The Pie Lie with a
Bubble Gum Chaser
She was standing in front of
6440 West 5th Street, the house with the
picket fence; her first house that she could call a home
since Myra Street four years ago. She did not consider
Select Academy a home.
She was a tiny nine year old,
had a newborn sister, was going to a regular public
school, had a new Daddy, stranger though he was, and
today was special, she was sure she must be grown-up.
She was going to the store, alone. Before she was to set
out on this adult assignment, she looked around at her
new surroundings: marveled at the flowers she had helped
to plant, at the neat green lawn she tended, and at the
aviary she had to clean, loved the birds, hated the
do-do. And then she whirled around, set her shoulders
square to the sidewalk, put her chin up and headed for
She would go east on 5th
Street to Crescent Heights, then south for six blocks to
Wilshire, turn east again passing: Josephís Beauty
Salon, she went there with her mother each Friday, then
several vacant lots, a building or two, to the store on
Fairfax. This was her destination. It would not be the
first time, but it was the first time alone.
As she began her walk on that
clear, warm Saturday afternoon, she was radiant with
pride, thinking, "Iím finally being trusted, old enough,
smart enough, go to the market. all by myself." She
reached into her right pocket of her blue jeans to feel
the coins that she had been given, counting them: one
big fifty-cent piece, one quarter, two dimes, a nickel
and five pennies. This was a special day: her mission,
to buy and bring home a Lemon Meringue Pie from the
bakery near Wilshire on Fairfax. She was responsible for
providing her family, especially her new Daddy, with his
She so wanted to be somebody
needed in this new family. Today was a test. It was
going to be a long walk; her bike had to say home, the
basket was too narrow for the pie box; the box had to be
She could hear her mother
saying: "Go straight to the bakery and return home
directly, donít stop and play along the way, donít take
the money out of your pocket, be very careful at the
corners, look both ways before you cross the streets,
donít get dirty, donít talk to strangers, the five
pennies are yours, to buy five pieces of bubble gum, you
may have one today, but only after dinner, I wonít have
you spoiling your appetite, you will bring back change,
and carry the pie with both hands, otherwise it may slip
in the box and be ruined. You should be back in an about
an hour, dinnerís at 5:00. You wonít be late." She could
do all that.
Mrs. Cook, the neighbor next
door and her first friend since she moved in after her
three months in Military Camp, waved to her from her
position behind her paint easel on the shaded front
porch of her tall white house with its wavy red roof.
"Hi, Mrs. Cook, Iím off to the store all by myself."
"Have an exciting adventure, keep track of all you see,
tell me about it tomorrow. You will come over and spend
some time with me while I complete one of my redwood
oils?" "Iíll be there after my chores. See you." And off
she went, skipping down the pavement, bouncing along,
like a tetherball that arched higher and higher after
each push. Each stride she took was longer, higher,
faster, more joyful then the last.
Up 5th, across La
Jolla Street, to and around the corner at Crescent
Heights Boulevard, down Crescent Heights she traveled.
She stopped as her eyes came to rest a tree that was
shedding these layers of paper-thin stuff. She crossed
the yard and began to pick and peel. "Get out of my
yard!" She scooted ― No more distractions, she made this
promise to herself as she neared the next corner at 6th
The surface of the street was
being repaired with hot tar. If you took a stick and
stuck it into the cauldron of hot tar, pulled it out,
let it cool, dipped it again, cooled it again, dipped
it, cooled it, repeating until the black material
developed into an all day chewable sucker. "Hereís a
stick girlie, Iíll start one for you, donít burn
yourself." He was a giant man. In tar streaked overalls,
black boots, caked with filthy street repair materials.
His huge gloved hands were encased in tar like his
She was so tempted to make
herself a treat, but it would take time and she had no
time for tar. "No thanks, I am on an important errand,
Iíll stay next time." And she would have bubblegum
later, so off she went, past Burnside Avenue to Wilshire
The grass was high in the vacant
lots along the boulevard; all of the neighborhood kids
loved to play mud-toss war. First you hid in the tall
grass, gathered a handful of long grass stems with mud
clods attached. Then by stealth you crept to a strategic
firing location and on a predetermined signal pelted one
another with mud. There was only one vacant lot on her
street; she had to tell her new buddies about this grass
There was the building with the
beauty shop. She waved a greeting to the manicurist
sitting at her table at the front window. She wanted her
long curly hair cut; she pleaded each time they were at
the shop. But no, her mother liked to keep it long. She
should be at the other end of the comb and brush, just
once. It was a painful ritual, but having it braided
meant that it was only a weekly hour of torture.
She passed a new building, above
the entranceway a giant sign. It was vertical. She could
read horizontal and translated it to "BLIND VETERANS
CENTER," She had no idea what this was all about.
Cars passed her going east, she saw, an older boy coming
down the sidewalk right in her pathway, he zipped past
on his big bike, almost knocking her down, she glared at
him, she continued her walk.
She could see her objective now.
There was the sign Weinerís Grocery Store and Bakery
right ahead. She ran the last fifty feet. In she went,
ignored the other customers: marched back to the bakery
counter, passing rows of canned goods stacked high and
deep on the shelves on either side of her, reached up,
as high as she could on her tip toes, to the edge of the
counter, took the top number from the stack. She had
been in this store many times with her mother; she knew
what to do, she knew the owner, Uncle Sid, his son, Abe,
Solomon the Green Grocer, and the grandmother, Oma, she
had funny red colored hair.
As she waited for her turn,
bouncing from one foot to the other, she looked at all
of the baked goodies in the glass case, most she could
not name nor had she ever tasted. But there were her
favorite cup cakes with thick chocolate frosting, big
sugar cookies like the ones the Helmís truck baker would
give to her at Myra Street, bear claw coffee cakes, all
for five cents each. Should she? Well, she had her five
pennies. Then she heard "Number fife." She was brought
back from her thoughts of temptation.
She was number 5. Again, "fife,
ver is nomber fife?" "Iím fife, five" she called out.
"Oh, dere you are, Oh, youíre Jerryís daughter, I
couldnít see you, youíre so tiny. You here for the pie
your mother ordered?" "Yes, my mother reserved a Lemon
Meringue Pie." "I gotts its for yous. Such a little girl
doing such a grownup job. Look, Thelma, at our little
customer, cute, yes? Sheís Stuartís new stepdaughter. "
Oma Weiner bent over and reached
into the glass case, (she had not only funny red hair
but also it was grey at the bottom, like two toned) she
removed the pie, put it into a box, wrote $.85 on the
top, tied it with a string and brought it around to the
front to hand it to the messenger. "You take dis box to
the front counter to mine son, Sid, he vill take your
money." Up to the front she went, customers moved aside
as she squeezed ahead. She placed the box on the
counter, went back to her correct place, stood in line
until her turn to pay.
Uncle Sid was wearing his usual
dirty white apron, doubled over, and tied at the waist.
His shirt was white, showing tuffs of black hair from
the opening at his neck. He has lots of thick black
hair, hair on the back of his hands, hair all over his
arms, stubble that did not hide the holes in his face
and a big friendly toothy grim.
He was smiling down on her as he
asked for $.85. She dug into her pocket and took out all
of the coins, the five pennies included. She slid the
silver coins toward the middle of the counter, the best
she could do since the counter was a bit high for her
The box of bubble gum was there
on the edge of the counter. She counted out five pieces;
one piece went into her pocket for later. She pushed her
five pennies across the counter. Uncle Sid took the
fifty-cent piece, one quarter and a dime for the pie. He
moved to the cash register and pushed the buttons. Up
shot the $.85 in the window at the top. A drawer shot
open, she heard the sound of coins colliding, the drawer
closed. He took out a little brown bag from beneath the
"Hey, little shopper, you only
have four pieces here, you have five pennies," and he
took another piece from the box and dropped it into her
sack. Oh boy, what to do? She lowered her eyes, said
nothing, did nothing but to manage a weak smile;
gathered up the two coins that were left on the counter,
took the little brown bag, stuffed it into her left hand
pocket, took the box off of the counter, with both
hands, of course, walked to the front of the
store, hesitated, looked back at
Uncle Sid, he waved, "Be careful with the box, donít let
the pie slip." She stepped out into the late afternoon
sun, turned right to begin her homeward journey.
Down Wilshire she went holding
the box with both hands positioned in front of her
steady body. She passed the new building with the funny
sign, an on and on. She was passing the first of the
green vacant lots when she had a new thought. "I have
six pieces of bubble gum. I could chew one on the way
home; Iíll spit it out before I get home. Only I would
know" She slowed down her walk, looked for a place to
sit and moments later found a rock, big enough to
accommodate her tush, placed her box next to the rock,
reached into her pocket, took out the loose piece of gum
from the bottom of her pocket, sat down and methodically
untwisted each end of the outer wrapper.
She unfolded the inner paper,
the one with the comics, placed the gum in her mouth,
salivated from the stimulation of the sugar and then she
read the comics and the fortune printed at the bottom.
In four frames Buck Rogers shot into space, landed on a
strange planet, ray gunned a mean creature and planted a
victory flag. She read her fortune, "You are creative
and clever but avoid senseless choices." She was dancing
on cloud nine as she chewed away, for a moment
She felt a sensation, something
was pushing at her foot, and "You Ok little girl?" There
was this man, a stranger, looking down at her. He had a
little dog on a leash; it was the dog that was nudging
at her foot. She could not talk to strangers so she
smiled and nodded. She followed his retreating figure as
he and the dog walked on down the street.
She had been jolted back from
her bubble gum chewing trance. Up she rose, up came the
box, she put the wrapper from her 6th piece
of gum into the little brown bag (she liked to save the
comics), put the bag back into her pocket along side the
left over coins, and off she went.
She chewed and walked, walked
and chewed, turning the corner at Crescent Heights. She
was so happy; she began to sing one of the summer camp
songs as she marched along to the rhythm:
"One hundred bottles of beer on
the wall, one hundred bottles of beer.
If one of the bottles of beer
should fall, ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.
Ninety-nine bottles of beer on
the wall, ninety bottles of beerÖ"
Her entire body began to get
into tempo, mouth chewing, head bobbing, singing along,
swinging along, arms askance, box undulating at the end
of her fingers. As she began the chorus 85, she caught a
glimpse of the box, which was at the end of the upward
swing and headed down behind her back. She stopped cold,
cradled the box in her arms. "Oh, no, no, no, ― ď She
turned pale, she was shaking so much that she had to
place her self and the box on the curb. With great
difficulty she untied the string and peeked under the
Horror gripped her. There was
pie all over the inside, on the lid, the sides, on the
bottom. She could not bear to look any longer. She
closed the box, retied the string and thought about
running away. What could she do? She had to get home for
dinner, if she would get any, she had to bring home the
dessert, if she dared, she couldnít go back to get
another pie, no time and no money. She had to figure out
a plan, a story, preferably, a good one, not one in
which she had done the deed herself.
She got up. She dragged herself
along, carrying the box with her right hand fingers
under the string. Careful didnít matter any more.
Thinking, thinking. She was about to turn her last
corner at 5th Street; she saw a group of the
neighbor boys riding their bikes. They were playing tag,
their arms, feet flailing out at one another. Yelling,
pushing, hitting and shoving. And, that boy who passed
her earlier. In a flash of vision, as if by a miraculous
intervention; the perfect story formed in her head.
She turned around and hurried
back down the street to the corner, turned around, took
a deep breath and then began to run up the street, back
around the corner she streaked, caught sight of the
picket fence, ran by Mrs. Cookís house and up her own
driveway. By this time, she knew she would be gasping
for breath. She crashed into the house, screaming,
allowing tears to flow, sobbing: "Mommy, mommy, the pie
is smashed, the pie is smashed, he smashed the pie.
Look, look, itís all over the inside of the box."
Mother rushed out from the back.
She was holding baby sister. "What happened, who is he,
what do you mean the pie is smashed/? I told you to be
careful ― donít you ever listen? How did you manage to
ruin the pie?Ē ďI didnít do it, I was being so careful,
holding it out so it wouldnít spill to the side and,"
she sobbed. "So you were told to be careful" her mother
yelled in interruption, "and then, and then, I didnít
see him coming, this big boy on his bike came past me
socked the box out of my hands, I tried to catch it
Tears coursed down her sweaty
face, dripped off of her chin, staining the front of her
blouse. She let the tears; the sobs come out in deep
moans and groans overwhelming her body. The baby,
Joanie, went into the bassinette. "Give it to me", she
grabbed the box, "do you know him?" "No, I never saw him
before but heís big and, and his bike is blue and
white." "Stop your crying, itís not your fault." "Look
mommy, I brought back the change and I only got the five
pieces of bubble gum just like you told me.
I did everything you told me to
do." "It is a mess, Iíll think of something. Daddy wonít
be happy about this." Her mom dashed around the kitchen,
her anger was palpable but that was okay, it was
directed out at a stranger.
She heard her new Dadís car
rolling down the driveway to the garage. She pulled her
precious tiny brown bag from one pocket, the $.15 of
change from the other, put both on the kitchen table,
pulled out a chair, sat down, lowered her head, staring
through her fingers at the brown and gold patterned
linoleum .She thought, heís a lawyer. Mother calls him
Mr. District Attorney whenever he questions or
doubts a person or event. He entered through the kitchen
door and even before he could get it closed, mother was
recounting the horrible incident that had befallen his
new daughter and his special dessert.
"Can you believe that a boy
could be so mean as to do this? That this could happen
and in this neighborhood? She was so good, she followed
my instructions perfectly, she brought back the exact
change, spent her five pennies on her treat of five
pieces of bubblegum, got home in good time," Daddy
looked intently at the crumpled, pitiful figure. She
peeked out cautiously. He stared back suspiciously,
placed his briefcase on the table.
It was time, she let out a few
more sobs, squeezed out a few more tears; her nose was
running by now, her eyes were red and puffy. Daddy
scrutinized her in a curious manner; Daddy gazed at the
coins that were on the table, his hand rested on the
tabletop. He picked up her little brown bag, "Whatís in
this?" "My five pieces of bubblegum," He was opening the
top and reaching inÖ "One, two, three, four, five, hum,
and now explain the one you are chewing."
The blood drained from her
brain, the ringing in her ears, the kitchen turned
around her falling body, the world was unbearable, well