A History Of The Pie-Throwing Elimination
Panem, Colorado was founded in 1952 by Dirk Capitol, an airplane mechanic who had retired from Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). By all reports, Mr. Capitol was an excellent mechanic, but he couldn’t spell worth beans.
Panem, Colorado swiftly grew, so that by 1982, it had twelve high schools. (For a while, Panem had a thirteenth high school, but that school is never discussed in polite society.) Because nobody could agree on what to name the high schools, they were given numbers: Public High School One, PHS Two, . . . on up through PHS Twelve. The middle schools were similarly numbered: Public Middle School 5-A and PMS 5-B fed into Public High School Five, for instance.
In 1962, the Panem school system hired a new school superintendent, Verylongnameus Ice. President Kennedy was preaching the value of physical education for schoolchildren, and Superintendent Ice took up this cause. Superintendent Ice believed that the schoolchildren of Panem should be physically fit, no excuses accepted.
So Ice believed in 1962. So he still believed during “the Pork Days” (1982), when a U.S. government paper reported that Panem, Colorado had the most-overweight children in the entire U.S.A.
Superintendent Ice responded to this report with a decree: The schools of Panem would henceforth not sell dessert as part of school lunches, nor were the schoolchildren allowed to bring desserts from home.
Needless to say, this went over like spinach-and-liver casserole (which was on every Friday’s menu for lunch, in all Panem schools).
Students responded by singing a protest song in front of the superintendent’s office—
Will you, will you
Eat some cake with me,
And choc’late éclairs,
Fudge brownies two or three?
Ice cream on top of pie,
How tasty would it be,
If we both pigged out
On cake, pie, and candy?
The students’ protests were ignored.
Parents called for Ice’s resignation. He refused to resign. The school board went behind Ice’s back, and hired a replacement school superintendent, Bob Smith. Verylongnameus Ice accepted his firing graciously, even inviting Smith to his house for cold beers.
During that drinking session, Smith had a heart attack. The school board was forced to rehire Ice as superintendent.
Three more times, this happened: The school board hired a replacement school superintendent, Ice invited the man over to his house for celebratory beers, the new-hire superintendent had a heart attack, and the school board had to give Ice his job back.
After this happened four times, the school board told complaining parents, “Your child doesn’t need home-made pie for lunch, right?”
But not everything went Ice’s way. The school board exempted all of Panem’s elementary schools from his no-desserts rule.
Superintendent Ice went before the school board and threw a fit. They told him, “You need to be flexible.”
Then he said something totally unexpected: “I’m willing to let one middle-school or high-school student earn exemption from the dessert
ban each year.”
They asked him, “How will you choose that one student?”
Superintendent Ice smiled coldly. “You leave the details to me.”
Thus in 1982, the Panem Independent School District Annual Pie-Throwing Elimination was born.
Which the students dubbed The Dessert Games.
Nowadays, Verylongnameus Ice is an old man with a trimmed white beard. He is still Panem’s Superintendent of Schools, which means that the no-dessert ban is still in effect, and the annual Dessert Games will happen soon.
My Day Started Normally
Morning, the last Saturday in June
A three-bedroom house within School Zone Twelve
Twenty miles north of Fort Collins
My sister’s reflection looked at me and asked, “Karen, was I wrong to try to rescue that kitten from that tree?” Primmy didn’t say, but she clearly meant, Because look what happened when I climbed that ladder.
My twelve-year-old sister, Primmytwoshoes Ebergrimm, had her right arm and her left leg in a cast. The moral of this story was: If you climb a ladder to rescue a kitten, don’t fall off the ladder.
Or else rescue kittens from only short trees.
My sister and I had very different attitudes toward kittens. Primmy liked to rescue kittens; I had tried to drown her kitten Pollen some years ago. But Primmy had never found out about that, so my sister still loved me. Pollen? Not so much.
Anyway, Primmy was now waiting for my answer. I shrugged and said, “At least you didn’t run into a burning orphanage, like that time two years ago. You burned half your hair off then.”
Primmy reached over to self-consciously stroke one of her blond braids that were hanging down her back. Or at least, she tried to stroke the braid. With her right arm in a cast, she couldn’t reach it.
After several seconds of waving her plaster-covered right arm around without achieving her goal, Primmy said, “You know how I love yellow cake with chocolate frosting? I really want to win this. But this year, if I’m picked, no way can I win, and then I won’t get picked again.That’s the rule.”
I replied, “If you say that you are unable to participate, then the Selector can ask for volunteers. The first person to touch your shoulder becomes the volunteer. If he or she wins, the rules say that the winner can sign over Dessert Privilege to another student.”
Primmy rolled her eyes. “Karen, whoever wins is going to eat dessert themselves, not sign it over to me. Look at the Gluttons, they don’t sign over Dessert Privilege.”
We both giggled at that. The Gluttons were volunteers from School Zones One, Two, and Four, and the Gluttons were fat.
But then my face lost its smile. “Primmy, there will be many names in the Selection Bowl besides yours. This problem won’t come up, so relax.”
Then I said, “But speaking of gluttony, I want to grab something to eat before I go over to Soozin’s house. He’s got some invention he has to show me before the Selection.” I rolled my eyes.
I gestured to Primmy, and she hobbled out of her bedroom as I walked beside her.
When we walked into the living room, there was Mom, sitting at the left end of the couch and staring out the window. Mom was always sitting on the couch and staring out the window; she had done that ever since Dad had died in the automobile accident.
“Hold on,” I said to Primmy. A spider was using Mom’s arm to anchor a cobweb with. I picked up the broom that was leaning against the wall by the couch, swept Mom off again, put the broom back, then Primmy and I resumed our trip to the kitchen.
A half-hour later
At Soozin Hawtbod’s house
Soozin opened his front door, and grinned when he saw me on his doorstep.
“Come in, Karen, you have to see this! You will be so amazed!”
Soon we were down in his basement. Whatever he had invented, it filled up that basement.
As tactfully as I could, I said, “I can’t tell what your invention does.”
Soozin grinned again. “You watch. You’ll call me a genius.”
Soozin pressed “Play” on a boombox (A), which made him tap the musical beat on a spring-resistant foot pedal (B), which pulled down the handle of a bicycle-tire pump (C), which caused the steady inflation of a toy balloon (D). When the balloon burst, the bang startled a sleeping cat (E), which leaped up into the air, slamming its head against a fireplace bellows (F), from which came a puff of air that made the flame of a burning candle (G) momentarily burn hotter and bigger, which burned a string (H) in two . . .
The end result of all this activity was that a hemispherical wire strainer (M), with its handle sawed off, dropped six feet to a place on the concrete floor that was chalk-marked Mouse.
I said to Soozin, “I still don’t get it.”
“Duh, Karen, it’s a humane mousetrap. You put cheese there, you start the music, and the mice get captured without killing them.”
Hoo boy. I recalled then that Soozin’s father, a dentist-inventor, had been killed when his prototype dentures-making machine had exploded. Now, it seemed, son Soozin was traveling down that same path.
Worse than that was, Soozin reminded me of the rumors about School Zone Thirteen.
These days, nobody from PHS Twelve travelled to School Zone Thirteen—not for an away game, and not for Speech Festival, Drama Festival, Academic Decathlon, or Science Fair. Likewise, nobody from PHS Thirteen had set foot in School Zone Twelve in a long, long time.
There were three different rumors about why School Zone Thirteen seemed to have vanished. One rumor said that vampires had come to School Zone Thirteen, after some PHS Thirteen kids had held a supposedly-fake séance. Eventually the vampires had been killed off, but not before they had killed everyone in the school zone. A second rumor said pretty much the same as the first, except that the trouble supposedly had started when a PHS Thirteen kid had created a zombie virus in biology class. No, said the third rumor, what had destroyed School Zone Thirteen was that a kid in PHS Thirteen’s computer-science class had invented a new video game, and had given it to everyone in School Zone Thirteen to test. Alas, the game had been so easy and uninteresting that everyone in Thirteen had died of boredom.
All this was why Soozin inventing stuff that he was not in control of, frightened me so much. I did not want everyone in Twelve to die like kids in Thirteen had died.
Actually, there was a fourth explanation for why the rest of Panem heard nothing from School Zone Thirteen, but this rumor, I did not believe at all. Two girls from PHS Eight had sworn up and down to me that Thirteen was alive and intact—Thirteen had just formed its own school district.
Just how stupid do you think I am? had been my reaction. There was simply no way that Superintendent Ice would have let Thirteen leave.
Anyway, Soozin now was traveling down a dangerous path, and I did not want him to get hurt.
But what I said aloud was, “Your rig is too noisy. By the time the strainer lands where the cheese is, the mice will have run away.”
Soozin looked his contraption over, then he sighed. “Gosh, Karen, you invent stuff all the time, and it all works, and it’s all successful. Look at you, a millionaire at sixteen!”
I shrugged. “I invent stuff because I have to. Mom has held only one job since Dad died, and she got fired after two weeks. So at age eleven, I had to step up. But who’s going to hire an eleven-year-old for anything?”
I didn’t mention to Soozin that it took a while for the invention-royalties to roll in. There had been that awful day when I had been eleven years old and I had been sure that Primmy, Mom, and I all would soon starve to death.
Now Soozin said, “I just want to invent something good like you keep doing, so Mom doesn’t have to keep working two jobs. But I’m a total flop as an inventor.”
“You’re not a failure. Didn’t you sell one of your inventions to Acme Novelty Company?”
“Yes, I did—which reminds me. My invention is in production now, and since I as inventor get a 70 percent discount from Acme Novelty, I ordered one. I paid for them to next-day it to your house; you should get it in today’s mail.”
“That is sweet of you,” I replied. “Remind me again what you invented.”
Soozin smiled mysteriously. “Let’s say that I took a classic gag gift and I improved upon it.”
“Now you have me curious,” I replied. Then I pulled out my smartphone and checked the time. “I have to pick up Primmy. She will not want to be late for her first Selection.”
“You don’t have to, Karen,” Soozin said. “Go to the Selection, I mean. Attendance isn’t mandatory, plus sweets rot your teeth.”
I thought then, Soozin, you truly are the son of a dentist. But aloud I said, “That’s not a plan. Primmy is eager to go. She’s going and I’m going with her, end of discussion.”
Soozin thrust his chest out. “Then if you’re going, I’m going with both of you.”
I did not try to talk him out of it. Soozin was an inept inventor, but he was also the handsomest boy at Public High School Twelve.
Mom spoke for the first time in almost five years: “If you want, I can drive you two to the school, since it’s Primmy’s first Selection.”
No way, I thought—just the thought of Mom behind the wheel, in the mental state she was in, would give me nightmares for a week.
Fortunately, it had been long enough since Mom’s car had been driven that it had four flat tires. I never thought that seeing flat tires would give me such a sense of relief.
Plan B: Have Soozin drive the three of us to Selection. For some reason, Soozin sighed when Mom got into his car.
Soozin, Primmy, and I (and Mom) arrived at the parking lot of PHS Twelve at ten minutes till ten. We had to check in, which involved each of us showing student IDs.
As soon as we were past Check-In, Soozin took off his sunglasses. A blond senior girl stared at him.
“Hey, Linda,” Soozin said. The girl fainted.
I saw teen girls act like that all the time, whenever I went someplace public with Soozin. Probably because Soozin was the handsomest boy at PHS Twelve.
“Hey, you! Kantkiss Evergrim!” an angry female voice now called out. “Thanks a lot for showing up and hurting the odds for everyone else.”
I looked over; it was Midget Underwater who was yelling at me.
Primmy murmured, “Why does she call you Kantkiss?”
I murmured back, “Because I hang out with Soozin but we don’t date. Obviously something is wrong with me.”
Soozin must have overheard me, because now he said to Midget, “Would it bother you if I started dating Karen?”
Midget stared at him. “It . . . it . . .” Then she fainted.
I said to Soozin, “Thanks.”
“For what?” Soozin asked, puzzled.
Then I heard the amplified sound of a finger tapping on a microphone, followed by Principal Underwater’s voice: “Boys and girls, the Selection for contestants in this year’s Pie-Throwing Elimination is about to begin.”
The first thing that happened was that we had to watch a propaganda video that was narrated by Superintendent Ice. It claimed to explain the Pork Days and why we were having annual Dessert Games—
“Obesity, terrible obesity,” Ice said. “Groaning furniture, ripped seams, a belt grown too small. This was the health crisis that rocked our city. Panem’s children were fat; they were chubby, flabby, massive, overweight, piggish, plump, porky, portly, pudgy, roly-poly, tubby, beefy bloated blimps, blubbery butterballs, each as big as a house and as heavy as a mountain. . . .”
Soozin muttered, “I really hate having to watch this.”
I shrugged. After I had been forced to watch How Your Body Makes Babies in sixth grade, this video was nothing. What is a shot of fat teenagers walking down a school hallway in 1982, next to a ruthlessly frank lecture on menstruation?
“. . . children looked into the eyes of their parents who had loved them, protected them, fed them—and said ‘Give me seconds, give me thirds, what’s for dessert?’ Brother ate brother’s food till nothing remained. Then came the school exercise program—hard-worked, muscles sored. Panem’s young people emerged from the lard, and a new and slimmer generation was formed. But slimness has a cost, and in Panem schools, that cost is dessert. When the obesity was removed, we swore as a city we would never know fat children again—but we would allow one exception. And so it was decreed that, each year, the various school zones of Panem would offer up one young man and woman to pie-fight for Dessert Privilege. The lone victor, bathed in sweets, would serve as a reminder of our generosity and our flexibility. This is how we safeguard our children’s future health.”
When the video ended, Principal Underwater said, “Now here’s Bimbie B—oh hello, Sumbitch, glad you could make it.”
Up on stage were three chairs, one of which had been vacant up till now. But Sumbitch Evertipsy managed to stumble up the stairs to the stage.
It was rumored that Sumbitch Evertipsy slept in an alley in a cardboard box. Rumor also said that the drunk had achieved only one honor in his entire life: winning an earlier year’s Dessert Games. Supposedly Sumbitch had achieved this by acting clever. I could not imagine him being clever about anything, except at scoring free booze.
But now, once Sumbitch was on stage, he did not take his seat. He stumbled over to Bimbie Bauble, put an arm around her shoulders, and tried to kiss her on the cheek.
Bimbie mouthed something to him—it looked like Later—then pushed Sumbitch away. He landed on his butt.
Nobody laughed; we all were bored stiff. Sumbitch Evertipsy acting like a drunk was old news.
As Sumbitch managed to crawl over to his chair and sit in it without falling over, Bimbie Bauble walked to the microphone.
Cheerfully she said, “Good morning, everyone, isn’t it a wonderful day? I’m Bimbie Bauble, and I’m normally a secretary at the Dirk Capitol Administration Building.”
I thought, The Capitol Building hires pink-haired secretaries? Girlfriend, I hope for your sake I’m seeing a wig. That way, on evenings and weekends you can look normal.
Bimbie was still speaking: “. . . today I’ll be choosing one lucky girl and one lucky boy to be contestants in the Pie-Throwing Elimination. Maybe one of you kids here today will be the one to win Dessert Privilege.”
Nobody replied. The last student from School Zone Twelve to win Dessert Privilege was Sumbitch Evertipsy. The odds were not in our favor.
Bimbie then extended her left hand. “Ladies first.” She reached into the Girls’ Selection Bowl and pulled out a slip.
Let it be me, let it be me, I thought. Soozin might be a dentist’s kid, but I wasn’t.
Principal Underwater read the slip of paper with a bar-code reader, then shook his head. Bimbie dropped the slip of paper onto the stage.
This meant that some School Zone Twelve girl had not bothered to show up for Selection today, but her name had been picked. Too bad, now she would forever miss out on Dessert Privilege.
Bimbie reached into the bowl again. I hoped, Let it be me, let it be me.
Again Bimbie withdrew a slip of paper, again Principal Underwater bar-coded it, again he shook his head, and again Bimbie let the slip of paper fall from her fingers.
The same routine happened a third time. But this time Principal Underwater nodded.
Let it be me, let it be me, let it —
Bimbie Bauble was smiling like a beauty queen. “Please come forward, Primmytwoshoes Ebergrimm.”
I Know That Boy!
My hand was resting on Primmy’s shoulder then. I felt her stiffen.
She groaned. “This is my nightmare, come to life.”
“Remember what we talked about?” I asked.
She did indeed remember. She called out, “I AM PRIMMYTWOSHOES EBERGRIMM, AND I AM UNFIT TO BE A CONTESTANT.”
There was a collective gasp from every female throat. I glanced around; every girl’s eyes were shining with hope.
Bimbie said, “Um, I think we need to let a volunteer run up to her—”
Fat chance of that. For an instant I lifted my hand off Primmy’s shoulder, then I slammed my hand back down. I yelled, “I VOLUNTEER! I VOLUNTEER AS PIE-THROWER!”
A moment of silence passed. Then my ears were blasted by a chorus of soprano and alto voices: “BITCH!”
I yanked my purse off my shoulder and shoved it at Primmy. “Hold on to this till I get back home.”
After I climbed the stairs to the stage, pink-haired Bimbie gave me a beauty-queen smile and said, “Well, bravo! That is the spirit of the Pie-Throwing Elimination! What is your name, dear?”
“I bet my buttons that was your sister. Don’t want her to steal all the cake and pie, do we? Come on, everybody, let’s give a big round of applause to our newest contestant!”
There was complete silence. Then Midget Underwater yelled, “SHE PULLED A GLUTTON TRICK!”
After Midget yelled this, she raised both hands, palms turned away from me, and then pulled in all the fingers of each hand except for the middle finger. She was the first girl to do it, but then every other girl except Primmy copied the gesture. Even some boys joined in.
It was an old and rarely used gesture in School Zone Twelve (at least, when adults were around). It meant Get lost, it meant disrespect. I wanted to cry then, seeing all those kids giving me that gesture.
Just as my lip started trembling, I felt an arm around my shoulder. Sumbitch Evertipsy stood beside me, looking at the kids. He said, “I like her! She’s got—she’s got. . .”
“Language, Sumbitch,” I heard Bimbie murmur.
“I forget the word”—and as pickled as Sumbitch was, I completely believed this—“but Karen has more of whatever-it-is than all of you together! But besides that—”
I’ll never know what else he was going to say, because Sumbitch fell off the stage and knocked himself out.
At the edge of the crowd was an ambulance, with two bored-looking EMTs standing there. One of them rolled his eyes, put his smartphone in his pocket, and walked (not ran) toward fallen Sumbitch.
Meanwhile, Bimbie patted her pink hair and said, “What an exciting day! But more excitement to come. Now it’s time to choose School Zone Twelve’s boy contestant.”
There was no drama with the bar code this time; the first slip of paper that Bimbie pulled from the Boys’ Selection Bowl, Principal Underwater nodded at.
Bimbie read the name: “Poofa Meadowlark.”
At once I recognized the name; I had known for five years who Poofa Meadowlark was, though he probably did not know this.
He was a muscular boy, the same sixteen as me, with curly blond hair and sky-blue eyes. Now he was trying to keep his face emotionless; but for a second, I saw him smile.
And why not? Imagine what desserts a baker’s son could bring to school if only he were allowed to!
Poofa climbed the stairs to the stage, then stopped in front of me, his hand out.
As I shook his hand, I noticed that he smelled like fresh-baked bread. I also noticed that his lipstick was a very subtle shade; it almost looked natural.
Poofa murmured something to me. It sounded like Karen, you are the only girl I have ever loved, but I was sure I misheard him.
Then Poofa walked across the stage to stand on Bimbie’s other side, and she briefly interviewed him.
Does Poofa even remember that awful day? I wondered. Probably not.
Dad had died in the auto accident when I had been eleven. Insurance had paid a little money, but soon we had been broke.
Meanwhile, Mom had not been taking Dad’s death well at all. She started sitting all day on the couch, staring out the window. She neither worked nor cooked dinner for us.
I had to make dinner for Primmy and me (Mom would not eat). I got really tired of eating macaroni and cheese!
While I was fixing breakfast one morning, I yelled at Mom: “What don’t you get a job as a store-display mannequin? You’re perfectly qualified to do that!”
Mom nodded slightly, got her car keys, and drove off. Without even saying goodbye.
She got the job, working at Macy’s. She sat or stood in the window five days a week, and did not move a muscle. But she got fired after two weeks, when customers complained to Macy’s about “the window mannequin with the dead stare.”
So it fell to me to provide for the three of us, before we all starved to death. I was eleven and Primmy was seven.
One day, I went around with a box of kittens that Primmy had rescued, trying to sell them, but nobody would buy them.
I never have figured out why. Do people hate cute kittens?
Even more frustrating, the kittens kept climbing out of the box. Chasing them was exhausting.
Eventually I wound up by the back door of Meadowlark Bakery, though I did not notice this at the time. A black kitten climbed out of the box and jumped into an open trash can. I suppose the kitten smelled food.
I was reaching into the trash can, trying to capture the kitten, when I heard a woman’s voice: “You! Brat girl! Get away from our trash cans! Go steal food somewhere else.”
I turned around. Waving a rolling pin at me was Mrs. Meadowlark. Standing behind her, watching me, was a blond boy, my age, whom I had seen at school. His eyes were big as saucers—though maybe that was because of the mascara he was wearing.
The good news was, Mrs. Meadowlark never hit me. The bad news was, I had to leave without getting the kitten back.
To make life worse, just as I was backing away from Mrs. Meadowlark and her rolling pin, it started to rain. Within a minute, the rain was blasting down on me.
Somehow I wound up under an apple tree that was across the street from Meadowlark’s Bakery. I was weak from hunger then; I let the kitten-box drop to the ground and I collapsed to the ground next to that box.
“RRAOW!” The kittens did not like the hard bump they had just received. Within seconds, they climbed out of the box and scattered. I did not have the energy to chase them.
In fact, I was sure I would die under that apple tree.
That was when Poofa came out the back door of the bakery. He started to go toward the trash cans, but then he stopped and looked around.
Eleven-year-old Poofa was pushing a wheelbarrow. On the wheelbarrow was a four-tier wedding cake. That cake was almost as tall as seven-year-old Primmy.
Poofa and the wheelbarrow started to move toward me, but Poofa never once looked at me. He looked to his left, to his right, up, down—but never at me.
One detail of that day that I will always remember: The pouring rain made Poofa’s mascara run.
When Poofa was one foot from me, but still not looking at me, he dumped the wedding cake out of the wheelbarrow—
Wedding cake got into my hair; crumbly white cake and gooey white frosting covered my face and all my clothes. Cake and frosting got into my mouth, not in a way I had ever wanted. (It tasted good, though.) Frosting went up my nose!
Some of the wedding cake fell into the kittens’ box—
A white-frosting-covered kitten climbed out of the box, glared at Poofa and me, then ran off.
The top tier of the wedding cake had landed at my feet; somehow it remained intact. I read the inscription: Hapinness and Lung Lief Tugethir, Jhon and Mayr.
I wondered, Do these misspelling have anything to do with Poofa trashing such an expensive wedding cake?
Poofa leveled the wheelbarrow, backed it up, turned it around, and pushed it toward the back door of the bakery. He never once looked at me or spoke to me.
Meanwhile, I was stuffing as much of the wedding cake as I could pack in, into the kittens’ box.
After the wedding cake got dumped on me, life got better for Primmy, me, and Mom.
But not for Poofa, it seemed. The next morning at school, I passed him in the hallway. He had a black eye (which his concealer did not manage to cover up). He did not say anything to me, and I did not say anything to him.
Later that morning at recess, I saw Poofa staring at me. As soon as our eyes met, he looked away, and I looked down. My eyes then saw a dandelion, the first dandelion of spring.
That was when I got the idea of an improved dandelion-digger that I could invent. That dandelion-digger patent was the start of my becoming an inventor-millionaire.
(The Apple iPhone slide-to-unlock patent? That was mine. I “invented” it during a beer commercial, because I was bored; and I submitted the patent paperwork to the USPTO as a joke. But that one patent earned me oodles.)
I had never once thanked the kid with the cake, but I had never forgotten what he had done for me.
In my mind, there always would be a connection between Poofa Meadowlark, the life-restoring wedding cake that he had dumped on me, and the spring dandelion that had started me on the road to riches. I owed him so much, but I had never thanked him. Sometimes my conscience had bothered me about this.
And now Poofa and I were competitors; it was me or him; only one of us could win Dessert Privilege. Bleep.
The Dessert Games: A Hunger Games Parody—buy the book!