Birthday Pie: A Novel

Birthday Pie: A Novel

by Arthur Wooten


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"Wooten's southern family of the Martindales can sit on a family heirloom mantle along side some of the greats (Glass Menagerie's Wingfields, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's Pollitts, Frankie Addams from The Member of the Wedding, or the Wingos from The Prince of Tides), yet still maintain a uniqueness of the author's voice that vividly allows us to 'know' these people." - Gregory Allen, Author, Playwright * * * * When Lex Martindale, a New York City writer, goes home to celebrate his birthday and say good-bye to his dying father, he struggles with whether or not to share with his eccentric Southern family news of his own life-threatening situation. * * * * As we travel through seventy years of the Martindales' rich and colorful history, unearthing forbidden loves, shattered hopes and tenacious dreams, we realize that this reunion is a volatile turning point in all of their lives. * * * * But as anger, resentments and jealousies erupt to the surface, it's their laughter and irreverent sense of humor that prevails allowing for a quiet healing in this bittersweet, moving portrait, of the all-American family. * * * *"A delicious surprise! Birthday Pie is a clever, smartly written tale that once again proves how great a storyteller Arthur Wooten actually is. A tasty treat from beginning to end." - Greg Archer, The Huffington Post * * * *
"Birthday Pie is one of the most original, relevant and touching stories I have ever read." - Debbie Allen

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780983563143
Publisher: Galaxias Productions
Publication date: 07/13/2011
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.49(d)

About the Author

Mr. Wooten is the humorist for DNA Magazine and the creator of The Dizzy Traveler - food, entertainment and travel blog.

He's the author of the critically acclaimed novels On Picking Fruit, Fruit Cocktail, Dizzy and Leftovers. He's also penned the children's picture book Wise Bear William and a collection of short stories, Arthur Wooten's Shorts.

Also a playwright, his works include the award winning Birthday Pie, which had its world premiere at the Waterfront Playhouse, Key West, FL. His one act plays, Lily and The Lunch, have been produced in New York City and most recently Te Anau, New Zealand.

For two years he was the humorist for the London based magazine, reFRESH.

Arthur grew up in Andover, MA and now resides in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Birthday Pie

A Novel

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Arthur Wooten
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-0965-7

Chapter One

Meet The Martindales

Her claim to fame was that she was fourth runner-up Miss North Carolina 1944. And now, at age sixty-four, Trudy Lee Martindale was still acting the part. With her hair wrapped in a pink towel, a tiara perched on top of that, and a mudpack on her face, she slipped her left foot out of the luxurious bubble bath and turned on the hot water with her big toe.

"I believe in doing what I can, in crying when I must, in laughing when I choose. Heigh-ho, if love were all, I should be lonely ..."

That was her song. Noel Coward's If Love Were All. And she thought it summed up her life. Never in her wildest nightmares did she ever think that in 1990 she would still be living in Ragland, the town she grew up in, right smack dab in the middle of tobacco country. She took another sip of bourbon and glanced over at her vanity.

There were atomizers full of cloyingly-sweet perfumes, bottles of make-up and jars of cold cream. Mascaras, rouges, powder puffs and brushes. False eyelashes, colored pencils, concealers and shadows. And at least a dozen tubes of lipstick, all in the same color. Shimmering Pink. And wedged in between the blonde wiglet and the Aqua Net was a picture of Trudy Lee and Lex smiling a little too hard. Taken fifteen years earlier you could see how much he resembled his mother.

"Thank God you inherited my small facial features, darling. You'll stay young-looking forever," she declared as she lifted her glass to the picture. "Hurry home, Alexi Lee. It's time to celebrate."

* * *

Up in his New York City apartment, he was throwing clothes into a suitcase in a panic to get to the airport. Although the smallest of the Martindale men, standing only five-feet-eight inches tall, Lex was always delighted when people thought he was taller. Few knew he stood so erect because a steel rod had been drilled into his spine after a gymnastics injury when he was seventeen.

With his light brown hair sheared short and dressed all in black, he was going home on the last of the many trips that he sarcastically had dubbed "the death runs."

"I know I'm forgetting something." Lex ran his hand over his scalp and then looked at his palm. "Great, another clump of hair."

"Laxatives?" suggested his lover Peter.

"Right. I always need help when I go back to Ragland."

Peter smiled. "I'll get them for you."

They had just celebrated their fifth anniversary. Although neither of them was still in love with the other and both were mimicking their parents' dysfunctional relationships, they did love one another. And in a time of uncertainty, they held onto each other tightly for comfort and security.

Peter returned with the laxatives as the house phone in the kitchen buzzed.

"Peter, can you get that?"

He ran down the hallway, through the dining room and into the eat-in kitchen. They lived on the top floor-through apartment of an historic brownstone located on Perry Street in Greenwich Village. Although it was in desperate need of a complete gut job, and all work had been put on hold due to long-delayed work permits, Lex found the chaos and disarray disturbingly familiar.

"Yes?" Peter asked while pressing the intercom.

"Car service."

"He'll be right down."

Lex dropped his suitcase in the front hall.

"Is he early or am I late?"

"Both," Peter laughed. "Now calm down."

"Do I have everything?"

"What about your drugs?"

"My God I forgot. Lets see, ten days, forty pills ..." Lex started running in place. "Ooooh, damn it. I knew this would happen. I've got to pee again. Will you get them for me?"

Lex ran off to the bathroom as Peter opened a kitchen cupboard displaying a plethora of medications, and took out several bottles of pills.

* * *

Meanwhile, back in Ragland and out of her bath, Trudy Lee sat at her vanity applying a heavy layer of foundation to her face. She had slipped into a pink chenille bathrobe, a pair of pink mule pumps, and had her blonde hair up in curlers while she continued to sing her song.

"I believe, the more you love a man, the more you give your trust, the more you're bound to lose ..."

She took a sip of her bourbon and whispered through her teeth, "Well, ain't that the God's honest truth?"

* * *

Looking at his watch, Lex raced out of his building followed by Peter, and threw his bag into the cab.

"Lex, you sure you don't want me to come?"

"I wouldn't do that to you," he laughed.

Lex jumped into the car and rolled down the window.

"Then we'll celebrate your birthday when you get back?"

"It's a date," smiled Lex.

"You're going to tell your mother, aren't you?"

Lex gave him a stern look. "Yes."

"Well, don't get mad. She has a right to know."

"You've asked me ten times and I've answered you ten times. Yes, I'm going to tell Trudy Lee."

The driver knocked on the partition. "Which airport?"

"La Guardia, please. "

The car sped off. Looking back through the rear window at Peter, Lex's smile faded, making him look more like a frightened child than a man of thirty-six years.

* * *

Earlier that morning, out in Los Angeles, Lex's older sister, Mona Lee, was having her own troubles getting home to Ragland.

"What is the problem?" she screamed at the cabby.

The driver sat taller, and then adjusted his rear view mirror trying to see the person barking orders from the back seat. All that was visible was the top of her head.

A new-age junkie, Mona Lee stood four-feet-eight inches tall and was partial to silks and satins in bright oranges and reds. Thin and sinewy from years of being macro-neurotic, she had a rather pinched look to her face. With black hair and fluorescent-green eyes she appeared more Mediterranean than Anglo-Saxon. In fact, considering how she was dressed now, she could have easily been mistaken for a Spanish gypsy, except for the purple turban on her head.

"I'm sorry, lady, but we're stuck in traffic," he explained to, what to him, looked like a floating bowling ball.

"Well, if you had taken the route I asked you to, none of this would have happened." She struggled to pull herself up to the clear plastic divider. "And I am not a lady!" She fell back against the seat.

"You can say that again."

The purple bowling ball perked up. "What was that?"

"Nothing," grumbled the cabby.

"I am a woman." She rolled down her window and stuck her head out.

Suddenly, a police car came barreling along the shoulder of the highway with its siren screaming.

"Jesus Christ!" she screamed as she sank back down into the seat. Beads of sweat trickled down her face as she started to tremble.

"You OK ... woman?" asked the cabby.

Mona Lee was desperate. Desperate to get out of Los Angeles. For two reasons. One, just having graduated from the Pacific Rim Shiatsu Institute, she wanted to rush home and cure her daddy of cancer. Two, just having graduated from the Pacific Rim Shiatsu Institute, she'd been working on a new client the day before and had heard that he had passed away shortly after her session. Mona Lee was on the lam.

She peeked out of the window again. The police having vanished, she breathed a sigh of relief.

"That was close." However, the traffic had come to a dead halt. "Driver? I want you to creatively visualize clear highways from here to LAX."

"You what?"

"Just shut your eyes and use mind control."

Dumbfounded, he stared at her in the rear view mirror.

"I said shut your eyes!"

He closed his eyes, as did Mona Lee.

"Now I want you to picture a blank screen in front of you."

"A what?"

"Like a movie screen but blank. And on that screen I want you to project the image of a clear highway. Can you do that?"

"I'll try."

"Now, see our cab moving along this empty stretch of highway. Do you see it?"

"Yes. Yes, I see it."

The cab inched forward very slowly.

She whispered, "Good. Now, picture us traveling at a speed ...," suddenly she screamed at the top of her lungs, "... that will get me to the airport so I don't miss this freaking plane!"

And with that, the driver with his eyes still closed, floored the cab and they crashed into the car in front of them.

* * *

Back in Ragland, Trudy Lee emerged from a pile of hatboxes that had come crashing down onto her in the walk-in closet. There were rows and rows of every style and color of shoe imaginable as well as racks upon racks crammed with everything from formal gowns to satin negligees.

Wearing a Victoria Secret push-up bra, panties and with her hair still in curlers, Trudy Lee struggled to her feet. She grabbed a pressed pair of designer denim jeans and a powder-pink button-down blouse and tripped over a pair of knee-high boots, coming out of the closet.

She dropped the jeans onto the floor and stepped into each pant leg. She shimmied them up to her hips and then lay flat on the bed. She squiggled and squirmed and with the strength of ten men, pulled the jeans up over her butt. Sucking in her stomach she zipped up the fly. Unable to either button them or sit up, she rolled onto her stomach, slid off the bed, hopped over to her dresser and secured the waist with a large safety pin.

"God damn dryer cooks everything till it's two sizes too small."

* * *

At this same moment, Trudy Lee's mother, Anastasia Battles, was on a flight down to North Carolina from Michigan. A widow for almost two decades, she had moved to Detroit to be close to her three-out-of-ten siblings that were still alive. Vegetables in nursing homes, but still alive. Anastasia's friends in her hometown of Winston-Salem, still shook their heads and spat in the dirt when they thought of her crossing the line and moving up into Yankee territory.

At eighty-five, she was nearly blind from macular degeneration. With Coke-bottle-thick eyeglasses and with the kindness of strangers, she still was able to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment.

Wearing a bright red suit and matching hat and with a huge, red plastic patent leather purse hanging on her forearm, she downed another gin and tonic.

"Don't you just love drinking alcohol on airplanes?" she asked the businessman sitting in the aisle seat next to her.

He nodded politely.

"It makes the buzz that much stronger," she continued. "Speaking of which, I have to use the little girls' room. Would you excuse me?"

The man unbuckled his seat belt and stood up, allowing Anastasia to pass by.

"And could you be a dear and point me in the right direction?"

"It's all the way in the back of the plane, Ma'am."

"Thank you ever so much," she replied as she headed to the front.

"Ma'am?" he shouted.

She stopped and turned around. "Yes?"

"I said the back of the plane."

"Oh, yes. Thank you."

Anastasia teetered towards the back of the plane, hitting passengers in the head with her handbag as she felt for each row of seats. She passed the galley and the lavatory. Having reached the very back of the plane, she felt the wall and found a door, the emergency exit for the plane.

She knocked on it and called out, "Hello? Hello? Is someone using the bathroom?" She listened hard and then found the release lever that opens the exit and declared, "Speak now or forever hold your piece."

A flight attendant appeared screaming, "Ma'am! Don't touch that door!"

Paying no heed, Anastasia laughed and continued to pull at the lever. Like a seasoned linebacker, the flight attendant tackled Anastasia to the floor as the plane flew over the Indian Ridge, North Carolina Country Club.

* * *

Down on the course, in a sand trap on the third hole, Roscoe Martindale studied his golf ball with pained seriousness. Trying to make it in the pro-golf world was not coming easily to Trudy Lee's youngest son.

Roscoe would have preferred to be playing on a course in Ragland. That is, if they'd had one. With a scrawny population of just under three thousand four hundred people, and the average family income much less than the national average, Ragland was lucky to have a 7-Eleven, never mind a country club with an Olympic size swimming pool, five-star restaurant and eighteen-hole golf course.

But Indian Ridge was inclusive to few and restrictive to many. So the only way Roscoe could practice on this golf course built on the edge of Ragland was to become a caddy, a job he was embarrassed to have, and which he kept hidden from his family.

A tournament was coming up the following weekend, opening the window for amateurs to advance to professional status, and Roscoe was determined to be one of the lucky few.

Looking pale and thin and playing by himself, he took a practice swing and then pondered the trajectory his ball needed to travel. The distance to the third hole was not far, just tricky. He moved up to the ball, concentrated, looked off towards the hole and then back at the ball. He swung and completely missed it. Self-conscious, he looked to see if anyone had noticed. He stepped up to the ball, concentrated, took another swing and missed the ball again. Flustered, Roscoe swung violently at the ball and missed a third time.

"God damn it!" he cursed. Furious, he threw the club down and kicked the golf ball. It soared through the air as Roscoe hopped up and down holding his foot.

The ball descended, landed on the green and rolled into the hole. Roscoe looked stunned for a moment and then screamed, "Yes!" He continued to rub his foot while looking around to see if anyone was watching.

* * * Built in the mid 1700s, the Martindales' two-storey, white structure had a wrap-around veranda supported by wide columns. It was a large house with fireplaces in all of the main rooms. Surprising to most people who have never lived in North Carolina, its damp and cold winters can be quite unforgiving. The property sat on several acres of overgrown landscaping bordered with magnolia, pine, beech and oak trees.

Upon entering the front of the house, one was assaulted by the sight of an oversized double staircase leading to the four bedrooms upstairs. To the right was a formal salon. To the left, the dining room. In the back of the house was a large country kitchen sorely aching for a renovation. Off the kitchen was the keeping room, which now functioned as the Martindales' family room. Next to that was a small maid's room with a bath down the hall. And there was an outdoor entrance to the kitchen via the screened back porch.

Although the architect's original intentions were commendable, there was something off about the proportions of the building and the quality of the materials. If Scarlett O'Hara had lived in Tara, then Trudy Lee Martindale now lived in Terror. There was always something breaking down, falling apart and needing repairs.

With her hair combed out into a sixties flip, Trudy Lee descended the back staircase, clutching an assortment of framed photos to her chest. She carefully straddled the fourth from the bottom step and continued down through the kitchen and into the large keeping room. She scurried over to the loveseat and gently placed the pictures down, then dashed to the giant walk-in fireplace that flanked the back wall. Like lightning, she cleared the mantel of all existing photos of family members, then meticulously and lovingly positioned each framed picture that she had brought downstairs into the absolutely perfect position. She stood back and admired the new gallery. They were all photos of Lex.

Trudy Lee glanced over at the grandfather clock that was listing in the far corner of the room and then dashed into the kitchen. Earlier in the day, she had been preparing a pecan pie, when she abandoned the project for her bubble bath. She opened a bottom kitchen cabinet and struggled to push open the drawer that was above it. She pulled out a mallet and moved over to a pile of unshelled pecans, a cooked pie shell, an open bottle of bourbon and a bowl full of wet ingredients. She slipped on an apron and plaintively continued with If Love Were All, while smashing the pecans with intense hostility.

"Although, when shadows fall, I think if only ..." Whack! "Somebody splendid really needed me ..." Whack! "Someone affectionate and dear ..." Whack! "Cares would be ended if I knew that he, wanted to have me near." With the last whack, she managed to hit her thumb. "Jesus ..."

* * *

"... fucking Christ!" is what ten-year-old Mattie Lee Martindale blurted out in the middle of her piano recital.


Excerpted from Birthday Pie by ARTHUR WOOTEN Copyright © 2011 by Arthur Wooten. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Meet The Martindales....................1
Chapter 2: The Polio Pit....................16
Chapter 3: Like Father, Like Son....................31
Chapter 4: Tiny Stinging Insects That Torment Exposed Flesh....................41
Chapter 5: Birthday Pie....................55
Chapter 6: The Immaculate Deception....................73
Chapter 7: 17,088 Hours Too Late....................83
Chapter 8: The Child Of Satan....................102
Chapter 9: I'm Sinning And It Feels So Good....................117
Chapter 10: Forty, Barren And Nobody's Favorite....................143
Chapter 11: The Holy Trinity....................154
Chapter 12: Say Champagne....................166

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Birthday Pie 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
shelleyraec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Birthday Pie is both hilarious and poignant as it explores the dynamics of the dysfunctional Martindale family. Their patriarch is dying and the family is gathering to say their goodbyes. The reunion raises old slights, stunted dreams and buried secrets but also reminds them of the laughter and love that binds them.I was quickly absorbed into the fabric of this story. From the sharp, witty dialogue to the genuine emotion, Birthday Pie is wonderfully told. Wooten skilfully combines humour and drama and I found myself alternately giggling and near tears.First produced as a play, the bones are still evident in Birthday Pie¿s larger than life characters. The idiosyncratic cast are saved from becoming caricatures because of the depth Wooten injects them with. Beneath the veneer of eccentricity are individuals with genuine personality. Each member of the family is vividly brought to life through a patchwork of memories that informs the person they have become. Their relationship with each other reveals that the truth of these characters lies somewhere in the middle. The interaction between such strong personalities is naturally contentious but despite the frustrated banter and facade of ambivalence, there is a genuine sense of love and affection between them.A heartwarming story despite the tragedy that is waiting to unfold, Birthday Pie is a wonderfully entertaining read and I am happy to recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BigAl70 More than 1 year ago
The eccentric and dysfunctional Martindale family gathers at the family home where their father lays dying. Genre is a slippery thing sometimes. Literary or Contemporary Fiction, in my mind, is often a catchall for everything that isn't something else. Deciding between the two catchall categories is more nebulous for me. Sometimes it is a case of "I know it when I see it," while other times I'll call it something because that is what the publisher or bookstore says. This book is a combination of both. Most genre fiction has a clearly defined goal for the protagonist(s). The catchall categories often don't. Sometimes who the protagonist is may even be unclear. Yet they still have a story that is entertaining or at least has some quality that makes it worth telling. "Birthday Pie" is entertaining, with humor that sometimes seems like satire. The story says a lot about how many families relate to each other, in both good and bad ways. "The Simpsons" are not like any of our families, at least I hope not, but many people seem to see more of their own family in that show than the typical TV family - if not in the specifics, then at least in their lack of perfection. I know I do. The Martindale family is one of those. You'll laugh at them, even as you catch glimpses of yourself. **Originally written for "Books and Pals" book blog. May have received a free review copy. **
ANO07 More than 1 year ago
Funny, yet touching, timeless and delightful, BIRTHDAY PIE captures the story of a family, a story through which we can recognize facets of ourselves and of our own families. For readers who are new to Arthur Wooten's fascinating universe and for fans of ON PICKING FRUIT and FRUIT COCKTAIL, BIRTHDAY PIE is yet another reason to get a taste of the fine art of storytelling that comes through Arthur Wooten's writing. New readers will become fans and fans will ask for a sequel, for more of Wooten's writing. That's because BIRTHDAY PIE is a true page turner, from the very first page to the very last. Because BIRTHDAY PIE is the best gift one can give to oneself and to others. Because BIRTHDAY PIE is Arthur Wooten at his best! An absolute must-read!