Pulp Fiction

It’s Labor Day, and a ponytailed girl in a tire swing across the street moves back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Piano chords can be heard from the white house next door. We live by a nexus of freeways in a corner of West Los Angeles, but the scene evokes small towns and slower times. The only thing my fantasy lacks is a lemonade stand on the corner. Where have they all gone? I haven’t seen a single one in the two plus years since my husband and I moved to Los Angeles.

The tire swing stops swinging and I return to reality as I consider what lemonade stands are up against: piano lessons and soccer practice, Little League baseball and ballet classes that consume not only young lives, but the final days of summer when kids might drag a card table to the curb out of sheer boredom. Add to that grumpy old men like the one in Tampa, who is getting so much attention on the Internet because of his two-year campaign to run young T.J. Guerrero out of business. If it weren’t for Norman Rockwell, lemonade stands would probably become the sort of dusty fiction that nobody reads anymore.

But I, for one, want to make sure all that pulp and sugar don’t settle at the bottom of an old pitcher forever. Whether it’s because of grumpsters like the one in Florida or our micro-managed kids and their frenzied schedules, I’ve come up with a solution to revive the lemonade stand and all it represents.

What kids need today is a prefab stand, one they can put together in a heartbeat. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it ought to be snappy enough to make a driver pull over out of curiosity and memories of the good old days when kids played in vacant lots and tried to dig their way to China. What I have in mind will paradoxically turn the last lazy hazy days of summer into a frenzy of activity that could eventually turn our economy around. Entrepreneurship has to start somewhere, and it might as well be Mom’s kitchen. I knock out a few designs and take them downstairs to show my husband, who is celebrating Labor Day with a nap. I hate to wake him, but this idea could be a life changer.

“This couldn’t wait?”

“If we don’t jump on it, someone else will.”

My designs are roughed out on the back of old manuscript pages cut into quarters, an idea for a notepad I had a few years ago. What did other writers do with their old drafts, I wondered. In the apartment where we lived in New York City, our super complained to me once about another writer who shredded so many of hers at once that she jammed the garbage compacter in the basement. Better to quarter them and turn them into handsome writing pads for new words. I envisioned a deal with an elegant shop, but lost steam when Kate’s Paperie on 13th Street closed its doors. I tell my husband about how our prefab lemonade stands will jumpstart the American economy. As I do, the quarter pages of old manuscripts drift to the floor like fallen leaves.

“Well, it’s not as bad as the others.”

I gather up the papers and hold them in front of him like a deck of cards.

“I mean your inventions, not these designs.”

“That’s a low blow.”

Inventions that go nowhere are a delicate subject. There was my expandable drip coffee system, a treasure born of necessity when I lived in France. I forced my plastic filter, a hardware store special that went with me everywhere, to adapt to the enormous coffee cups I loved. Visitors marveled and tried to buy me various machines, but the perverse Franco-American marriage suited me. The two-knife system was a little like my French, clumsy but serviceable, and I envisioned an expandable thingamajig that would open and close to whatever diameter was needed, but there were engineering issues from the start.

“If you bring up Mr. Honk one more time…”

Any discussion of the 1993 Grand Jeep Cherokee I recently sold to CarMax for $700 pains me, but especially poignant is the one great idea I had to correct a design error that foreshadowed the current recall at Chrysler involving the deadly risk of an exploding gas tank from a rear-end collision. My beef was with something simpler, the horn. Who has the time to find Thumbelina-sized depressions on either side of the steering wheel to avoid an accident? Nobody. That’s why I was convinced that Mr. Honk, a simple strap-on horn clamped on the steering wheel, was the ultimate solution. I was working out my pitch to Pep Boys when my husband pointed out a tiny issue I hadn’t thought about. Since the airbag was located inside the steering wheel, the horn could wind up giving the driver a broken nose.

“Anyway, the sharks are going to love this idea.”

“I’m going back to sleep.”

“Stay with me.”

This time I’ve come prepared. Nobody knows better than me that we can’t get this off the ground alone. I hand him The Wall Street Journal article about how to win on Shark Tank. The sharks are naturally concise, but the article takes it one step further. All you have to do to climb the ladder of success is take it one rung at a time. I point out Kevin O’Leary’s remarks about standing up straight.

“Everyone compliments me on my posture. I’ve got that one.”

We will dispense with fancy talk because of Barbara Corcoran, and greed is not in the equation at all.

“So you’re saying pure altruism is the driving force.”

“No, but I am saying that the whole country stands to gain. We’re reviving the old-fashioned work ethic the American way. Hey, put that down.”

It’s a bad sign when my husband finds something on his cell phone and smiles before he starts to read.

“I don’t want to hear this.”

“Yes, you do. You like Lenore Skenazy.”

I do. But not when he says it like that.

“Not only is your product already out there, but shame on you for trying to undermine the spirit that keeps America great.”

And we wonder why the country is in such an economic garbage can. Lenore had it right. What was I thinking? The article makes me want to put an American flag in the front yard as penance. Undermining America’s youth on Shark Tank does not a hero make. And Mark Cuban would probably make mincemeat out of my pitch anyway. I shuffle down the hall to get my gym bag. This is nothing a little swim won’t cure.

I blow past the red tablecloth on Sepulveda, the busy thoroughfare that obliterates any small town fantasies a gal could have, blink, and turn the car around. I park and sit for a while across the street from the stand with the homemade sign and three girls who look like they could actually be teens. When I have finally contained my excitement I saunter over and try to look nonchalant.

“Hi, girls. This looks great.”

“We made it ourselves.”

“You mean from a can?”

“No. We made the pulp. I mean we made the lemonade.”

I want to hug them, but dig around in my purse for some money instead.

“How old are you all?”

They agree to a picture and admit to being 14, as if this is something embarrassing.

“Have you guys heard about prefab lemonade stands?”

“Oh, yeah. They have them at Target for $103.”

“Would you ever consider getting one?”

“Probably, if I were going to do it 10 times. It’s pretty expensive.”

I thank them and tell them to keep the change. The first sip is sweet as the end of summer.