by Shawn Girvan
The summer break between 5th and 6th grade was a steamy, heat-drenched wasteland of boredom. The periods spent outdoors were limited to quick bursts. There were no pools in our neighborhood — public or private — so when the slip and slides disintegrated from extended usage and the first summer water bills arrived, the kids of Morningside retreated indoors or huddled under the shade of their carports and cheap patios.
Steven Farmer was my best friend that summer. He was a lanky, goofy-postured kid with a perfect bowl-haircut. Steven laughed at every one of my jokes, and he proudly told me his Mom hand-made his colorful shorts.
“They’re not jams, but they’re just as cool,” Steven had told me once.
On this July day, Steven Farmer and I were hot, miserable, and bored. We decided that we would spend the day playing video games. I survived the block and a half walk to his house and my glasses instantly fogged over as I entered the air-conditioned living room. I frowned; Steven hadn’t even pulled the Atari out of the cabinet.
“It sounds boring,” Steven said. “Besides, my mother doesn’t want us in the house. She made us tea.”
I hated tea, but under these conditions, I’d happily accept any form of hydration. Steven poured us each a glass and we stepped outside onto his back patio. The shade made it just bearable enough to lounge on the gaudy patio chairs and sip sweet iced tea, but neither one of us were having any fun.
“It’s already July,” I cleaned my glasses with my sweaty T-shirt. “How many days until school?”
“I’m bored,” Steven said again.
“There’s gotta be something to do,” I thought. Suddenly, an idea formed. It was a good one. I exploded out of the patio chair. “Let’s throw a pie in Job’s face!”
Steven’s eyes widened, and his lips formed his smile of the day. Then, he laughed. Steven laughed hard.
Job was my little brother. Job was very short, red-headed, whiny and loud. My little brother and I had a very unpredictable relationship during the eighties. This particular Summer, Job had found a reliable and trustworthy companion — the television. Job’s afternoons were spent bonding with the heavily repeated antics of The Monkees, Gillian, Scooby-Doo, and many others. I loved television, but the reruns were beginning to bore me. Job would find something different in each episode. There was always another joke to laugh at, or a hidden theme to ponder. But mostly, the programs made him happy.
My little brother’s contentment irritated me. I wanted to throw a pie in his face.
I didn’t need to convince Steven that it was the greatest idea ever conceived. He was drooling before we officially entered the planning stages.
I don’t think Steven had anything against Job, not personally. He simply disliked the concept of younger siblings. Steven had a younger sister, Shelly Farmer. Shelly was the pride and joy of the Farmer household. I once attended a dinner party held in Shelly’s honor because she placed fourth in the potato sack race at the Morningside Elementary School Field Day. It was an impromptu dinner theme, but still, I had never seen Steven frown so hard. After dinner, I had attempted to cheer him up.
“Imagine if she would have won?” I smiled with my mouth open and paused while I waited for the laughter.
Steven closed his bedroom door and whispered, “I can’t laugh at jokes about my sister. I’ll be grounded.”
Shelly ruled that kingdom; Steven could only obey.
I couldn’t relate. I wasn’t the ruler of any kingdom, but Job wasn’t the boss of me. I was the older brother, I felt it was my duty to use the power that the title gave me.
Steven wanted to feel that power.
STEP ONE: THE PIE
Mobile, Alabama did have a certain charm, but there weren’t any pies cooling on windowsills. It was too hot for pie, anyway. Steven and I needed an alternative to pie. I knew from experience that the next best thing to an actual pie was a shaving cream pie. On one glorious summer afternoon, my mother had allowed a shaving cream pie war to play out in our backyard. A few cans of Barbosal, two packs of aluminum pie tins, and a gaggle of neighborhood children created a foam soaked battlefield in minutes.
Of course, some feelings were hurt. And shaving cream got inside many eyes and ear holes and mouths. And there might have been some crying. But mostly is was pure fun. The kind of fun you dream about. Steven had been out of town that week and almost cried every time I relived the memories in front of him. He had already sneaked into his parents’ bathroom and lifted his father’s shaving cream before I finished re-telling the story of the battle of ’83.
Steven handed me the can; He wasn’t laughing anymore.
“That’s good,” I thought. “We must take this serious to pull this off.”
“What else do we need?” Steven said, awaiting orders.
“One pie tin,” I told him.
“My mother makes pie,” Steven stated matter-of-factly, like Joe Friday from Dragnet. “That won’t be a problem.”
STEP TWO: The Execution, or The Ruse.
1. Pull Job away from the television with a knock at the door.
2. Entice Job out of the comfort of the indoors with a promise of a gift.
3. Lure Job down the street, out of view from our living room window, by revealing the worth of this said gift.
“What does Job like more than Scooby Doo?” I brainstormed with Steven.
“Shirt-Tails?” Steven snapped his fingers.
“No, Something physical. It has to be good.”
“If I had ice cream, I wouldn’t give it to Job. Besides, it would melt. Job wants toys.”
“Stop talking, Steven. I’m on to something here,” I thought hard about Job’s current toy obsession. “Job was into Transformers, but I think he’s back into GI Joe.”
“I’m not given him any of my GI Joes,”
“We’re not given him anything. It’s a trick…” For all I knew, Job might have still been playing with Montgomery Moose. My brother and I didn’t share taste in toys, but I had to make a decision, “GI Joe. That’s what we’re going with.”
“Who does he like?” Steven has horrible suggestions, but he asks the right questions.
“Shipwreck, he’s gotta like Shipwreck,”
“Shipwreck’s the worst,” Steven laughed.
“Shipwreck it is, then,” another important step in the planning stage was complete. “This is going to be funny.” Steven and I spent a few minutes imagining and laughing. Suddenly, Steven stopped laughing again.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do it,” he said pensively.
STEP THREE: Second thoughts? or Risk Vs Reward.
Steven and I knew the risk involved in our plan. This was not in the same category of teasing, this was assault. If done correctly, my brother would not be physically harmed; but, Job would not wipe the shaving cream from his eyes and join us in a good laugh after the act.
“You got me (in a WASPy voice). Oh, what fun! No. Of course, I’m not mad. Why would I be mad? A fine joke. Well, played, brother. Well played.”
Job would not say this.
Job would not like this plan. Steven and I knew that for certain, and we also knew that Job would immediately run to our Mother and demand justice. This wasn’t just a risk; it was a certainty. Our job was to determine if it would be worth it.
Was this prank funny enough? Or was it just mean?
Steven and I spent the next two hours hammering out the script and began rehearsals.
“I’ll have that GI — Joe now…” Steven read from the script we both labored over.
“Here… You go!” I, in slow motion, mimicked shoving a pie into the side of Steven’s face. We laughed for a few long minutes.
“Let’s do it again,” I said. We needed to get off book.
“I’ll have that GI-“
“No! From the top!”
Our final run-through was almost as funny as our first. The material had tested through the roof; This would be worth the risk.
STEP FOUR: Showtime!
It didn’t feel as hot as it had earlier in the day as Steven and I walked the block and a half to my house. The Mission Impossible theme would have perfectly complimented the tone of our walking style: serious, determined, with purpose.
“Hold up,” I stopped suddenly and held my hand in the air. “This is the staging area.” I pointed to the row of azalea bushes that separated my yard from the Donaldson’s yard. We scurried behind the bushes and dropped to our knees. Steven opened his back pack and pulled out the supplies. He gently set the empty pie tin on the ground and handed me the bottle of shaving cream. I hit the tab and filled the pie with white, creamy foam.
I piled the shaving cream high. We both laughed as the can spout spurted out the remains of its content.
I gently held the pie, testing its weight. It felt good in my hand; it felt like a pie. My lip curled slowly into an evil grin.
I stayed behind the bushes for cover as Steven entered my yard and slowly approached the front door. I cradled the shaving cream pie behind my back as I stayed low behind the bushes. I heard the front door open and smiled as Steven began the over rehearsed performance.
“Hello, Job,” Steven said in an overly friendly tone.
“Hey Steven,” Job said unenthusiastically.
“Shawn is outside waiting for you…” Steven recited.
“What for?” Job was suspicious. He cagily moved off the front steps towards Steven and scanned the yard. “Where is he? What does he want? What do you want?” I hoped that Steven’s next line would calm Job’s nerves.
“He has a surprise for you,” Steven said. Emoting, like we rehearsed.
“Yeah, right,” Job said, dissatisfied with Steven’s explanation. “I’m outta here.” I called an audible and entered the scene early.
“Hey, Job!” I stood at the edge of the yard and smiled warmly at my little brother. “Come here; I’ve got a surprise for you!”
“What kind of surprise?” Job said, inching closer.
“It could be a new GI Joe,” Steven ad-libbed.
“So what?” Job wasn’t impressed.
“Or a new Transformer?” This got him. He committed to his approach. “I’ve got one behind my back,” I enticed. Job knew that he had no reason to trust me, but his love for Transformers got the better of him, and I knew it. He moved closer. “Would you rather have… a new GI Joe or a new Transformer?” I said coyly.
“Duh, a new Transformer.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course,” Job stuck his hand out.
I glanced at Steven seconds before our plan was about to become a reality. Steven looked scared, excited, and delighted at the same time.
“Here you go!” I cocked back my arm before heaving the pie into the side of my brother’s face. As the pie made contact, a loud “Squish” rang out through the neighborhood. Time almost froze as the pie tin of shaving foam settled perfectly into place.
Steven and I bounced around Job like we accomplished something wonderful. My brother stood frozen in the middle of the street with the centerpiece of our plan stuck to his head; the pie was a part of him now. Job didn’t cry or scream. There was no reaction.
“Pie in the face!” I said while pointing my finger in my brother’s face. No reaction. I glanced at Steven whose joy had begun to morph into concern. “Hey…” I patted Job on his hunched over shoulder. “Pie in the face…”
“Pie, in the face,” Steven repeated nervously. Job didn’t move.
“Job, you ok?” I made a move to remove the shaving cream pie from his head, but he grunted and fended me off with an awkward swing. Then, Job screamed.
It was a high-pitched squeal. It was a sound I had never heard before or since, but if I were forced to compare it to something, it sounded like a wild boar having sex with a fire truck’s siren.
I finally did it — I broke my brother.
After the squeal, Job, with the pie still attached to his face, lumbered like an injured gorilla toward the house. He painfully hopped up the front steps but before entering the house, he turned toward us and let out some sort of grunt-like moan. He slammed the front door behind him.
Steven looked at me as if he had just witnessed a murder. He slowly backed away and began a sluggish jog in the direction of his house.
“Where are you going?” I said to him as his jog gradually turned into a sprint.
“I didn’t sign up for this!” I watched Steven disappear around the corner. He was gone. It was then that I noticed the heat again. I was drenched with sweat as I slowly turned around and saw my mother standing on the front steps. She had her arms crossed and she was staring at me with eyes made of fire.
STEP FIVE: The Consequences
“You! Inside! Now!”
I put my head down and entered the house. Job had already cleaned the pie from his face. He sat at the kitchen table with a towel draped around his neck, sucking passionately on a red popsicle.
My little brother slowly winked at me as I passed him on the way to my room. I couldn’t stop because my mother was directly behind me silently reminding me of my immediate destination. I could only drop my jaw in confusion as I entered the hallway.
It seemed like a perfect plan.
During the hours of isolation, I attempted to remember the event for my personal amusement.
It was funny, right?
But the replay in my mind carried the tone of a tragedy. A war drama. I could only remember the shock on Steven’s face as Job stood frozen in the street.
And the squeal.
I still heard the squeal.
STEP SIX: Atonement
The walls of my bedroom muffled Job’s laughter. I knew the song; Job loved The Monkees. I’d seen the episode many times. It was a good one.
As my little brother’s laughter grew louder, I leaned back in my bed and smiled.
“Not your stepping stone,” I just said to myself. Micky Dolenz sang it better than I ever could.
[Check out Shawn’s back porch wisdom here.]