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March 21, 1993|M.H.

Bye bye, Miss American Pie,

Drove my Chevy to the levee. . . .

--Don McLean, 1972

Y'all who take a free cooking class, "Making the Perfect Pie Crust," offered by Gelson's Market at 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday (information: (310) 306-2952) just might get a hankerin' to make some American Pie. And you'll ask: Well, what kind is it? Cherry? Apple? Pumpkin with whipped cream on top?

Some folks will tell you it isn't any kind of pie you can stick a fork into; it's a symbol of the early days of rock 'n' roll that ended when Buddy Holly died.

And I'll have to say: Nope, it isn't that either. The "lonely teen-age bouncin' buck" in Don McLean's song--I might as well call him Don too--the truth was, he was singin' about me.

My name is Betty Lou Sally Mae Rawlins, and I was a cheerleader at Jackrabbit High back in Longhorn. Ol' Don called me his cutie-pie, his sweetie pie. That day on the levee, we were both pie-faced from drinkin' long-neck beers and sloe gin fizzes. I'd just painted my toenails pink and hung 'em out the window to dry. I was ticklin' the back of Don's neck. We had the radio on, natch, and a takeout pizza sittin' on the dashboard.

Nothin' upper crust about us.

Well--the song says the river was dry, but it wasn't really. Just kinda low. One minute we were watchin' the brown water go by, and the next minute four of the biggest turtles you ever saw came scramblin' up the bank and headed straight for the pickup.

"Pizza! Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!" they yelled.

They had like outlaw masks over their eyes, and Japanese swords and stuff, and they grabbed the box and gobbled up the whole darn thing.

"Sorry, dudes, but we were starved," one of 'em said. And another said: "Hey, which way's the New York City sewer system? We gotta get back."

Don laughed. "No way you can get there from here, pard," he said. "This is Texas. The real question is: How'd you get here from there ?"

"Underground," a third turtle said. "Everything connects. We just get lost once in a while. Water flows, tunnels bifurcate. Serendipity synchronizes, however imperfectly. Like Zen."

"Oh, wow," I said.

*

I mean, they were green, sure, and kinda mutated, like they explained to me later, but they were cute, too. And built , like nobody in Longhorn was in those days. And I could tell they were city guys. Sophisticated, you know? I'd never told Don I'd tried some of that raw-fish sushi once and liked it. Right then and there, I knew it was the bright lights for me.

"I'll take y'all home," I said.

"Cowabunga!" the fourth turtle said.

I'll admit it was a while before I could tell 'em apart, with their Italian names and all. Before I figured out they were color-coded, livin' with 'em was sorta like the ol' shell game.

"What you gonna do, Betty Lou Sally Mae?" Don asked, real sarcastic. "Swim with 'em all the way around Florida? You haven't even got your bathing suit."

"Uh, Don," I said.

"What, sweetie pie?"

But then it hit him. A sad look came into his eyes.

"It's my Chevy."

And that's the last I saw of him--standin' in the dry grass by the levee, watchin' us all drive off and listenin' to the music on the radio die away.

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