You didn't answer our question at all last week. We still need to know: Is a cheesecake a "cake" or a "pie." The answer is of vital importance.
The Prescriptive Bakers Union
Dearest Cheesecake Enthusiasts,
I do apologize, both to these unionized bakers and my General Readership, for failing to adequately answer the question so directly stated last week. But there are moments and there are tales, and while certain answers require a mere nodding of the brainsac or a vigorous shaking of the mantle, other questions require a preamble, an amble, and a post-amble before an answer can be delivered. This is such a time.
If you remember, I was relating a story to you of a time back just after the Other War to End All Wars when I operated a cantina-cum-pâtisserie on No Name Key, an afterthought of sand and mire dangling from the northern inward curve of Florida's Keys, which themselves lay like an accusing finger pointing distantly at Mexico, although Mexico had fewer sins than No Name Key. I assure you of this. I have been to Mexico and known Mexicans—been to her cities, her slums, her Tia Juanas, and her Uncle Toltecs—and no where did I see the sort of scum or villainy that formed the uppermost aristocratic crust of life on No Name Key.
If one were to prepare No Name Key as a mixed drink—a correlation that springs to mind given my occupation on that atoll—the recipe would be as follows: Mix one part sorrow with two parts hiding out from the law, stir in a dash of war crimes and serve with a buried suitcase of Swiss gold. Drink it slowly and do not take your eyes off the busboy. The busboy can never be trusted.
A reporter had come to our little cantina that rain-swept evening to badger my star cabaret singer, Fritz, about his prizéd guitar, inherited from dear departed Detroit Reggie Sykes after he fell while noble defending our nation's interests on the small, Pacific island of Tulagi. Up to that night, the guitar had occupied a place of inviolate honor below the till, swaddled in rags like a particularly oblong baby, and hidden from sight. I had served the reporter cheesecake (Ah! A ray of pertinence!) when a shot rang out. The dimness of the bar was momentarily illuminated fully, my optically perfect eyes taking in the startled shell-flinch of cockroaches, the pool of spilled bourbon at the space in the bar Fritz had occupied but moments earlier, and the reflection in a china plate of a marksman across the thoroughfare, atop the disused newspaper building. A new bullet sailed past the glass dome of my velocitational unit like a fat man thrown from a bridge. It tore the rag from my manipulators and caused me to drop the plate I had been drying.
"That'll come from your paycheck," growled Fritz from his fastness behind the upright piano, which nobly shielded him with its bulk, concealing my Growling Dove from the window and the gunman's sight.
"FORTUNATELY I OPERATE AS A SOUL PROPRIETORSHIP WITH PASS-THROUGH TAXATION-STATUS, AND THUS DO NOT TAKE A PAYCHECK, PER SE, BUT RATHER—"
The reporter coughed politely and, in the gloom, I watched him dig another bite from his cheesecake like a backhoe breaking ground. "My rooftop sheygetz has the front, and the rest of my mishpocha the rear, Herr Fritz; be a good little bird and gimme Reggie Sykes' arch-top guit-box, and we'll all just melt in the rain; it ain't no good to you anyway, since you don't play." The reporter finished his cheesecake and replaced his fedora on his head, "If you make it quick, maybe I'll ignore how fuckin' annoyed I am that your calamari barkeep gulled me a double-sawbuck for a nosher of pie."
I laughed richly, and the "reporter" looked around nervously, then began to work his mouth, as though he had begun to suspect he tasted bitter almonds.
"IT IS COMMON," I opined from where I cowered beneath the zinc-topped bar, "TO TAKE THE POSITION THAT, AS IT IS NOT PRINCIPALLY COMPOSED OF FLOUR AND RISEN VIA CHEMICAL ACTION, THE CHEESE'CAKE' IS THUS NO CAKE, AND BY PROCESS OF ELIMINATION A 'PIE.' TO ME, THIS IS SOMETHING OF AN INTERESTING COROLLARY TO PASCAL'S WAGER, FOR—"
As I spoke, Fritz nonchalantly kicked the piano's front and a panel fell forward, revealing a hidden compartment. Inside were two works of literary criticism by Harold Bloom, a harmonica, shaving cream, and a submachine gun after the fashion of Sir Reginald Thompson, esq. Fritz knelt and looked at each item, weighing their possible uses in his mind, as I bloviated to the best of my ability. Which would aid the fight? he seemed to ponderously wonder, Which would serve as a bribe? Which could be left behind? Which would go to market? In an instant he had made his choice: Fritz tucked the Bloom books into his jacket pockets, and gripped the tommy gun firmly. His finger stroked the trigger like a man calming a wild dog. The muggy air held still and was silent of animal noises. The birds ceased their chatter. The lizards rustled no more. In the distant swamp, even the crocodiles took notice and hushed their low-throated roaring. The rain temporarily slackened.
The world paused and asked a question of these men, this reporter and tenor. It asked the question it asks of every man at some point: Is the world a thing that happens unto you, or is it a beast to be ridden and broken and devoured?
"Um, listen," Fritz whimpered; the reporter turned to look at him, and my songster let spray with his automatic weapon. "I am the monarch of the seas!" he sang as the copper-jacketed slugs tore across the wooden floor in a madcap waltz, carving a crooked dotted line towards the reporter, like a map of where Billy, age 9 has been. "The ruler of the Queen's Navy!" he rose to a crescendo, "Whose praise Great Britain loudly chants—"
The reporter dove and rolled out of the bullets' paths. He screamed out in low German "zu recht mach'n!" and his accomplice across the alley let loose with a similar hail of bullets.
For my part lay flat as my bulk would allow behind the bar. My manipulator worked against screw and nut, opening a long disused hatch floor hatch, just wide enough for my chassis. The panel slipped from my grasp and dropped into the fen below our stilted bar, splashing next to the canoe that rested in the swamp's fetid waters. If I leapt first I would surely sink the boat.
"IT IS OPEN," I called out. "LET US MAKE OUR AWAY."
Fritz nodded and sprinted across the room, firing wildly at the men. "Bloody Nazis!" He spat as he crouched for brief cover behind an overturned table, "Can't stand the H. M. S. Pinafore, can ya?."
The reporter blanched and ceased his firing for a moment. "Nazis? Is that what you think we are?" He rolled up his sleeve and held up his forearm, where clearly visible was a tattoo of a purple-hued fist. "We ain't no Nazis."
"THE PURPLE GANG!" I gasped.
Fritz cursed an old English curse, slid across the floor fumbling his gun in the process, but nonetheless leapt down the bolt hole, landing solidly in the canoe. He strained at his paddle, and I followed and missed his boat by seconds.
"Shit!" Fritz spat as he paddled furiously whilst I did my utmost to keep pace, despite the muck which suckled at my velocitator's legs, "Those wise guys aren't going to wait around to see if we come back to lock up. We're up the creek and empty-handed, GS."
I was a little vexed by his thoughtlessness and lack of regard for my wits, which are quick, and nerves, which are thick as fire hoses. "DID YOU NOT NOTE THE BUNDLE I TOSSED INTO THE CANOE BEHIND YOU?"
"My tommy gun!" he exclaimed, joy making his face apple-cheeked and boyish.
To this I made the look supercilious, although he saw not, for he is thoughtless of me.
"NO," I scoffed, "OF COURSE, I MADE A POINT TO RETRIEVE MR. DETROIT REGGIE SYKES' TREASURED CHERRYWOOD GUITAR."
The sound of boat propellers coughed nearby and the alligators began their low-throated roaring once more. "I know we never really talked about this," he huffed, short of breath as he desperately tried to increase the velocity of his canoe, "but, really, in a situation like this, I think the tommy gun would have been better."
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson