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Doug Clark: Pusillanimous punks attack helpless pumpkin

Thu., Aug. 15, 2013, midnight

Dave Jensen inspects the damage Wednesday caused by vandals to his 570-pound pumpkin in his garden in northeast Spokane. (Dan Pelle)
Dave Jensen inspects the damage Wednesday caused by vandals to his 570-pound pumpkin in his garden in northeast Spokane. (Dan Pelle)

It coulda been a contender, this blonde bulbous beast that looms out of a leafy patch on Spokane’s North Side.

Already nearing the 600-pound mark and with plenty of hot growing days left, the pumpkin Dave Jensen dubbed Goliath had a good shot at becoming a 1,000-pounder.

The produce clerk has been chasing the half-ton goal ever since this hobby of nurturing mere seeds into Sasquash grabbed hold like a crack addiction.

Then the unthinkable struck in the dark of last Sunday night.

Veggie vandals senselessly slashed Goliath with a sharp object and punched holes in it with a flashlight battery the punks left behind.

Man, the mayor is right. Spokane does need more cops on the streets.

“Who slew David’s Goliath?” wondered Hayley Murdock, one of Jensen’s neighbors and a family friend.

Who indeed?

Jensen said he’d love to spend a few moments with the culprits but not for what you might think.

“I’m not a fire-and-brimstone sort of individual,” said Jensen.

“I’d tell them that growing a pumpkin like this is a 12-month process.”

Maybe I’m a cynic. But I doubt logic and education will work on lowlife pumpkin muggers.

On Wednesday morning I paid a visit to the scene of the vine, I mean crime. It was sad to see the once-grand gourd now marred by deep, ugly wounds.

Despite its condition, Goliath remains alive for the moment. And it’s still a traffic-stopper.

Just the other day, in fact, a taxi paused on North Thor Street while the driver stared transfixed at the star of Jensen’s small garden.

“Hope he turned the meter off,” added Jensen with a chuckle.

It was 1998 the last time I saw this man. Jensen was 42 back then and had just rocked the local pumpkin establishment by producing the biggest entry at the Spokane Interstate Fair.

Even more impressive was that Jensen’s 565-pounder had broken Bob Critchfield’s streak of 11-straight pumpkin wins, and the cranky 74-year-old took the loss poorly.

“It shouldn’t be in the fair,” Critchfield complained to me, citing some blemishes that the Northwest Pumpkin Growers Association had let go.

But the science of pumpkinology has grown freakishly since those small-potato days.

Take last year’s world champ, for example.

The pumpkin weighed in at 2,009 pounds.

That’s right. We’re talking about the very first pumpkin to ever break the ton barrier, not to mention that it is recognized as the largest fruit ever GROWN ON EARTH!!!

Who can say where this will end?

Two tons? Three?

Bigger than Justin Bieber’s ego?

Jensen concedes that he’s a minor-leaguer compared to the big boys of the pumpkin game.

Still, the near-constant attention required to grow any giant pumpkin is pretty much the same.

“Obsessive is not an inappropriate word,” offered Murdock.

Jensen began his quest by purchasing two Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds from Nova Scotia for 35 bucks.

Once a plant started growing, he lovingly placed it in an earthy bed made from two truckloads of sandy loam and five yards of the best steer manure money can buy.

“It’s like going to sleep at the Davenport,” he said. “It likes to be pampered.”

Goliath spent its formative days under a tarp, protected from harsh solar rays. Jensen built an enclosure around it and used heaters to keep the air and soil temperature optimum.

“It’s like raising an infant to adulthood in three months,” he said.

That’s not really so far off. In one 20-day stretch Goliath jumped from 50 pounds to 400 pounds, or roughly Chris Christie before surgery.

I know. It all sounds so crazy.

But to be fair, Jensen did take a six-year hiatus from his pumpkin dreams.

“I promised myself I’d never do it again,” he said of his burnout. “But it sort of laid dormant and … came back with a vengeance.”

Fortunately, the man has a very understanding wife in Lloydeen.

Inside his garage, Jensen lined up the chemicals and additives he regularly mixes into a “witch’s brew” designed to boost growth.

Anyone looking into A-Rod’s locker would probably see the same thing.

One of the chemicals Jensen showed me is called mycorrhizae fungi. The package of the stuff boasted “improved … yield and vigor.”

Jensen laughed.

“Almost sounds like Viagra, huh?”

If there’s anything consoling to the Goliath saga it’s that a win at the fair was never in the cards even before the attack. Earlier in the summer, a particularly heavy downpour made Goliath grow so fast that it actually split a seam.

I understand. Same thing happened to me once after a five-day cake binge.

The pumpkin’s split personality, alas, disqualified it from formal competition. Even so, Jensen had hoped to display it at the fair on the merits of its gargantuan girth.

On Monday night some of Jensen’s neighbors held an informal wake for Goliath, moseying over to commiserate and offer their condolences.

It has been a tough run for a pumpkin man.

“Isn’t that just hurtful,” said Jensen in a grieving tone. “The senseless mutilation of poor Goliath.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 ordougc@

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