Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Simple as Pie

Suzanne Birrell (I called her "Sudsy Barrel) lived six blocks away on Haskell Avenue. Our mothers took turns driving us everywhere--to school, to junior high band practice, to friends' homes--so often that we were considered siblings. We had the absurdly easy friendship common among young musicians who belonged to our tribe of gifted kids with delight and runaway dreams.

My best pal Matt and I would orchestrate shenanigans that took Suzanne and Maryanne Hoobs by storm: we kidnapped them in their pajamas before dawn and spirited them to breakfast at the pancake house. We flocked the trees and eaves of their homes with rolls of toilet paper.

Matt and I gleaned most of our ideas from Mack Sennett comedies. Our favorite character actor, James Finlayson, appeared in more than 200 films--including the Laurel and Hardy features--as the master of the double-take and glare. He'd wink and yell "Doh", an expression later stolen for Homer in the cartoon series The Simpsons.

Matt and I would catch each others eye across the band room and shout "Doh", grimacing as if we'd been smacked with a plank. And we'd lug paper plates and shaving cream in a grocery bag when driving around to our friends' homes, ringing the front doorbell and slapping a pie into Suzanne's face or Russ' jolly mug, and then make a run for the safety of the road. By the time we were in high school, Matt owned a Falcon wagon, our corporate office for mischief, and we drove around the San Fernando Valley, slapping pies on people.

Wednesday was cruise night on Van Nuys Boulevard and we'd drive from Victory all the way to Ventura Boulevard, hang a u-turn in the Lucky Market parking lot, and head north again among the spiffy jacked-up Fords and Chevys, watching girls as they strolled the sidewalks in their headbands, vinyl boots, and miniskirts, leaning on the horn and speeding between the red lights. If we had more than three of us, we'd screech to a stop at the light and conduct what we called a "Chinese Fire Drill". The idea was to exit from the closest door, run around the car like madmen until the light turned green, then race back into the car and lurch off for the next street along the way, Jim Morrison's voice belting out "People are strange...", or the stereo booming out the Vanilla Fudge version of "Ticket to Ride"... or Jagger's "Ruby Tuesday".

One time Matt, hobbled by a broken leg, lumbered around the Falcon with his leg in a cast, the cops just behind us on Reseda Boulevard. Good old Matt. He had a spare steering wheel, which he held up as he screamed hysterically from the driver's seat while one of us wrangled the car surreptitiously.

When we tired of the slapstick, we sat in Bob's Big Boy, spooning down thick chocolate milkshakes, or we took a carload of chums over to Farrell's Ice Cream on Reseda where the waiters threw your own gluttony parade with horns and bass drum if you powered down a two-person serving of sundae, appropriately known as "The Trough".

In 1969, we graduated high school and went into the diaspora of pie-tossing expats. Today, Matt works among the musical elite in the San Diego symphony scene and Suzanne still makes music, playing bass guitar professionally. I sit looking out at the pond, down into the San Joaquin Valley where the Sutter Buttes rise into the smokey air, and cannot find the thread inside that leads to the unbridled glee of those days. Have I failed to leave a trail of breadcrumbs? I am recovered from hopelessness and I'm reasonably happy. But what I'd give for a belly laugh so fierce I'd have to struggle to hold consciousness, bursting into a million motes of delight--like the spray from an Independence Day sparkler--fizzing, jangling down to the marrow at the idiocy, blind, brutal idiocy of taking myself so damn seriously.


Bill Stankus said...

Today, pie tossing will cause someone to call Homeland Security or Hazmat. Maybe SWAT if you also give 'em a twitchy eye. Funny is out. I think it's scheduled to return in 2024.

Gabby said...


Char said...

whenever I need funny, I rent either a Christopher Guest movie (This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) or Monty Python.

A Cuban In London said...

Pranks, don't you love them? I love slapstick and I have indulged in it in real life, as in replicating that scene in Benny and Joon where Johnny Depp is chasing the hat, whilst kicking it away.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.