Monday, November 16, 2020

Ho Ho He Ha Ha Shake

   A favorite treat of children of the 1950s and ’60s that today’s kids will never get to enjoy is the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake. With a colorful clown face on the special wax-coated paper cups in which it was served, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was sold at the concession stands at fairs, carnivals and amusement parks. A little more expensive than a regular soft drink, the shakes sold for 25 cents for a regular size cup, 35 cents for a large. 

   The Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was not a milk shake. It was a whipped non-dairy treat made from pork lard mixed with water to make it more fluid, sugar and sodium cyclamate to make it super-duper sweet, dashes of vanilla and nutmeg for flavoring, unpronounceable chemicals for preservative and more flavoring, and yellowish food coloring so it wouldn’t look so disgusting. 

   Advertising placards featured the silly-looking clown, and claimed, “It’s so rich, so thick, so dog-gone dee-licious, it will make you say Ho Ho He Ha Ha!” A large plastic clown head, lighted from the inside, revolved around and around on top of the mixing and dispensing machine from behind the counter at the stands where it was sold. 

   When you got one of these things, you could feel the heaviness, like getting a cup of wet cement or something. And it felt like cement when it hit your gut as well. The pork lard would coat your entire mouth and throat and if you tried to wash it down with a cold drink, it would just harden the greasy residue. Hot water was more effective but on a summer day at the fair, who’d want to drink that? I also heard that the mixing and dispensing machines were a real bitch to clean out.

   Many kids learned the hard way going on a ride after consuming a Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake wasn’t such a good idea. My cousin Cindy, at about eight years old, ended up puking one up after riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at the amusement park.

   The Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was created in 1953 by Frank Bollock, manager of a hog slaughterhouse, who was trying to find new ways to market the surplus lard on hand. After trying a few different experiments with the animal fat, he put some in the new electric blender he had just purchased for his wife, added a cup of water, a cup of sugar, dashes of vanilla and nutmeg and blended it into a nice, creamy drink which he served to his children for desert.  

   He brought his concoction to an associate at Consolidated Confections Company, which immediately looked at ways to market the stuff. Here the recipe was changed a bit, with chemicals added for preservative, flavor and color, and to mask an unpleasant smell, and the fairly new synthetic sweetener sodium cyclamate was blended along with the sugar to make it even more sweet and tasty, without adding extra calories. 

   As for the packaging and marketing, it was decided that a clown would be a more appropriate mascot than say, a pig. While they wouldn’t go out of their way to make it a secret that the shakes were made from pork lard, they didn’t really want to draw attention to it either. A clown, on the other hand would be a colorful, fun attention-getting device, and in those days anyway, clowns were among the favorite characters of children.

   Silly laughter is associated with silly clowns and so the name Ho Ho He Ha Ha was decided on for this highly sweetened non-dairy shake. Initially the marketers at Consolidated Confections considered calling it the Har Dee Har Har shake, but they feared a potential lawsuit from Jackie Gleason.

   By the mid to late 1950s, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was being sold as a cold treat at carnivals, fairs, amusement parks and summertime events all over the country. It was a natural for circuses, with the clown theme. By the early 1960s, several new discount department stores began selling Ho Ho He Ha Ha shakes at their in-store snack bars, making it the exclusive retail store outlet for the treats. 

  The shakes were anything but healthy, they were junk food in the highest degree. But in those days, Americans as a whole weren’t nearly as health-conscious, and not nearly as anal about protecting their children from every little risk. It was a special treat you bought for your kid at fun events, and if your kid got sick, well that’s childhood. 

   The first major blow to the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake came in 1969 when the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of cyclamate due to an alleged, though not proven cancer-causing risk. The shakes didn’t quite taste the same with just sugar, nor did they when saccharin, then not yet federally regulated, was blended in.

    Meanwhile, consumer advocates began targeting the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake as being especially unhealthy for children with all the fat, cholesterol, sugar, artificial sweeteners and chemicals. Articles condemning the shakes appeared in medical journals and in women’s magazines, and a campaign was underway to ban them.

   Bowing to the public pressure, Consolidated Confections Company announced in 1973 that they would withdraw and discontinue the sale and marketing of the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake by 1975. The mixing and dispensing machines with the lighted revolving clown head quickly disappeared from concession stands, as did the clown-face paper cups, virtually unchanged in design since the 1950s.

   Pork lard shakes are no longer available anywhere and there is little public demand for them. However, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha clown still brings tinges of nostalgia to many baby boomers, and occasionally the old paper cups turn up on eBay, usually drawing in several bids, as well as the advertising placards. Much more rare are the plastic clown heads, as most of them were destroyed by the company when the machines were withdrawn, but a few have turned up, often going for well over a thousand dollars. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Kathy and the Kid


Audio book version can be found here

  It was March 1986. Kathy Johnson had just moved in to a small but comfortable unit in the Manor Royale apartment complex. At age 22, her marriage to "Mister Wonderful" had fallen apart. When she couldn't take the drinking, verbal abuse, controlling and running around by her husband anymore, she packed as much as she could into her small car and left, getting away as far as she could. They had no children, so it was easy enough to break away.

     As she slowly got settled in, she had lots of mixed emotions. She was now completely alone. She didn't miss her estranged husband too much, and she liked being able to finally do things for herself and make her own decisions, but she was also lonely. She didn't really know anybody in the city she moved to, and she wasn't ready to start dating again. She landed a second shift job at a factory doing light assembly and packing boxes, which kept the bills paid, but it was a rather dark, depressing, restrictive work environment where the people weren't particularly friendly. She wasn't Kathy, she was Employee #2281.

     She would get home at around 11:30 at night, watch some late night TV for a few hours, go to bed, get up again the next day and if she didn't have to go grocery shopping or run some other errand, she'd sit in her apartment, watch TV, sip black coffee, eat, and smoke cigarettes. Lots of them. Then, later in the day, go back to work at her less than thrilling job.

     There were a lot of kids at the Manor Royale apartments where she lived. Some were from in-tact families but a lot of them were from divorced or otherwise single parent households. Like 12-year-old Jacob Petersen, who lived with his mother a couple floors down.

     Technically he was living with his mother but in the grand scheme of things he was fending for himself because she wasn't home very often. She got up early for work and came home late, and she had a social life too. But Jacob was rather mature and responsible for his age, and could get up, get dressed and get to school on time, and then come home and heat up his own frozen dinners in the oven. He had a few friends that he sometimes hung out with after school, and for the most part they stayed out of trouble. A big motivation for Jacob to stay out of trouble was to prove to his mother he didn't need a stinkin' babysitter at age 12.

     Kathy started to notice Jacob a lot when summer came, and school was out. Sometimes he and his friends were coming and going in and out of each other's apartments or roaming up and down the halls or doing something outside, but a lot of times Jacob was by himself, especially during the day on weekdays, because his friends had other activities going on.

     Kathy knew nothing about the kid, but she wondered about him. She sensed he was neglected and maybe as lonely as she was. Seeing him around stirred some maternal feelings in her, thinking about how nice it would be to have a son or daughter and how she would be a much more loving, nurturing parent to this kid than his own mother apparently was. She found herself thinking about him while engaged in her tedious, redundant tasks at work.

     Finally, when she saw him late one morning hitch-hiking on Highway 612 about a half-mile from the apartments, she hit her breaks.

     "Get in here! Now!" she ordered.

     "Okay," the kid said with a relieved smile as he opened the door and went into the front passenger seat. But Kathy only pulled up a little further to the side of the road while traffic zoomed by.

     "Just what do you think you're doing," she demanded.

     "I'm just trying to get home,” Jacob said. “I live at the Manor Royale apartments. They're just over…"

     "I know where you live,” Kathy interrupted. “I see you around there all the time. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to hitch-hike? Any idea?! You could be hit by a car, or, you don't know who's going to pick you up, or where they're going to take you or what they might do to you. You could be kidnapped, you could be slaughtered or who knows what could happen to you!" She pulled a Benson & Hedges cigarette from her purse and lit up.

     "Sorry!" the kid said.

     Kathy took the cigarette from her mouth and exhaled. "Oh, you're sorry. Is that all you have to say? If you were my kid you'd be getting a spanking from me and I don't care how old you are!"

     She shifted the car into drive and got back on the highway. "So, is your mom home right now? Or do you even have a mom?" Kathy's voice dripped with sarcasm as she asked this.

     "My mom is working. She won't be home 'til at least six."

     "Oh, of course. Why am I not surprised?"

     After about a minute, Kathy finally started to calm down. "I'm Kathy, by the way. What is your name?"


     "Have you had lunch yet, Jacob?"

     "Not really…"

     "I'll tell you what. I'll make you lunch. Do you like grilled cheese?"


     "Good. So do I."

     It was coming up on noon when Kathy brought Jacob up to her apartment. She fixed him and herself a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk, and while he wasn't real talkative, she got him to open up a little.

     "So are your parents divorced?" she asked him.

     "Yeah, for about three years. I was nine, I guess. I don't see my dad much at all anymore, and my mom works and goes out a lot and stuff. But I can take care of myself," he told her.

     "Well, I'm sure divorce can be pretty hard on a kid,” she replied. My parents are still together but I'm in the process of getting a divorce. I'm glad I don't have kids because of the circumstances, but I also wish I had kids, if that makes any sense?"

     "So why are you getting divorced?"

      "My husband is such a turd," she laughed. "He would tell me he loves me so much, then he would come home drunk and start screaming at me about what a stupid bitch I am, how I don't satisfy his desires as much as I should and I'm just so lucky he married me. Then he'd go sleep with some co-worker or pick up some chicky-babe in a bar. He could be mean, he could be sarcastic, but he could also be charming, and I fell for it. Well I hope he's happy now!"

     She finished her glass of milk and lit a cigarette. "He also got me smoking. I never smoked until after I started dating him when I was 19. I was always one of the good girls in high school who didn’t smoke."

     All Jacob could say was "Wow." She had gone from talking to him like a child when she picked him up, to talking to him as if he were another adult. But she was desperate for someone to talk to and confide in, and Jacob was pretty mature for his age.

     Jacob in turn told her about his life, his friends, and his mother who wasn't around all that much, either working or going out and sometimes coming home drunk. He then said facetiously, "I wonder if my mom has met your husband."

     Kathy laughed. "Well she can have him! I would gladly trade him for you. If you were my kid, I would put you first in my life, and love you, and take care of you and be there for you."

     They continued to talk until Kathy glanced at the clock on the wall. "Oh my God! I'm going to have to get ready for work right now or I'm going to be late. Thank you so much for talking to me, Jacob. I've really enjoyed this."

     She walked him to the door. "I work evenings but I'm usually home during the day. So if you want somebody to talk to, I'm here for you." She hugged him, and then looked him in the eye. "And don't you dare ever hitch-hike again!"

     It would be another week before Jacob took Kathy up in her offer to visit her, but they did say hi to each other when they saw each other in and around the apartment complex. On one occasion, she greeted Jacob while he was hanging with a couple of his friends.

     "Stop by and see me some time," Kathy said as she walked off.

     "Who was that?" his stunned friend Joel asked. "She's nice!"

     "Oh, just the lady in 308," Jacob replied.

     The next day, a little after 10:30 in the morning, Jacob came up to 308. Kathy invited him in and gave him a hug, and a kiss on the forehead. They sat in the living room and talked, and then Jacob asked with some trepidation, "Can I sit with you, Kathy?"

     Kathy's eyes widened. "Well of course." She patted the spot next to her on the couch. "Come over here."

     Jacob found that Kathy was willing to give him something he was lacking in his life and didn't realize he craved, and that was physical affection. His mother was not a particularly affectionate person and tended to push him away when he was younger and tried to get close to her. Kathy was very touchy-feely and was craving it herself.

     As summer rolled on, Kathy and Jacob were spending more time together. She would make him lunch, or at least a snack, and they would spend a few hours together in the air-conditioned comfort of her apartment unit during the hot, humid summer. They cuddled together on the couch, sometimes rocking back and forth like a mother and baby, or he would lay his head in her lap while she read a paperback or watched TV or talked on the phone, with her free hand stroking his chest. Sometimes she’d lean over and give him a kiss.

     When she would talk on the phone to her mother or friends from the old neighborhood while Jacob was with her, they commented that she sounded more relaxed and contented than she had been for a long time. She would just say that things were getting better and she was meeting new friends, without elaborating.

     Then around late August, Kathy casually mentioned to Jacob that her soon-to-be-ex husband got her number and was starting to call her. "He wants to have dinner with me," she said. "I'm not really crazy about it. But I don't know. Maybe I should just meet up with him once to hash things out as the divorce becomes final."

     Jacob thought that sounded a little fishy, but as negative as she was about her husband, he assumed that would indeed be the extent of it.

     Then, after a while, Kathy didn't seem to be at home as much. Jacob would knock on her door or call her only to get no answer, or if she did answer, she never had much time.

     Finally one day, she invited him over. He came to her apartment to find much of her belongings boxed up. It was obvious she was getting ready to move.

     "I'm getting back together with my husband," she said enthusiastically. "Isn't that great?"

     Jacob was stunned. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Why? I thought you said your husband was a big turd. That he was mean to you and liked to get drunk…"

     "He promised he would change for me because he really does love me, and that's all that matters. I have to change for him too, that's the deal, but he said he loves me!"

     "Well…" Jacob said, and then paused to collect his thoughts. "Can I have your new number so we can still talk? Or your address so we can write to each other. I love to write letters…"

     "No, I don't think that's going to work out," she told him. "I mentioned you to him, and he wasn't too happy about you coming over, even if you are only 12. He says it's another one of my dumb ideas that I need to stop, and I guess he's sort of right."

     Jacob felt like he had just been punched in the gut. "I'm a dumb idea?!"

     "I didn't say that, Jacob."

     "Going back to your husband is a dumb idea, Kathy. A stupid idea! Why are you doing this?"

     "Well I'm sorry you feel that way," Kathy responded. She lit a cigarette as she tried to mask her own feelings. "Anyway, I'm going to have to let you go now. I need to finish packing," she said.

     She walked him to the door and gave him a brisk hug. "Bye, Jacob. It's been fun." She pushed him out the door and locked it behind him.

     A few days later, the unit where Kathy dwelled for six months became available for rent again, even though she had to pay a rather high fee for breaking her lease. Her renewed relationship with her husband only lasted a few months until she moved out again, and moved in with a new boyfriend. A few years later, with a different boyfriend, she became pregnant and nine months later gave birth to a son. She named him Jacob.