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Testosterone Pie

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December 2. I'm at what I call "The Pie House," actually the Bakers Square at Harlem and Foster, with my mother, who's been reading the pie menu throughout dinner and still can't decide.

"Fresh strawberry! Damn! Wish I could have that."

Diverticulitis. Seeds are verboten.

"Boysenberry. Blah. Peach? Maybe. Oh, I don't know. Why can't they have sour cream raisin? What's 'where available' mean anyhow? None of them have it. I get tired of asking."

"No, Ma. Probably just in certain states."

The waitress appears. Young but mature. We've already sent her away once. Sensing the tension, my mother runs her finger up and down the pie menu, muttering to herself.

"Have you ladies decided?"

"Banana cream," I announce.

My mother glances up from the menu. "Banana cream, well!" she says, as if I'd just made the decision of the decade.

"Two bananas?" asks the waitress.

This shocks my mother to decision. "No!" she almost shouts; she orders the peach pie with whipped cream on the side.

At the same moment I hear a young male voice shout, "Fuck you then!" and I glance, unalarmed, toward it. Public profanity's not that unusual. I can't locate the voice. Maybe someone's joshing with teammates, or arguing with his lady love. Perhaps he really had a taste for sour cream raisin, and it's only available in Florida.

"I'll kill you, motherfucker!"

Much louder this time. Coming from a good-looking Nick Cage type and directed toward a generic male about his age.

"If your parents weren't here I'd kick the shit outta you!"

An older, smaller man comes between them, facing the anger, hands raised to chest, fingers spread. Body language: Don't hurt me. Lips moving: Cool your jets. The enraged man stands on his toes and looks past him, fist raised.

"He wants to fight? I'll fight!"

The restaurant's host, male, Asian, almost a head shorter than the madman, grabs his arm, begins leading him to a table, as if nothing were going on. Halfway there, in the dead center of the restaurant, the madman spins around and shouts, "I'll get you later, motherfucker." He is followed by another guy, a longhair, who smiles sheepishly at the audience of pie eaters. The host seats them in the smoking section. The longhair lights a cigarette. The madman's been brandishing one all along.

"Don't look!" my mother says.

"Why?"

"He'll start with you, too!"

The waitress brings our pie.

"Anything else?" she asks.

"Yeah," I say, "get rid of that jerk!"

"Shhhh!" says my mother.

The waitress smiles and shakes her head.

The two men talk, act normal. I think, show's over. Then suddenly the madman springs up, stomps back through the restaurant, longhair at his heels.

"You looking at me, jag-off? Outside right now!"

Of course, we're all looking at him, except my mother, who's scared out of her wits.

"I can't eat," she says.

People are blocking the madman from the object of his anger. A tiny woman, mid-30s, in a white ski jacket, raises her arm and exhibits some kind of ID.

"I can have you arrested!" she shouts.

"Arrest me! Arrest me!"

"Look at all these witnesses!"

"They can watch me kick his ass in!"

The madman does not fear the law. I imagine gunplay. My mother's got her head in her hand as if she's ready to faint. I stand up and extend my hand to her.

"C'mon," I say. I plan on moving us into the kitchen until the scene is over. But she won't go.

"Huh? Where?"

"Just come on!" But my mom's not an instant-action person.

The madman and his sidekick break away from the glut of people at the door. The man who inspired his rage is gone. Halfway back to his seat, the madman announces, "OK everybody, show's over."

We continue to stare.

"Eat already!" he commands, flicking his hands at us as if we were bothersome children. "For Chrissake! Eat!"

A table of young, big-haired teenage girls have been smirking since the incident began. This sends them over the edge into hysterics. I wonder if they think he's sexy. I wonder if he'll have a date with one before the evening's end. Who said life was fair?

"He must be on drugs!" my mother whispers.

"Nah!" I laugh. "Just testosterone."

"Steroids?" she asks.

"That too."

A minute passes. I am angry that this madman has given me an unwanted adrenaline rush.

"Don't look!" my mother says, but I can't help it. I watch him sit as straight as he can, as if he's proud of something. "Let's get our coffee!" he says loudly to his companion, with mock gusto. "That's what we came for, coffee!"

The host approaches their table. Whispers. The men leave quietly.

"The police must be outside," I say.

"I'm still nervous," says my mother.

I pay the tab while my mother's in the bathroom. The host explains that the police hadn't shown up until 15 minutes too late. They had gone to the Bakers Square at Harlem and Addison instead. The host is certain it's their mistake, after all, Mary, the girl in back, has been here a long time, knows her job, knows our address. The host said he'd call the police tomorrow and complain.

"Then how'd you get rid of him?" I ask.

"Told him I had a .357 Magnum in my pocket," he says.

The people lined up at the cash register laugh. I'm not sure he's joking.

"What was his problem?" I ask.

"He thought that guy was looking at him," the host chuckles.

"Looking at him," I repeat.

"That's it," the host says. "I guess looking at him funny, or something."

I think about how incidents like this can trigger, for many elderly or sensitive people, a garden variety of psychological and physical reactions: indigestion, colitis, stroke, epileptic seizures, and heart attacks, to name a few.

I imagine throwing that good-looking madman over my knee and spanking him. Or maybe even smashing his face with a banana cream pie. Or a big bloody strawberry--no, custard--no, boysenberry--no, COCONUT CREAM! That's it! Little shards of fresh Hawaiian coconut catching on his eyelashes, stabbing up his nostrils. Terrific! Come for the altercation...stay for the pie!

By Peter Kostakis

Street lamps light the asphalt and cement of Ashland Avenue, unexpectedly vacant even for midnight on a freezing Friday. Exhausted but watchful on the ride home from a north-side theater, I slackly pedal my bicycle south between Taylor Street and Roosevelt Road.

All at once I spot a runner on the sidewalk opposite me. The guy proceeds to dash between parked cars, on a diagonal course across empty northbound lanes some 30 yards distant. I track him from the get-go: six feet tall and youthfully

lean in gray sweatpants and olive drab jacket. In a matter of seconds he changes his running angle, cutting toward me on the wide street.

Now I really pump the pedals, my eyes never leaving the runner's narrow, wedge-shaped reptilian face. He's been staring at me--a fat guy in the waning 30s--since I saw him. He's not jogging, I realize, not running for an owl-service bus: it's me he's after. He's hustling so hard the soles of his athletic shoes slap pavement.

Awaiting the open-field tackle to come, I lose track of my own breathing. My legs pedal as though disconnected from my body. "No man, no!" I scream at the expressionless face.

This quietly intense Mike Singletary-with-screws-loose is almost on top of me. Failing to cut me off from in front, and missing a clean grip on my body, clothing, or shoulder bag, he is not quite alongside. Mentally preparing for a fall, I already picture disentangling myself from the downed bike and painfully resisting at close quarters.

The runner's so near I can feel him weighing a grab for my rear wheel and spokes but not risking it. A second later his breath booms in my ear, and I heave forward. I gun the red light at Roosevelt before looking back-- the runner might have a car or accomplices. Several unconcerned cars that I didn't hear approaching are close by. There's no sign of the determined runner anywhere.

I flag a police car at an intersection two blocks ahead

and breathlessly relate what happened. The two cops--older white men--reject my offer to attract the pursuer by biking back the way I came, and they say they won't need my name or personal information. The squad car turns sharply and noses north, in the direction I am pointing.

¥¥¥

Three days later I am biking before sundown at 14th and Morgan. It's almost exactly the spot where a laughing owner pretended to unleash his furious Doberman on me years ago. Now, a trio of teenage boys unload on me with broken bricks. Whether because of their bad aim or my zigzagging, the chunks miss me. Yelling racial taunts, the boys have to throw over the high chain-link fence they are standing behind. The barrier seals off a block of two-story public housing made to look like brown imitation town houses.

Pieces of brick clunking behind me and to my right, I shout too. "I love you," I holler, not knowing why. "God loves you!" "Fuck you," the biggest kid fires back.

Saved by the fence, I'm not pursued. Two blocks past South Water Market, I encounter another stopped squad car parked alongside a white Chevy sedan beater. Taking the scene for a moving violation, I line up alongside the driver cop's rolled-down window.

A Latino guy in his 20s backs off to converse in urgent Spanish with a woman and kids in the Chevy. He looks frayed and street smart, muscular enough for manual labor, despite his boyish baseball cap and thick-rimmed glasses.

"Kids are throwing bricks at traffic." I address my remark to the cops as calmly as possible. "They're going to hit somebody."

The Spanish-speaking guy, reapproaching, lights up. "Yeah! Yeah! That happened to us, man!"

The officers take the motorist's name, address, and phone number but not mine. The young Latino and I describe where we were attacked, and the squad car whirls around with a squeaky U-turn. The worked-up man waves me toward him, so I dismount from the bicycle. He leads me to his car, pointing at three or four imploded blisters on its finish-- brick damage.

"They almost hit my wife in the face with a snowball this year, man," he says, "a hard one." A somber woman regards me from inside the vehicle.

"She was in the car then, too," the guy continues. "I'll beat the shit out of them if I get my hands on one." He paces the street nervously, directionless, eyes caffeine-wide.

"Then see if you don't get charged," I comment offhandedly. Instead of taking offense as I fear, he only laughs. Then his voice veers hoarsely out of control.

"You can't catch nobody," he says. "Serious, it's like Nam. Where me and you got sanctuary?"

He answers himself after a pause.

"No place, that's where."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.

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