As 2012 comes to a close, Todd feels the magic of the season in an episode of forgiveness and redemption.
Sometimes you know you're doomed to failure before you start.
Remember the school science fair? Only the valedictorian spent more than one frantic night throwing her project together. Yes, I said "her."
I had an early hit in 3rd grade with a comparison of popcorn brands. It was my dad's idea because we happened to have a lot of popcorn in the house. Yet for only a day's work, somebody thought it worthy of graduating to the district fair.
The taste of success made me cocky enough to advance from consumer research to hard-core science. The next year, I waited until the night before bringing my dad a library book with the grand plans for an electro-mechanical robot. Dad took one look at the plans, another look at the clock, and found an alternative project on page 126 - an electrostatic generator.
Our device - made of a few pieces of wood, a plastic pill jar, a piece of wool and a brass cabinet knob - not only worked but won first prize.Not ours, but you get the idea.
Armed with confirmed scientific proof that procrastination pays off, I waited until about midnight before tackling my 5th grade project about how dangerous smoking was. Or something. Details needed to be ironed out, but, you know, I had a two page report on it already typed up and everything.
But this time felt different. Gone was the confidence of previous years - and in its place the distinct feeling I was screwed before I began. I sort of had an idea about something involving a jar, a couple sponges carved into lung shapes, and a tube going to a bulb filled with dirty water. Or whatever.
Ever the encouraging parent who couldn't bear to see his children fail, Dad told me my idea was lame and he wasn't going to stay up late for this crap anymore.
After a few hours wrangling with sponges and a jar, I glued my two-page report to a giant paper-mache cigarette, hoping to cloud the judges' minds by out-dazzling the competition.
Not so much. That miserable failure irreparably damaged my hard-earned scientific reputation. I also learned that procrastination does not, in fact, pay off. I hung up my lab coat and traded my test tubes for an alto saxophone.
Fast-forward to December 2012: Pickler's Famous is hosting the Breakfast With Santa event for the Kirksville Parks & Rec Department, featuring a breakfast waffle cone we developed. It's 10pm the night before and I've just discovered we're 35 cones short.
No matter - Hy-Vee sells waffle cones in boxes of twelve. We'll just pick up a few boxes of those…well, see for yourself. It's the one on the left.
In the playground of the ice cream shop, these guys would get their asses kicked the minute I turn my back.
With no other options and time running out, there was only one thing I could do.
When we first opened Pickler's Famous, we planned to make our own fresh-baked waffle cones and entice you with sweet vanilla smells drifting onto the street. I bought a 50 lb bag of waffle mix and acquired a used waffle cone iron as part of a package deal with some other equipment. Two of our employees spent an afternoon scrubbing years of gunk and neglect off it with steel wool and industrial solvents.
I thanked them for their work and packed it away in storage, deciding there was already enough for us to screw up on opening day.The smells would have to wait - forever, it turned out.
Now, nearly two years later, it was close to midnight and I had to make 35 waffle cones for the first time. Visions of dirty sponges and cigarettes danced in my head. There was so much to go wrong: Batter sticking to the machine. Waffles peeling off in pieces. Burned waffles. Despite 20 minutes of searching I couldn't find the conical form to roll them around. They would end up deformed in my laughable attempts. We never even tested the waffle iron.
I braced myself for an all-night farce of epic proportions.
Resigned to failure, I pulled the machine out, dusted it off and plugged it in. The green light came on. Considering most of the equipment we purchased for the shop didn't work anymore, that was a pleasant surprise. I just knew the waffles would stick to this thing, so I teased the manual out of Google and followed the instructions for "conditioning" it with oil. It required a complete cool down but I didn't have that kind of time. Spray and pray, baby.
After mixing up some batter and guessing at the right serving amount (4 ounces), I poured a ladleful on and closed the lid. There was no self-timer, so I tried 45 seconds. Surprisingly, it peeled right off in one piece. The oil worked. Or maybe it's because, as a redhead, I'm good at peeling skin. In place of a proper form, I used one of the runt store cones to roll it around.
Not bad for the first try. I couldn't believe my luck. So I set up a workstation and pounded them out quickly and easily. I was so pleased with myself that I made a video so you can share in the joy of a conquering hero.
Not since I first water-skied at 15 had I stumbled headfirst into a new skill with all the finesse of an old pro - and without a moment to spare. Everything fell perfectly into place. The cones were delicious, the event went off without a hitch, and Christmas was saved.
I learned a valuable lesson that night: For all those moments when you brace yourself for colossal failure, there remains a statistical chance that this one time the Fates will take pity and spare you the humiliation you deserve.
Also: Procrastination pays off.
Happy holidays and a merry new year. Here's hoping everything goes right for you in 2013.