhere – “WARNING, HOT FUDGE CAKES WILL CAUSE I.S.S. WHEN NOT CONSUMED ON A DAILY BASIS” (ISS = Intense Separation Syndrome).

Not even my so-called friend Joe warned me of the addictive properties. Two layers of a delicious chocolate cake, having a hint of devil’s food flavor, separated by a layer of vanilla ice cream. Covering everything was a mountain of royal hot fudge, poured all over the cake/ice cream combo and then topped off with one of those sweetened cherries you get from a jar. Every time we go back to Ohio to visit relatives, there has to be a hot fudge cake stop (speaking at least for those of us with the track marks on our bellies).

Many a time on a Friday or Saturday night my wife Kim and I would look at the clock and ask each other -so what time does Frisch’s close? Upon which, one of us, ok “I” would head out the door and walk to the order counter and drag home a couple of HFC’s. When we were young we could handle these extra thousands of calories.

We lived on the third floor in apartment #12. For those of you Google Earthing, it was 196 Westbrook Dr. in Hamilton, Ohio (fondly referred as Hamiltucky by the locals). The second and third floors had their own balcony. The balcony was large enough for perhaps 3 decent sized outdoor chairs, but for the most part all of us apartment dwellers had the same things on our balcony which was 2-3 bicycles and a small outdoor charcoal grill.

It looked just like this

It looked just like this

For those of you unfamiliar with a good old fashioned charcoal grill, it cooks just like a propane grill except you have to buy the charcoal briquets to burn in the grill. When the grill is cold the next day or two, you would then empty your ash into a brown grocery sack which would then be tossed into a waste receptacle. It was impossible to stay clean when executing this task, by the way.

Let me give you an important safety tip upfront just in case you’re headed out the door and getting ready to fire up our own charcoal grill. REMOVE THE COVER BEFORE LIGHTING! I had grilled out perhaps only a few times and, wanting to hone my skills, I was thinking (naturally) that it would be better to put the lid back onto the grill immediately after dousing the briquets with the lighter fluid. This would of course allow the liquid to remain with the charcoal and not evaporate into the atmosphere, right? Wrong – what it did was to allow a dangerous build up of combustible fumes. A fire needs 3 things; a source of energy to burn, oxygen and a spark. My grill already had two of those and was anxiously awaiting the spark.

My junior high school science training (read me) must not have been absorbed very well. I can only claim ignorance as the root cause for what was to happen next. I opened up the tiny little circular vent dial on the top of the grill so I could drop in the spark. My first match did not light, but the second one lit right up. I dropped it in through the vent expecting a decent little fire to begin. There was no fire, instead the lid popped straight up about 4 inches with a loud KAPOP and a quick flame burst which shot out perhaps only a few inches.

I stood there feeling a little dumbfounded. The next thing I knew, the smell of burning hair was wafting lightly through the air and into my nostrils. I looked down to see a nice straight little line of arm hairs on my left arm burned away. On both of my upper thighs there were very mild burn marks. Luckily the balcony railing was one which came up above the waist. I’m certain this kept me from falling over backwards from the third floor.

As I log these many memories, I am more and more amazed that I am here among the living and the mobile. Whenever I’m fortunate enough to have a jar of Frisch’s Tartar Sauce, this memory is brought back to me…..sans smell of burning arm hair.

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