For Brandon –
“My father, if you’ll believe it, was killed by a frisbee.”
“Not just any Frisbee, neither, the original. And definitely not in the way you’d think. Not conked in the brain bin or nothing.” Jack rubbed absently at his overalls, years of habit from keeping the grease at bay, while he watched my eyes. “So?”
“Sounds like it might make a good story,” I chewed my lip and considered, “but I’m not sure it’ll get you an invite.”
“Don’t you worry, mister. I didn’t come out here to fix studio cars forever. I’ll make it a good one.”
“Great. I didn’t say so, but there’s a writer’s room job for whoever wins this. But it’s no shoo in you’ll win it.”
“Now, that’s just you haven’t heard it yet. I’ll tell you the whole yarn, mind you, then you’ll decide.”
Now, my grandfather Clyde, he was a big fan of pie. When he married Bessie, he wore out her interested in baking within the first few years, long before they got sick and tired of eachother, so Clyde would pack the whole brood, himself, grandma Bessie, the boys – who would grow up into my uncle CJ and my dad but were just squealing balls of puppy dog tails and pepper at that point – into their Woody and they’d travel everywhere that good pie was made. Now, since there weren’t no Yelp yet, nor any freeways for that matter, one depended on the authority of strangers.”
“You mean kindness of strangers?” I blurted out, interrupting without thinking, while scratching notes onto an index card.
“No sir. Kind of unkind, what he depended on was that they knew their neck of the woods well enough to firstly indicate a good pie location, and secondly, know how to get there. Don’t look at me so funny. The authority of strangers is what y’all depend entirely too much upon now. Even more than then. Except now they call it ‘aggregate, anonymized data’ and so people trust it, because it looks pretty. But once, it was a guy who looked a lot like me, stepping out of a small repair shop a lot like this one to pump your gas, and he was expected to be a one man Encyclopedia, Atlas and Zagat’s guide all in one. Your GoogleWikiYelpMap all rolled into one. And he did a damn fine job. He could tell you the best place in five counties to get a shoe shine, or where the closest decent hoagie was on a weekday. It gave the corner mechanic as much clout as city councilman. It evened the field a bit. Now you’re lucky if the guy manning the pumps exists, and if he does, luckier still if he can find his own ass with two hands.
“Anyhow, I digress,” he continued, pulling a red cloth out of his pocket, wiping his lip, and putting it back. Faint smudges of grease marred his already decent five o’clock shadow, but I didn’t feel like it was right to stop Jack any more than I already had.
“So, one day, Jack and CJ get it into their heads they can get their dad to stay home for a vacation instead, and they buy a huge stack of ready-made pies, asking their dad to stay at home with them. They bring him one, all cooked up and pretty, and they all eat it together, right down to the inscription on the bottom of the time, before their dad still loads them up into the car, and makes them all go on yet another one of these little excursions. This time, one of these random mechanics somewhere in the desert leads Clyde and his kin to a little out of the way pie shop in a little one stoplight town that barely showed on the map, and Clyde was so impressed with the pies, he up and bought the place on the spot, for next to nothing. They were glad to be rid of it, seeing as no one else saw the virtue in that particular corner of nowhere.
Now, Bessie wasn’t having none of that. She left Clyde there to manage his pie shop, and went home to Galveston. Now, they might not have had much, but what they had was in Galveston, as was her family. It almost broke them up, but he stayed there almost all of that year. But, boy what a year. He bought up all the billboard space that suddenly became available alongside a new kind of road that was getting cut through that particular patch of nowhere. And so, when the freeway came through, Clyde became suddenly rich. That pie shop went from a little known nothing, to a short swoop off the road, a quick slice, and you’re back on your way to California, or Florida, or what have you.
Clyde brought his money home to Bessie and the boys, meanwhile, buying up neighboring space and turning that pie shop into a whole truck stop with curiosities, amenities, a motel and of course, pies. Clyde made himself quite the little empire in the sand.
By the time old Clyde died, that pie money had been funneled into two college degrees for my father and my uncle, nice houses all around, and steady, good lives for his boys. But, Bessie had wanted more kids, but hadn’t much of a husband left to father them. So, the boys had been her only children, grown up barely knowing their father, but spoiled and rich. The woody had become a towncar, which had then become sleek luxury sedans.
After Clyde’s funeral, the boys, now grown with wives and kids of their own, and who had idolized Clyde as one can only manage with an absentee father, decided to take a trip out to the pie stand their father had devoted his life to. When they got there, they were both stunned to learn that he hadn’t left it to them. No part of it. Not the pie stand, not the truck stop, not the motel. Hadn’t left any of it to Bessie neither. He’d left it to the gal behind the counter who’d been baking the pies since before Clyde had walked in to try his first pie. They’d never thought to find out, but learned right then and there that her name was Sadie.
Now, on the wall of Clyde’s office, which Sadie was busy moving her things into, was a pie plate that was mounted to a board, and it said, “THIS TERRIBLE PIE INSPIRED THE TRIP THAT LED CLYDE HERE.” And on it was the pie plate from the pie the boys had made their father so many years earlier, the inscription on the bottom reading “FRISBEE’S PIES.”
A’course, CJ and Jack were both fuming, and with no outlet for their anger. Couldn’t rightly be angry with their dead father, nor with the waitress who’d worked so hard, couldn’t even be angry with each other. They stared up at the pie they’d made their father and realized that nothing else in that office could rightfully be claimed by them as theirs. Sadie nodded and told them politely that they could keep it, and CJ impolitely told her to stuff it.
CJ stormed off, came back with a sturdy chair, and Jack climbed on it and reached to pull down the plaque commemorating their childhood failure. At this point, as he grabbed hold of the plaque, it made him top heavy enough that the chair toppled, but he landed safely on his feet. It was a close call. CJ pulled the tin off the backboard, and they played frisbee with it in the desert beside the pie shop, between the truck stop and the hotel, and then, pressure released, they tromped home in a state.
Every year after that, on the anniversary of their father’s death, they got together for a game of frisbee. Eventually, the kids got involved, and myself and my cousins would all get together for a reunion on that date, without really knowing why, and we’d all head out to a park somewhere outside of Galveston and we’d have us a little frisbee war. The tin got battered up something awful, so eventually plastic ones were bought, and the pie association was lost.
“Anyhow, just recently, my father died holding that tin frisbee.”
“…But, how did it kill him?”
“It got him with old age. He died clutching it because it reminded him that there was no way he and my uncle would have stayed in touch so long if they hadn’t decided to turn their dad’s shit inheritance into a game of frisbee. It kept them both alive longer, and the whole family better connected but that’s a double edged sword. What keeps you alive is also a little bit responsible when you do eventually die.”
“All right, fine.” I handed him a back door pass to the exclusive club. “It’s up in the hills, at that address on the back. Feel free to embellish and improve that story by another, um, hundred and thirty percent before then. Especially a few more close calls for your doomed father. Like when he fell off the chair. But more.”
“But they didn’t really happen.”
I stared incredulously, “Jack, if a good yarn ever had to try to stretch to fit the truth into it, it’d lose all shape.”
Jack looked down at his pass, rubbed it thoughtfully, getting a bit of grease on it. “See you tonight, Mister,” he turned and shuffled back into the shop to finish up his day’s work.