Gummed Up by Steven Flam

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old coke bottles in recycling crate

We were scrounging for bottles, Keller and I, through the debris of rusted cans, shattered glass, and old tires. The bottles we sought had been thrown off a bridge from Gedney Way into the gully below. It was 1965, and the soda bottles were greenish and made of thick glass. We managed to fill up two shopping bags at two cents apiece.

We climbed up to the street and headed to Gristedes. Right in front of the supermarket, we noticed eight 32-ounce Coke bottles just sitting there.

I said to Keller, “You think some rich person might have left these, not bothering with the deposit?”

Keller said, “Man, it sure looks that way. Damn.” We added the eight bottles to our shopping bags. They would fetch a nickel apiece.

We strode up to the cashier and set the brown bags on the counter.

“Where did you boys get all these bottles?” the gray haired women asked with distaste. Some of the slimy bottles had gum in them, others cigarette stubs.

“We found them,” I answered.

“Well, next time, please wash them. Today’s redemption day, so I need to hose them down and set them in the front of the store for pickup.”

We received two dollars and twenty-two cents, split it evenly, and rushed off to Sam’s Deli. I bought a huge sour pickle from a barrel and an Orange Crush. Keller purchased a Hostess Twinkie and a Mountain Dew. We sat on the front stoop of the store, like a picnic, watching the cars glide by. A ‘57 Chevy with its top down passed. What a beautiful spring day!

We walked down to the Gedney Way Pharmacy to spend the rest of our loot. Keller bought five packs of Tops baseball cards and I purchased an Archie and a Superman comic at twelve cents each. Then we meandered over to the magazine section and sneaked a peek at the new Penthouse. All the naked women had great wooly patches of black hair and big boobs. After a time the store manager shooed us away. “This is no library; you kids git out of here.”

We took the shortcut through the woods, passed the old coal tower, and cut through the Binger backyard to our block: Beverly Road. We sat down on the fresh mowed grass of my front yard and surveyed our stuff. Keller jammed a stick of bubble gum in his mouth and shuffled through his first pack of baseball cards.

“Not another Milt Pappas,” he grumbled. “Hey Flam, now that you’re fourteen, what’s a matter with you, you’re too old to buy baseball cards?”

“I don’t have to since I taught that new kid on Albemarle Road, Kenny Lipski, how to flip cards. I showed him how to play knocking down leaners and topsies and won every card he had, a whole shoebox full of them. I’m waiting for his dad to buy him another case, then we’re going to play again. Lipski wants to win his cards back.”

Keller said, “Why don’t you introduce me? I want to play him.” He handed me a stick of gum, and I slipped it in my mouth. It was full-bodied pink bubble gum, rich in sugar and guaranteed to rot your teeth. In those days we all had a mouth full of black mercury fillings. Dentists would swear they were stronger than teeth and would last a lifetime. Those fillings lasted me forty years until they loosened up and took the whole tooth with ’em. But hell, that was forty years of good use, a lifetime to a kid back then.

Keller was looking through his fourth pack of disappointing cards when we noticed my next door neighbor, six-year-old Janet Sosinski, tiptoeing up on us. She’d venture as close as she could, then run off screaming with fright.

“What the hell is wrong with that little girl?” Keller asked, pressing another stick of gum in his mouth and offering me a second piece to renew the flavor.

“She’s just the scaredest kid I ever seen. She’s scared of everything.”

Next time she approached, Keller jumped up and started making horrific faces. Janet shot off like a rabbit that wandered into a wolf den. Keller broke out laughing, thought it was the funniest thing. It got me laughing, too.

On Keller’s fifth pack he found an Orlando Cepeda and a Juan Marichal. What a find! Keller hooted for joy. He was a Giants fan, and you couldn’t ask for better.

Janet Sosinski peeped out her door again, and Keller leaped up and made some faces, yelled, “I’m going to get you!” Janet burst out crying and slammed the door of her house. Keller laughed so hard tears were edging out of his eyes. I guess I thought it was pretty funny, too.
I told him I was going to get in trouble if he kept it up. He said, “Oh man, that is so much fun.”

After a bit we saw Elise Weil strolling down the street with her tan poodle on a leash. Elise was the same age as Keller, thirteen. She was freckly and pudgy with a thick mane of frizzy chestnut hair, but she had one prominent feature that demanded respect: she was stacked. She had the biggest tits on the block. Elise stopped in front of us with her poodle tugging her arm. She turned her head sideways, and I knew she was sweet on both of us.

She said, “My parents went away with my brother for the day and left me all by myself. You guys want to come over and listen to my records?”

I left the comic books on our front stoop for my sisters and we took off side by side with Elise. Inside her basement, Elise put on a stack of 45s on the record player: Smokey Robinson, the Shirelles, the Supremes, and the boys from Liverpool, the Beatles. We sat on the couch with Elise between us.

No one made a move until finally Keller said, “I always wondered if those big tits of yours are real. You know, it’s a fact that Robin Feldbour stuffs her bra with tissue paper.”

“Oh, stop that. Mine are real, and you know they’re real, Steve Keller!”

On that Keller reached up boldly and palmed one just to be sure. He had a small strong hand with a touch of hair on the back. “Oh, damn me, they are real.” Elise blushed a full red but she didn’t nudge his hand away. If anything, she seemed to be enjoying the contact. Keller said, “Flam, these are the genuine article. Feel one.”

I reached over and gave the other one a gentle squeeze and confirmed Keller’s findings. “Damn, you’re right.” Elise was proud and seemed to be enjoying the attention. “The Tracks of My Tears” was playing on the victrola.

Next thing you know, Keller was kissing her from the front and fiddling with her right breast while I was reaching over her back, kneading the other one. I was in fondle heaven: it was my first experience at king-size. Elise was just thirteen but she was blossomed and bigger than most full-grown women. I was getting excited, panting, and saliva was leaking out of my mouth when, suddenly, my gum popped out and landed in the midst of her thick hair, like an egg in a nest.

I didn’t want to let go of her breast—that was asking too much—so I tried to retrieve the gum with my other hand. Just then, Elise shifted and the gum intermingled with some frizzy strands. I was alarmed; now every time I attempted to extricate the sticky pink gum, it would get more entangled.

Keller came up for air with an impish grin but he saw something was amiss by the look on my face and he followed my eyes to the glob. “Should we tell her?” I mouthed. He shook his head vehemently, and his eyes turned into pinpoints of determination. He motioned me to make room and let him have a go. With a dexterous touch, he had his fingers on the gum when Elise shifted again so the gum and the hair became one like a hairball. You never saw such a mess.

With our hands now away from her heaving breasts, Elise became suspicious. She looked up into my worried eyes and navigated where they were fixed, then she reached for the top of her head and felt the gunk.

“What have you two done?” she shrieked.

I admit I was relieved that Keller was included on the blame.

Keller said, “It was an accident. These kinds of things happen.”

She ran into the bathroom and screamed, “Oh, my God!” Then she let loose with an explosion of profanities, threatening to kill us both. We rushed out the basement door.

Shuffling down Beverly Road, I asked Keller, “Was she a good kisser?”

“I don’t know, I couldn’t get past the damn braces; she did whisper to get rid of you though.”

“Noooooo, she said that?”

“Yeah,” Keller said. “Maybe in a week, when she gets that gum out I’ll come over to listen to some more records.”

steven-flamSteven Flam was a professional backgammon player for 20 years. He began his career seeking out the poorest players and pretending his skills were lacking. He was a wolf in hustler’s clothing. He played in bridge clubs, bars and in people’s homes. In the summer months, Steven would travel from state to state, sleeping in his van and playing in tournaments and clubs. By degrees, he improved to such an extent that he became the Florida State Backgammon Champion. Steven moved to Lahti, Finland, and competed for the World Championship in Monte Carlo.
Now he gambles in real estate and is a freelance writer. His specialty is memoir stories, but he likes to mix it up with fiction. In 2015 he had two stories published by
 STORY IMAGE CREDIT/Flickr Creative Commons, Steve Garfield

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