Sunday, May 11, 2014

Power of the Pie

              I don’t know whether the pie was as good as it looked, and I wouldn’t have been an effective judge of that anyway, because I didn’t really like fruit, with the exception of bananas (of course), but this was an apple pie. At least we both agreed it looked impressive, for a pie - substantial and symmetrical and bulging. Matthew filmed it from several angles as I held it in my hands, and then we put the lid back on the box while we walked to the elevator bank. It was around 10.40 am – we’d planned to be there at 10.30, but there’d been a mix-up about the location of the pie shop. Either way, the lobby was largely empty, as we’d expected, and the guy behind the desk was looking the other way. We agreed we were ready. Matthew stood at the far side of the lobby, lifted the camera and gave me the go-ahead. I pressed the button and waited. A door opened on the south elevator bank, and then another – I let them go, because we needed to be facing north. It was third time lucky. Someone got out without glancing at us; no one else was watching. I entered the elevator, took the pie out of the box and placed it in the middle of the floor, then I pressed 42, the highest floor, and stepped out before the door started closing. I waited a second to make sure it was heading up, ran to join Matthew. “Good work buddy,” he said.

“I should place pies for a living. Open a pie placement business.”

“Learn about the real life of pie. All right,” he said, for the benefit of the soundtrack, “so the pie is on its way up to the fortieth floor.” “Forty second,” I interjected. “Forty second floor,” he said, “one floor for every, uh.” “For every step to the answer when you multiply six and seven,” I said. “For every crossing on Broadway on the way to Forty Second street.” “All right,” he said. “So now we wait to find out the answer to the question: what happens to an apple pie that gets sent up by itself to the forty second floor. And I will stick to my previously expressed opinion that an apple pie that gets sent by itself up to the forty second floor doesn’t come back. We may never know exactly what happens to it, but it doesn’t come back. Whereas on the other hand, my friend here…”

“I think it comes back,” I said. “Because we know no one’s going to pick up and eat a pie they find on the floor of an elevator. But also, people who work in office towers are lazy and complacent and they only care about their own asses. Unless it’s their job to pick stuff up, they’re just going to work around it. So unless we get unlucky, and the janitor, or whoever has that job…”

“,,,of de-placing the pies…”

“…yeah, unless the pie deplacement person happens to get on the elevator in the next few minutes, then it’ll just stay there, and eventually come back down. Pretty much in the same condition it went up in, because it’s not busy enough for anyone to accidentally step into it.”

“So this is an argument about human engagement,” said Matthew, “because basically, I’m betting that someone engages with the pie in some way.”

“And we’re both betting no one takes the pie for a bomb and hits the alarm.”

“No, that would just be in the Paranoid States of America.”

“Using an apple pie bomb in Canada wouldn’t carry the same symbolic resonance.”

“It would have to be a maple leaf bomb or something.”

“But let’s not get into the hockey team.”

We went on like that for a while, killing time. It seemed like the doors of all the other elevators opened and closed several times. We started to speculate it might have malfunctioned, and then debated whether the pie could possibly have caused that. “I don’t think elevators have any open machinery or anything that a pie could slip into,” said Matthew. “If they did, people would get their feet caught in there and every day would be a lawsuit.”

At least semi-seriously, I said: “Maybe they’re checking the security cameras. Maybe they’re watching us right now, waiting to take us down. We should get out of here.”

“Office buildings don’t have SWAT teams on-hand. All they have is that guy on the desk, and I’m pretty sure we can outrun him.” The doors opened as he said that. One man came out. He came out like someone who was used to being watched when he entered a new space. The creases on his suit were so sharp you could almost feel them against your face. He was carrying the pie. He took a few steps, stopped and stared into it.  A woman greeted him, as she walked past him into the elevator, but he didn’t respond. I could feel Matthew trembling next to me.

The man lifted up his head and roared - a sick, unleashed roar that shouldn’t have been possible unless a limb was being amputated or something like that, and although I could see he was still standing there in his immaculate suit that shimmered like a winter lake, his roar made me see blood spattering from all his limbs and onto the marble walls and onto the shocked people around him, even though I knew there was no blood, only noise. He raised his arms, in something between ceremony and compulsion, and then he brought his hands together and crushed the pie between them. A few small pieces flew, but mostly it remained between his hands, like the mangled flesh of some giant pus-veined insect. He wiped his hands on his suit, over and over, and his roaring became more like sobbing, but still so loud you couldn’t take it for sadness or even anguish. It was like a total rejection of himself and everything he’d ever known or seen or felt. The empty lobby somehow became full, with people simultaneously drawn to and repelled by him. “Oh Jesus,” I said to Matthew. “It’s too much. What the hell?”

He didn’t respond, preoccupied with zooming in and staying on the man’s face. I heard someone say: “That’s Tony Sirotta,” and when the addressee seemed to question this, “I’m telling you it is.” I thought I knew the name but I couldn’t place it, and anyway, I was watching a man obliterate his name and all that went with it. He started to smear the pie on his face and his hair. I think there were some words somewhere in his hell-toilet-flush of noise, but I couldn’t make them out. Matthew had taken a few steps forward; at least one other person was recording it on his smartphone. “It’s not funny,” I said. “Switch it off.” “In a second,” he said.  He stepped closer again. Then the doors opened on an empty elevator, and a man pushed Sirotta into it. He pressed the button, motioned needlessly for everyone else to stay back, and the doors closed on both of them, cutting off Sirotta’s screams in mid-retch. The crowd dispersed quickly, leaving behind some strands of laughter and pity and bemusement, and some scraps of pie on the floor. Matthew walked towards the scraps and zoomed in; then he put down his camera. He exhaled. “There you go,” he said. “Someone engaged with the pie.”

I was Googling on my smartphone. “You won’t believe this,” I said. “That guy was a big shot. Former CEO of….” I scrolled down. “I don’t know what all these names are but it’s probably one degree of separation from the entire one per cent. We just spoiled every expensive suit in Canada, basically.”

“So maybe he couldn’t stand the sight of food that normal people might eat.”

“I don’t think we can put this up on YouTube. Not the bit about us planting the pie anyway. I mean, the consequences. The consequences could be. I don’t know what they could be.”

“They could be mind-enhancing,” said Matthew. “Maybe it’s a message about breaking through. Forget marching and setting up tents. You need to disrupt them on their home ground. Like introducing one tiny virus into the software. If it’s done right, everything melts down.”

“We’re not anarchists. We’re just looking for an easy way to score some YouTube hits.”

“Yeah, instead of working. That’s why we’re anarchists. The modern kind.”

Someone came with a mop to clean up the pie. An ambulance pulled up outside. “Let’s just go,” I said. Matthew resisted, so I said I’d leave him there; then he came with me. We walked to his place, about twenty minutes away. I kept searching for Sirotta’s name on Twitter and checking the local news sites. I didn’t see anything until we were in Matthew’s place and he was uploading the footage to his laptop; then I saw a tweet about Sirotta being rushed to hospital, and then retweets of the same thing over and over, interspersed with occasional expressions of goodwill or, more rarely, ill will. I drank a beer and fell asleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up, Matthew said, “Get ready for this. He died.”

He had to say it several times until I got it. At that point they hadn’t released a cause (later on they said it was a rare condition amounting to a cascading shutdown of his vascular system). We lit a joint and sat there turning things over. We didn’t think we’d done anything illegal, unless leaving a pie in an elevator amounted to ‘reckless endangerment” or “depraved indifference” or one of those conceptual TV show crimes, which – even at this time of fear and paranoia - we agreed seemed like a stretch. It seemed to us the pie had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We decided to do nothing until we were forced into it. It took us several more joints, and several beers, to reach this conclusion, but we were still happy with it when we talked the next day.

We met up at his place again and looked at all the news websites, and even signed up as temporary subscribers to some of them so we could click on all the Sirotta stories. They all danced around what had happened, referring to a “breakdown” or to “becoming unwell” while he left the office. We watched the business channel for the first time in our lives, but they just stuck to tributes, and to speculating about who would fill various roles he’d left open. We searched YouTube, but nothing turned up there. Still, we knew the wheels might take a while to turn. Police might be scrutinizing the surveillance videos, blowing up our faces in readiness to release them to the media, analyzing the pie and doggedly checking out every pie vendor within a five mile radius. We decided not to go out that day, which was easy because neither of us had anywhere to go, except that we were running out of weed and beer, so Matthew volunteered to go out and deal with that. Although I knew it made me seem like a clinging girlfriend or something, I texted him at five minute intervals to make sure he was still moving freely.

We slowly eased back into our normal routine over the next few days. Sirotta was buried. They ran out of things to say about him. We never saw any mention of the pie. Matthew thought they were suppressing it because they didn’t want to admit a titan of business could be brought down by such a trivial trigger; he said they hushed up things like that all the time – albeit usually sleazier things, he said, like sex orgies and murders – for the good of the markets. I wished I believed something so heady and elevating, but I thought they just didn’t care. The king was dead, and it had a sound medical explanation. It probably struck people as odd he’d found a pie in the elevator, but it wasn’t worth pursuing. If it was hushed up, it was just out of kindness or rectitude. All we’d done was to add to the category of things that one could tastefully choose to ignore. When I was feeling down – and that’s where I was a lot of the time now – I thought maybe the shunned pie was the symbol of my entire presence in the world, except that I wasn’t even leaving scraps for a janitor to clean up.

But after a few months of that, I was near Bay Street for a job interview, one mid-afternoon, and I decided afterwards to return to the pie shop. It had been bothering me that I’d never even tasted the damned pies from that place, and I thought maybe it’d help if I did, even though I didn’t expect to like them. I bought the same kind of apple pie, in the same kind of white cardboard box with a see-through lid. I carried it home through all the suits and the professional legs and the index-linked talk. And I swear that every ten or so paces I took down Bay Street, someone looked up from texting, or threatening, or whatever, and saw the box, and saw the pie in the box, and then looked at me carrying the pie in the box, and I swear that when they looked at me, I saw solid, heart-of-the-matter fear in their eyes. And then I tilted the box slightly so it was more visible to people coming at me, and I swear it amplified the effect, making people falter, and forget their place, and swerve out of any space I might make ripple. It lasted until I was leaving the financial district, and then it faded, and I was among people who didn’t see anything special about a guy carrying a pie in a box.

So then I felt much better, even though I didn’t get the job, and I didn’t end up eating much of the pie, because the crust was too heavy for my taste. And ever since then, whenever someone talks on TV about “slicing up the economic pie” or deploys some other kind of pie-dividing imagery, as people occasionally do, I always think they’re afraid of the pie, and they want to kill it before it kills them.