Our house edged a woods. We said the lady who lived there was a witch.
A path cut through the woods, from our dead-end suburban circle to a main street on which stood Anastasia’s, a 5&10 that sold Spider-man comics and Pixy Stix. We’re not talking Fruit Roll-ups. This was pure dyed sugar in a straw. You lay on the ground, bit open the bottom of the straw, and red or purple or green sugar poured into your mouth. When the straw was empty, you’d suck the wet paper end for the extras.
My few chores earned me 25 cents a week allowance. My brother, three years younger, also got 25 cents a week, because everything had to be equal. (My mother, doling out the spaghetti and meatballs: “Each two meatballs.”)
Every week my brother blew his 25 cents on candy for the whole neighborhood. A half-dozen friends accompanied him down the path through the woods, past the witch’s house, to Anastasia’s. Ten minutes later, they’d be back, finishing the last of my brother’s candy.
Most weeks I saved my 25 cents. My mother had instilled thrift; my father had not yet instilled earning.
I saved up, week after week, then splurged on Spider-man comics, Pixy Stix, and gifts for girls. I bought my mother a Yellow Pages dress—a paper mini-dress created from recycled Yellow Pages. It was a horrible thing but girls wore it on TV and I thought it would make my mom happy. I bought Leslie Lombardo a pen. I had worshipped Leslie for two years. She had dark hair, dark eyes, soft down on her arms. Christmas was coming, and while I was afraid to talk to Leslie, I thought a gift might show her how I felt.
I bought the nicest Bic pen Anastasia’s sold. Put it in an envelope with her name on it and a drawing from me and slipped it into her desk. She never said a word to me about it. A few weeks later, Leslie’s friend confronted me. Leslie’s friend was a big boyish girl, who always smelled vaguely of urine, and who had humiliated me for all time by shoving me into a basketball net in the school gym. She told me, within earshot of Leslie, that Leslie had gotten my pen, and that Leslie hated me.
Never lacking for a quick comeback, I replied, “Oh, yeah? Well, I only got Leslie a gift to show her that I don’t like her.”
Later, alone in the janitor’s closet, I may have cried.
After that, I stuck with Pixy Stix. They all tasted the same, but red was my favorite.
Zeldman creates websites, magazines, podcasts, and web design conferences, and writes and publishes books.