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Warning: Demolitionists At Work

By / April 19, 1989



DYNAMITE was my first love. My brother and I liked nothing better than getting out buckets on a warm Saturday afternoon, gathering ingredients from the kitchen cupboards and the backyard, and brewing up a batch of first-rate, high-caliber, gooey dynamite. Other kids could only dream of sending the garage skyward. We knew how to make the ``real thing.'' Mom had the best ingredient: fennelcayennegingerpaprikabi-carbonate. It's hard to pronounce, a bit touchy to handle, but it's awesome stuff; packs a wallop.

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Our backyard had mud next to the fence with just the right binding properties. There were plenty of spider eggs under the bulkhead door to the cellar; they're so important for the concussion. The dandelions, milkweed pods, and rotten apples are commonly available.

One such Saturday, while my brother was stirring the wet ingredients, I headed into the kitchen for the ``awesome stuff.'' I had climbed up onto the counter and was sounding out ``bicarbonate'' when Dad walked in.

``What are you doing on the counter?'' he asked.

``Derek and I are making dynamite,'' I said.

He knew better than to get in our way. But for some reason, he liked to watch. He followed me back outside, even helped carry a few of the motion-sensitive ingredients. I made him walk a few steps behind, just in case he wasn't being respectful of the bicarbonate. Dad had been into baseball in his day, kid stuff, never dynamite or even projectiles. We had to take care of him when he was on our turf. He was useful in his own way: He wouldn't let us play with matches, so we let him light the ``fuse.''

Back at the bucket, Derek had things pretty well under control. The ominous brew was shaping up into a deep brown broth of unheard of force. In went the fennelcayennegingerpaprikabi-carbonate.

``Eureka!'' We loved that word. All the cartoon characters used it. A glance confirmed what we both knew: It was time for the fuse, the light, a mad dash to safety, fingers in our ears ... kablooey.

I had the acorn detonators; this batch would take five to be safe. Derek inserted the dandelion fuse. We had just switched to them after years with braided grass which, we found, didn't give us long enough to reach cover.

Dad quibbled about our primary target because he didn't think Mr. Hankner would appreciate such a big ``hole'' blown in the side of his house, or a brown stain on his sidewalk. We contented ourselves with the family car. With the bucket safely in place behind the right rear wheel, Dad advanced toward the fuse with a book of matches. We were amazed at how casually he took the experiment. He lit the fuse - took his sweet time walking back!

``Dad, we love you. Get down!'' He was the bravest man we knew, but he didn't have to make the supreme sacrifice for us.

We never learned exactly why that stunning mixture didn't move our house downtown. By the next week we were out of the business. The sound barrier beckoned. We wanted to get in on the ground floor of supersonic transportation.

So it was with intense pleasure and interest that I intercepted my 5-year-old son, Spencer, the other day, rummaging in the kitchen for secret ingredients. He was evidently entering the family business.

I helped him write down the list of ingredients he required for his secret mixture: flour, cornmeal, sugar, cinnamon, salt. This seemed a little impotent, so I made a few suggestions based on my successes. ``Let's not forget pickle juice and pepperoncini juice,'' I reminded him.

He was thrilled to have the advice and quickly stirred in the juices as I poured them into his bucket. He knew just what he was doing, a real pro, the spittin' image of his old man's former self.

Then I remembered the final, crucial ingredient, the best present I could give to a son going into this line of work: Mongolian Fire Oil. I had come back from the supermarket with this slim bottle of destruction to use in the wok. But any former dynamiter can read between the lines and see the false pretense under which it has been imported. In went the fire oil.

He proceeded to show me a few tricks that Derek and I never dreamed of in the old days. Using plastic sandwich bags, Spencer packaged his concoction in individual-size ``servings'' and placed them in the freezer next to the ice cube trays. He was right - the only way to control such a ``lethal'' combination of ingredients.

I hope I do my father proud when Spencer asks me to light the fuse.

About the Artist Robert Hudson hit the California art scene in the 1960s, bringing with him a passion for industrial materials and odd junked metal. Hudson has a child's love for scavenging, and his welded-steel sculpture is often constructed from ordinary pipes and fixtures. The exploding colors are painted directly onto the metal.