Regarding the cheesecake question, first allow me to thank you profusely for taking our question.
As we await the final answer of our question please understand that our waistlines are getting bigger and bigger from our regular consumption of cherry cheesecake, amaretto cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake . . . well, you get the idea.
I think you can see how important your answer will be to us!
Is a cheesecake a "cake" or a "pie"?
The Prescriptive Bakers Union
My Dear and Patient Epicurean Bakers,
Again I must apologize, dear bakers. Week after week I lead you along like a pet upon a leash. I promise a treat is coming, and then snatch it from afore your nose in a merry jest. But no longer shall I jape. Today is a day of reckoning. The office is dim but for the glow of sleeping monitors. My employees claim to have spent the evening in religious contemplation of Good Saint Patrick the Imbiber, and are too enlightened to work. Without interruption or malice, I shall continue the telling of this tale.
A quick summary for those also afflicted with Saint Patrick's Enlightenment: Years ago, just after an inconsequential trans-national war, I operated a jukejoint-by-way-of-pâtisserie on the Madripoor-esque No Name Key. One steamy evening, when even the insects could not be made to stir in the breezeless tavern-cum-bakery, a member of the hebraic Purple Gang—dissembling to be a newspaperman hot on the tail of a story—fell upon my cabaret's tenor, Fritz. The "reporter" and his compadres "gunned up the place"—as they say in the local parlance—while Fritz and I (in my velocitational suit) made our escape with a certain precious guitar once owned by the unnotable "Detroit" Reggie Sykes—the very instrument that had drawn the galloots to our happy squalor—into the Floridian swamps, rife with hyperdistrophic alligators.
And so we continue our tale:
"I CANNOT HELP BUT NOTE," I wheezed, laboring as I was to maintain forward momentum in the swampy muck that Fritz and Reggie Sykes' cherrywood guitar, riding in a light Seminole canoe, so easily glided over, "THAT AS WE FLED THE BAR, YOU MADE A SPECIAL POINT OF SALVAGING SEVERAL VOLUMES OF LITERARY CRITICISM REGARDING BOOKS THAT HAVE YET TO BE WRITTEN. FRANKLY, AND WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, I FIND THAT CHOICE SOMEWHAT CURIOUS, AND, AS SUCH, EMBLEMATIC OF OUR PREDICAMENT: WHAT, PRECISELY, IS SO DESIRABLE ABOUT THIS GUITAR THAT NEVER-DO-WELL NEWSPAPER MEN HAVE COME TO SHOOT US FOR IT?"
The rain slapped and spattered the bayou water all around us. Out in the swamp, the motor (or motors) of the boat(s) piloted by the ersatz reporter and his Semitic mafia assistants buzzed and murmured, like angry mechanical wasps playing at Marco's Polo. They seemed to come from contradictory directions without warning, and I feared we were as much approaching as fleeing their pursuit.
Fritz himself was short winded, laboring as he was at the paddle, "Not much—" he replied to my query.
"I SHOULD IMAGINE," I noted uncharitably—this misadventure had piqued my pique; I did not like the notion that, even at that moment, Semitic gangsters might by pilfering the bottles in my little bar or pawing through my recipe box—"AS A GUITAR ENTIRELY CRAFTED OF CHERRYWOOD MUST, OF NECESSITY, SOUND QUITE POORLY."
Fritz shushed me with a panic. "Yeah," he whispered sotto voce. "It sounds like a cat's ass, but hell, don't let it hear you."
Fritz stopped his speech, distracted by a complicated passage through reeds around a twisted cypress stump, and I trudged on in silence.
"No one could make the thing sound any better than rubber bands on a ballsack, but playing it did things."
I imagine I was supposed to ask "What sort of things, oh dearest tale-teller," but I was having none of it. I have no patience for obvious conversational maneuvers. After the pause stretched long, Fritz continued.
"The guy Reggie won it off of, back in Detroit, this old colored, every time he played it, he coughed up nickels. I'm pretty sure that guy threw the craps game, just to be free of the thing. Reggie, he was a hard drinker, and so wasn't too bothered by the idea of puking pocket change, but when he played it, that never happened. Instead, when he played it, he went dim—he'd still be sittin' there, plucking and bending away like a tone deaf Django Reinhardt, but you could put your hand right through him, and when he'd stop, he'd solid back up, but couldn't really remember much clearly about what had happened. And there'd be things in his pockets." Fritz paused. In the silence, I noted the groan of rolling alligators and the pitter-patter of the rain, but welcomed the dearth of motorboat engines; somehow, it seemed, we had come out ahead. Fritz waited patiently to be prompted to continue his discourse, and I acquiesced, if only to distract myself from dire thoughts of the state of my bar and its supply of kosher dill pickles (old and new).
"Things," Fritz reiterated, "From the future. One time, a newspaper clipping: 'TIGERS WIN WORLD SERIES!' I'm gonna make me a pile of cash in a few years, knowing that's coming."
"AND THIS IS HOW YOU CAME UPON TWO BOOKS OF LITERARY CRITICISM WRITTEN BY ONE MR. HAROLD BLOOM," I said flatly.
"Yup," Fritz confirmed, paddling on.
"AND YOU EXPECT TO MAKE MONEY USING THEM TO HEDGE YOUR ODDS IN A FUTURE WAGER?"
Fritz scowled, "I've gotta sort out the details, but, yeah, that's the basics. It isn't like you're offering me a pension to sing 'Brother, Can You Spare Me a Dime?' three times a night."
"WHAT DOES THE GUITAR CAUSE TO OCCUR WHEN YOU PLAY IT?"
Fritz pulled his paddle from the water and craned around to look at me, "I said, I never learned to play the fucking thing. I kinda figured that I'd have time to learn later."
"THERE IS NO TIME," I pointed out solemnly, "LIKE THE PRESENT."
Light dawned across Fritz' cherubic, bearded visage, "You know how to pla—"
"Listen," a voice called from the murky shadows enveloping a small, dry hillock, "You two can kibbitz all night, later, while you're bleeding to death, but we'd like to get Sykes' guitar and get the fuck out of this damn rain, please." Predictably, it was the man who had, earlier that night, come in from the rain, presenting himself as a reporter. Ironically, he pointed a German Luger pistol at us. He pulled his aim low, fired twice, and water began to seep into Fritz' canoe.
I ducked my mechanical carapace under the waters and held the canoe in place. It would take on water, but it would not sink. I had no such hopes, however, for Fritz should he similarly take bullets to his broadside. Before the bullets could shower him, my bearded compatriot took the pitiful guitar into his mitts. He reclined fully in the canoe, eyes closed, and began to strum softly. A piano was the usual instrument those fingers slapped and tickled, but a guitar is not so different. There is an inherent mathematics in music, there was an intrinsic need for the guitar to be played, and Fritz—in the days before he returned to song—was something of a remarkable geometer. Quod erat demonstrandum.
In an attempt to buy time for the process to unfold, I shouted as loudly as possible, "I CANNOT HELP BUT TO HAVE BEEN DEEPLY VEXED BY OUR EARLIER MISUNDERSTANDING."
The Hebraic gunman paused. "What?"
"EARLIER THIS EVENING," I continued, "WHILEST GNASHING UPON MY EXCELLENT GOOD CHEESECAKE—WHICH I PREPARE QUITE WELL WITH A RECIPE HANDED DOWN TO ME FROM MARIE CURIE HERSELF—YOU HAPPENED TO HAVE MISTAKENLY CLASSIFIED THE CONFECTION AS A CAKE." The slithering of the gators drew nearer. Was the guitar calling them? "THEN, LATER, YOU APPLIED A FLAWED PROCESS OF ELIMINATION TO CONCLUDE THAT IT WAS A PIE; I WOULD HAVE CLARIFIED AT THAT TIME, BUT WAS UNFORTUNATELY INTERRUPTED BY THE DISCHARGE OF FIRE ARMS—WHICH, LET IT TROUBLE YOU NOT, I DID NOT TAKE PERSONALLY."
The false reporter gesticulated wildly, "I don't care!" he shouted, concurrently with my dear Fritz likewise hollering "No one cares!"
"IN TRUTH," I continued, unabated, "IT IS NEITHER A CAKE NOR A PIE" I barreled forward, carried by the momentum of my bakerly acumen. "IT IS A CUSTARD. TECHNICALLY."
The false reporter squinted "What?"
"AS IT LACKS OF A BAKED CRUST MADE OF PASTRY DOUGH, IT CAN BE NO PIE. LIKEWISE, AS IT IS NOT MADE PRINCIPALLY OF FLOUR CAUSED TO RISE VIA LEAVENING—A CHEESE 'CAKE,' AS IT WERE, RISES LITTLE IF AT ALL—THEN IT CAN BE NO CAKE."
Fritz' scrabbling upon the guitar found a rhythm, a confidence."BEING A CONCOCTION OF EGGS AND DAIRY, THICKENED VIA HEAT, IT IS A CUSTARD, THE ROYAL COUSIN TO THE HUMBLE PUDDING, PLAIN AND TRUE."
Fritz' melody took hold and soared. The arch-topped box guitar rattled and sighed and the world took notice. Tree stumps burst open new shoots that swelled into trunks and into limbs. A dormant willow cast off her shroud of Spanish moss and lashed the ground with her weeping. The sun burned large in the night sky—was the guitar pulling it closer?—and the alligators roared with delight.
We found ourselves ensconced in a stand of old trees, kneeling in muck.
We found ourselves cowering in terror as screams echoed about.
We found ourselves awash in blood that rained from the skies.
And finally we found ourselves afloat in the open ocean and No Name Key was no more.
Fritz cast the guitar away on the waves. While I—I paddled us in to the shore and began to mentally tabulate for the paperwork necessary to entering my insurance claim for the loss of my wonderful bar.
Four weeks later, the cherrywood guitar had returned of its own volition, although that, while certainly a curiosity, is hardly germane.
Your Giant Squid
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson