Testors and Testes. To this day, those words are interchangeably woven in my mind, and so, I was ill prepared for the terror they would again conjure when my son, who just turned eight years old, asked the inevitable question, “Dad, where do model airplanes come from?”
It’s the question I’ve been dreading since little Harry, Jr. was old enough to realize that other kids had toys that you couldn’t just go to a toy store and buy, but came from a magical place and were proudly displayed on his friends’ toy shelves. Thinking back to my own childhood gave me the shivers as I recalled one of the most horrific father/son projects of my adolescence.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a decent childhood with one glaring exception. My dad was the klutziest man alive, bar none. Whenever he called us kids to come help him “fix” something, or “hold” a tool for him, or offered to help us with our latest science project, we begged our mom stay in the room with us so that we’d have a witness when our friends told us no way our dad wasn’t intentionally beating the living crap out of us on a regular basis.
It was so bad that my mom had a weekly grocery list she kept on the refrigerator door, and I can’t remember a time when band-aids wasn’t on that list. Band-aids and mercurochrome, we went through the stuff faster than corn puffs.
There’s one incident in particular though that I can honestly say scarred me for life and is the reason my son will never get the opportunity to bond with his dad over the building of a model airplane. It started innocently enough with a trip to the hobby store where I picked out a P-51 Mustang with really cool shark’s teeth decals. We also bought a couple of bottles of Testors paint and a tube of what should have been labeled “lethal weapon to bring every dad to his knees,” but instead just read “quick-drying model cement glue”.
At any rate, I knew this was gonna be the best model airplane ever built and couldn’t wait to get home to start building it with my dad. Little did I know that the “bonding” we’d be doing would take on a much more sinister meaning than either of us would have imagined. Not only that, but the “cuss jar” was about to be filled to the brim in less time than it took to say, well, cuss words.
All projects were done on the workbench in the basement and, back in those days, most basements were poorly ventilated. Ours was no exception, but building a model plane on the kitchen table was just out of the question. So, down in the basement we went. As I was taking all the parts out of the box, my dad was ready to puncture the tube of glue to ready it for assembling the airplane.
Normally, all one had to do is unscrew the lid to the glue, turn it upside down and insert the pointy end into the glue tip and voila, glue. But remember, my dad wasn’t normal, he was cursed. Even though he should have anticipated a flaw, he was just so darned happy to have gotten the lid off without incident, that he was unaware of the tiny little tear in the side seam of the tube. As he gripped the tube with one hand and tried to push down on the tip with the pointy cap, the entire tube of glue exploded in his hand. “Damn it, damn it, damn, damn, damn,” he yelled. I quickly calculated—“you cussed 5 times, $1.25 in the cuss jar,” I immediately shouted, not realizing this was not the time to show off my mathematical skills. “Not now, dammit,” my father yelled. I silently calculated $1.50.
“Grab me that towel over there, quick,” my dad yelled. I ran for the towel and without thinking, I threw it at him and yelled “catch.” Without thinking himself, he grabbed for the towel with both hands and missed, causing him to slam the gluey hand into the other, permanently bonding his two hands together. “Holy sh*t, what the hell?” screamed dad as he tried furiously to get his hands unclenched. “$2 in the cuss jar,” I muttered under my breath. “What?” he yelled, “Look just pick up the damn towel ($2.25) and bring it the hell over here ($2.50), and help me get this sh*t ($2.75) off my goddam hands. ($3.00) “Kaching!” I thought as I grabbed the towel to do my father’s bidding.
As I tried to wipe the glue from my father’s hands, I had another unthinking moment and used my other hand to try and wrest the tube of glue from his partially clenched fist, and in doing so, my little fingers instantly stuck to the bottom of his palm. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” he cried (while I silently pondered whether this was just one cuss word or three or if it was not really a cuss word at all…oh well, I decided, I’d add another $.75 to the calculations and could always subtract it back out in case I was wrong, $3.75). “Harry, for Chrissakes, Harry, get with the program,” screamed dad as he was edging me toward the shelf that held the turpentine. “Reach up there and grab that can of turpentine,” he cried. I did his bidding but not before I added that last Chrissakes to the pot…$4.00.
Just barely able to reach the turpentine, I got it down from the shelf, and dad and I shuffled back to the work bench to try and help each other get the cap off the turpentine. Once off, dad asked me to carefully pour a little bit of turpentine on our hands with my one free hand. I did as he said, but just as the turpentine was about to hit our hands, I felt the slip and right then, my already loose pants began to slide halfway down my butt and were now poised to take the final plunge to the floor. The only free hand I had was taking matters into its own hands and was now pouring turpentine down the front of my skivvies. I was now the one screaming the obscenities, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” I yelled, silently thinking that was the safest one because I still wasn’t sure if it was a curse word and on the chance that it wasn’t a curse word, I’d break even.
Dad was screaming, “Helen, Helen get down here fast, Harry’s pouring turpentine down the front of himself!” My father’s yelling snapped me back into the present and I yelled,“Bring the cuss jar with you!” In the meantime, my dad had gotten his hands free in time to start pulling my skivvies off my body, but in doing so, squeezed the last of the glue from the tube right onto my privates. “Dammit, damn, damn, dammit,” he screamed. “Helen, hurry, the damn kid’s got glue all over his fu*kin’ privates and everything is getting glued together!” Did I hear him right? Did he say the “F” word? That was an automatic bonus of $1. I couldn’t count fast enough. I decided to keep my Jesus, Mary and Joseph in and just let dad pay for it later. After all, he’s the one who was squeezing glue all over my privates, potentially scarring me for life.
And about that time, the fumes hit. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this before, but when turpentine and model airplane glue are mixed in just the right amount in just the right circumstances, i.e. at close range with little to no ventilation in the room, well, funny things start to happen. All of a sudden my father’s words started to slur and he was yelling Sheeshush Crisht, Helen, get thuell down her fasht, I think I’m gonna fuggin’ pash out, which to me is still cussing even though it isn’t crystal clear, so I went ahead and added another $400 to the cuss jar total because at that point, I wasn’t thinking too straight myself. By the time my mom got to us, she found my dad passed out next to me with, I swear to Lord God Almighty, ($.25) his hand glued to my testicles.
Meanwhile, a crowd had formed outside the one small window in our basement and I could see out of the corner of my eye, several neighbors trying to clean a spot on the glass to see what all the yelling was about. The ambulance came, and getting us both onto that gurney was pretty tricky. We also found out just how sick and twisted our neighbors’ imaginations are. All in all, it took doctors and nurses a full two hours to apply anti-adhesives to my privates and eventually pry my dad’s hand off them. At some point, I, too, passed out from the fumes and was told that when I came to, was yelling for my mom to go and get the fu*king cuss jar.
And to this day, you honestly cannot say the word Testors without literally bringing me to tears.