Will Work for Pie

I’m sorry to say that I have not been able to keep up with Pie Shop chores as well as I expected with The Morning Guy gone on his vacation, although vacation might not be the right word for it. Let’s just say “during his absence.” So, I was understandably relieved then when I saw a guy out the the I-95 access ramp, holding a sign that said, “Will work for pie.”

Now, some may say it’s risky business to bring a stranger in to one’s place of business, but I say, “Damn, man. He’s willing to work for pie.” Even The Morning Guy wants pie, ice cream, coffee, and free golf. This new guy is a bargain. I will, however, take your warnings under consideration, but first let’s see how much pie he can eat.

My son Chandler and I have both had odd experiences with panhandlers in the past. I still remember being asked for money for food by a young denizen of the streets in Denver.

I was hesitant to talk to him since I could see my bus approaching, but I decided to open my heart and I reached into my capacious bag and pulled out my lunch to share, remembering how one of my undergrad profs had done that for me on more than one occasion.

I handed over my tuna fish sandwich, but to my surprise, the scruffy young man did not thank me. No, he held the skimpy lightweight baggie up to the light, as if expecting to see something revelatory on the bread, perhaps the image of Lord Vader. I don’t know.

“What’s in this?” he asked.

“Tuna, mayo, a little relish.”

“Relish?”

“Yes. Relish. Are you hungry or not? If you don’t want the sandwich, I’ll take it back.”

He thought it over and kept the sandwich, by which time I had missed my bus. I watched him scuffle off, still sniffing the baggie, and poking his finger into the pristine white bread.

I waited to climb on the next bus. Starting to feel a little hungry myself, I got on, sat down, and discovered that someone had left his or her lunch on the seat. Sure enough, it was a tuna fish sandwich, plus a second baggie with six Oreo cookies in it. Score! I came out ahead on that one.

My son Chandler, one of the twins, told me once that he had been in process of moving and had a lot of cupboard-cleanout stuff in his car, and decided to hand those groceries over to a guy who regularly camped out by the side of the road. This camper was not an especially good beggar, but a persistent one, and probably by the end of the day, he would have collected enough coinage and low-end swag to get him through the night.

When Chandler arrived at his new digs, however, he discovered that he still had the bag of groceries in his car, so what had he given the panhandler? An extensive collection of cookie cutters and pastry tools. He drove back to the highway, somewhat relieved that our man was still there, and made a swap, not without being soundly scolded for improper gifting. Apparently, cookie cutters, not matter how festive or celebratory, are not what most panhandlers are seeking.

We are both now a little more cautious and careful now about what we hand out to strangers on the road, or on the sidewalk. Still, I have a weakness for someone who will work for pie, and when my new friend and I reached the pie shop, I got out my to do list while he had some quiche lorraine and coffee for breakfast.

Sparkle told me that Sue Ten was on the phone, so I stopped to speak to her for a few minutes, during which the new guy moved on to a plate of deep-dish apple pie with cheese. I told Sue Ten I would talk to her later, and said, “I’m getting the cabinet doors fixed,” to which she replied “It’s about time.”

She had an unfortunate experience in my conch cottage one day. I was in my rocker out on the porch and heard her yelp of surprise when one of my cabinet doors came off right in her hand, because the screws in the hinges were missing.

“Oh,” I said. “That one. I never use that one. The screws in the hinges are missing. What were you looking for?”

She said she was looking for cake plates — like I have those! — and ended up just bringing her whole cake, delicious as usual, out to the porch with two forks, a quart of milk, and a Mason jars.

“You should get that cabinet fixed. It’s just a couple of screws.”

“I know.”

“You need to call a plumber about the faucet in your bathroom, too.”

“I know.”

“The broken mini-blinds in your bedroom are atrocious.”

“I know.”

“How do you like the cake?”

“It’s wonderful.”

And it was: Lemon cake with chocolate fudge frosting, my birthday dish of choice for many years. Remember that combination of flavors, I started flipping through my recipe file looking for a lemon chiffon recipe with chocolate-cookie crumb crust, when I noticed that the new guy’s plate was empty. I wasn’t really ready to tackle the cabinets yet, so I slid over a piece of chocolate-pecan-bourbon pie, and looked at my list again.

Maybe this guy could help me bring some more books up from the cottage and put them on the new pie-shop shelves. Joe Sparkle Junior had already restocked the soda machine and was  out on the E-Z Cart slowly, meticulously scooping up golf balls. While I was reviewing the list, I noticed that someone had left an unfinished crossword puzzle on the counter, so I started to ink in a few entries.

The new guy finished off another cup of coffee, and smiled. I gave him a piece of banana cream pie with extra whipped cream and he went right to work on that, while I finished the puzzle and looked over my latest crop of Post-It notes, realizing that each one was a project in the making, not something to be tampered with by rank amateurs, such as the new guy and me.

He finished his pie, and I said, “I think we’re good. One for the road?”

He nodded, and I wrapped up a slice of blueberry cheesecake for him, then we headed out to the highway again. I dropped him off where I found him, and gave him $20 for his time.

When I got back, I parked at the Pie Shop and walked down the lane to my cottage, where I noticed that Sue Ten’s bike was on my porch and the light was on in the kitchen. I approached quietly to peek in the window, but she wouldn’t have heard me anyway over the whirring sound of the cordless screwdriver as she patiently replaced the missing screws.

I walked back up the lane, and started fixing some steak and mushroom pie for her supper. I don’t know what I would do without her: Not that many people are willing to work for pie.

2 comments

  1. tenenbaum.susan says:

    I had an interesting panhandler experience, too. One evening, while I was carrying my dinner uptown, I ran into a young man in the tunnel at the 53rd/Lex station. He sat with his eyes downcast, humbly, holding a sign which, in a steady hand, read, “I’m Hungry. ” Since it was Purim I could hardly ignore him. I asked if he’d like an apple. “Only if it’s red.” he said, as he looked up at me. I handed him the prize, but felt like I was the one accepting charity.

  2. Bjean says:

    How fortunate that you had the right color apple with you. It would be hard for me to beg for food, I’m such a picky eater. Oh, sorry – No raisins! No black olives! No, I don’t care for fruit. Do you have any spare change?

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