MUD PIES FOR SALE
This incident happened when I was in third grade, so I was eight years old. I say that, because it is unbelievable to me now that I could do something so stupid at that age. If this had happened when I was three, or maybe even four, it might be understandable. My younger brother Kirk was a partner with me in this crime, and he was six. Even he should have known better. I wonder if I wasn’t just an evil influence on him.
A little background on my long-suffering father is in order here, to better appreciate the tale.
Dad was a bread-man, at the time for Freihoffer’s bakery. He would get up at three o’clock in the morning every day and work twelve hours delivering bread to various stores, supermarkets and restaurants. He would spend his day battling traffic, the elements, dissatisfied customers and the horrible noise of dozens of bread racks clattering over every bump.
Then he would come home just as school let out, to a house-full of kids (as many as twelve, at one point), a menagerie of pets, and always company. He used to call our house Grand Central Station. Every day, morning noon and night, there was a steady stream of visitors. Mom’s friends, the kid’s friends, neighbors, relatives, salesmen, bill collectors……and all while he would try to sleep.
His days off were Sunday and Wednesday, so he never even got two days off in a row. I don’t think he ever got eight hours sleep in a row, either.
He would go to bed around seven p.m., just as the kids were beginning to watch TV and get rambunctious. If the TV volume didn’t wake him up, the kids fighting over the TV would. Each time he was awakened, he would grumble and threaten to get his belt. After about the third or fourth warning, he would come out swinging. We would all run and hide under covers on the couch, pretending the leather strap was killing us, yelling and screaming. Actually, he would be hitting mostly covers.
His few mean pleasures in life were TV sports, going to the movies, and taking my mom out to dinner once a week.
I think one of the reasons I never became a sports fan was my Dad’s TV sports habit. He would sit in front of the TV all day Sunday and swear loudly at whatever team was on and screwing up. It didn't matter if it was baseball, football, boxing or golf. Dad watched them all, can of Coke in hand, bag of pretzel rings at his side, cursing a blue streak loud enough to be heard all over the house. Players, referees, announcers, all felt his hot wrath as he screamed at their stupidity, their lack of talent, and their ineptitude.
There seemed to be a lot of screaming in the house. Dad with his sports, Mom with the intermittent emergencies that sent her into mild panic attacks, the kids screaming as they fought. (How the animals could stand us, I’ll never know.)
As a kid, I had no desire to enter the living room when Dad was watching a game. The polar bear den at the Philadelphia Zoo would have held more appeal.
The movies were another of Dad’s simple pleasures. Except, as with everything else, there was nothing simple about this endeavor, either. On Wednesday afternoons, his other day off, Dad would go to Philadelphia to catch all the first run movies. In the summer (or once a year when it was time for the family to get eyeglasses in Philadelphia), some of us kids got to go to the movies with him. (More on the eyeglasses later….)
Dad always got us candy and soda from the lobby refreshment stand, and we would make our way into the darkened theater and to our seats. Always, without exception, we would come in well after the feature had started. This meant, of course, we had no clue what was going on onscreen, or how far into the plot we were. We would watch the movie from middle to end, then sit there after the lights came up, waiting for the next show to begin. Then we would watch from the beginning to whatever part we came in on. Always we kids would hope Dad didn’t notice the scene we came in on, so that just once in our lives we could watch a movie from beginning to end, like other kids.
But always, Dad would say, “Let’s go…..” and out we would trek, feeling somehow cheated. It never seemed to bother Dad. It taught us kids an appreciation for abstract thinking, as we had to put the film together like a puzzle, middle, ending, beginning……
It also gave us an appreciation for film editing.
A brief word or two about the annual visit to the eye doctor. We all went because as part of Dad’s insurance coverage, the entire family was covered for free eye exams and glasses. I won’t mention the optometrist by name, for fear of a libel suit, but I suspect the guy was crooked. I remember this doctor continually blurring the screen every time I said I could see the letters. At this age, I had perfect eyesight, yet he would blur the screen after every time I said I could still see.
Finally, after about the tenth time, the screen was so blurred, Superman would have flunked. I finally surrendered and accepted the annual humiliation of getting the glasses. The lenses were nothing but glass. They didn’t magnify anything at all. I truly believe this crooked quack would have had our German Shepherd fitted for glasses if he could get away with it. The kind with straps. After all, the insurance company was paying.
In later years, when getting my eyes examined by other doctors, I never wore glasses again. There is something really creepy about a corrupt optometrist. I mean, your EYES…….
The final pleasure in Dad’s life was taking Mom out to dinner every Tuesday or Saturday night. Mom insisted on this weekly escape, her one chance to get out of the house and away from all of the demands of the beasts and the children. They would dress like it was the Academy awards, Mom in some fancy outfit, hair and makeup done like a movie star’s, Dad looking like a million in his suit and shiny shoes.
One of my sister Kim’s friends used to come over on nights my parents went out, just to see how my Mom looked all dressed up. Mom was a sight to behold.
They would go to places with names like ZABERER’S, THE PUB, THE PUB TIKI, and CHUBBY’S……They would eat prime rib, or lobster, or some other type of sea food or steak dinner. Dad was a teetotaler, or more accurately, a Coca-Cola fiend…..He drank a couple of six-packs of Coke a day, I think. We all helped him, each child becoming a Coca-Cola addict by the age of six. (Just don’t take his last one…There would be less fuss if one were to hide a junkie’s heroin stash.)
But Mom liked her Manhattans. We could always tell how MUCH she liked them week to week by how much she was yelling at Dad as they came in the front door.
But most weeks were pleasant. We would all wait excitedly as they came home late with a big doggie bag of leftovers for us. (It occurs to me now how much of their food they were deliberately saving to share with us kids.)
Now that you have some background, you can appreciate what my Dad must have suffered when my brother Kirk and I pulled the stunt you are about to read.
My Dad was so used to hard work, that often on his days off he would find some work to do around the house. He could never just sit still. One Wednesday in the middle of summer, Dad decided to rent one of those carpet shampooers and shampoo our living room and dining room carpets. No mean feat, as he was working alone, and afterwards he had to roll them up and carry these big carpets to the backyard, where they would dry draped over two picnic tables. He worked a good part of the day shampooing these carpets. Then he struggled to get them out back to dry.
That’s when I had a brilliant idea. Always being the creative type, I thought it would be cool to make mud pies on top of the newly shampooed carpets. Somehow, I talked my younger brother Kirk into helping me. We could pretend we were bakers, and sell the mud pies to our friends.
We filled two plastic buckets with dirt from the backyard, than ran water from the hose into each bucket until we had just the right consistency of mud. Then, taking the plastic shovels, we plopped the filthy, wet batter directly onto the drying carpets, making little pancake-sized shapes up and down the length of the picnic tables. Our fun continued as we completely covered both carpets with mud pies.
I was genuinely proud as I stepped back to survey our handiwork. Wouldn’t Dad be pleased to see what we had done…..
When Dad came out the back door a few minutes later, seeing the now drying mud pies on his newly shampooed rugs, his reaction was quite different from what I had expected and hoped for. He didn’t say anything at first, but his face changed colors, finally looking like white play-doh, and his eyes had a sick, hurt look.
At this point, Kirk had the sense to run for his life, hopping over the backyard fence as fast as he could.
I, on the other hand, stood rooted to the spot, a smile frozen on my face, hoping against hope that I could somehow sell Dad on the idea that what we had done was a GOOD thing. “Dad, see what we did?”—I started to say stupidly.
But before I got all the words out, he was upon me, no longer speechless.
As he began to “wail my behind,” as he would put it, my heart sank at the realization that now I was in even more trouble. Because as he grabbed me and forced me along into the house, spanking my bottom hard all along the way, he had now discovered my secret. For weeks I had been wearing two sets of clothes when I went out to play, one under the other. Two pairs of shorts, two shirts, two pair of socks. I wanted to be like Superman, my comic book hero, and HE wore two sets of clothes every day. Clark Kent’s clothes, and then Superman’s clothes underneath.
Now Dad realized why he found it necessary to go to Cobby’s Laundromat so often…..His goofy son was wearing TWO sets of clothes every day! I’m sure this doubled my beating. I cried for awhile, more from hurt feelings that my Dad rejected my gift of mud pies than from the spanking. I don’t remember if Kirk ever got punished upon his arrival home hours later, or if the steam had blown over by then.
Poor Dad spent the remainder of the day hosing down the carpets to remove the mud pies. He may have carried them both back into the house to shampoo them over again, I don’t recall.
The possibility may have crossed his mind that perhaps my mother had been kidnapped and impregnated by aliens. Because there was just no way I was any son of his.
I wasn’t allowed to wear two sets of clothes anymore, either.
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin Kopko
This page was last edited on 03/3/2007