MasonsCafeVachon

John Vachon’s photo of Mason’s Café in Louisiana, 1943.

Minimum Wage Pie
By Nickalas Adams

 

The waitress sweeping the floor moves slowly, in a manner which reminds me of dying. I sit in my booth with its high padded back and clear divider extending even higher. I keep wondering how an hourly wage lasts in a society that has historically demanded more. Maybe it’s just that people have too much else to be concerned with, like paying the bills their wages nearly cover so the satellite TV isn’t shut off.

I stare up at the TV now, but only so I can watch the young couple behind me out of the side of my eye. They look hung over.  After all, it is Sunday. They have the remainder of the week to rest up at their jobs so as to rinse and repeat for next Saturday. They both wear gray sweatpants and expressions of blank numbness—undoubtedly the best mood of their next five days. She looks like a nurse and his boots say he does roadwork. When she lets herself outside for a cigarette, I know she is a nurse.

The sweeping waitress now becomes the silverware waitress, and she takes on a new form in this task. She seems more at peace and curiously allows her eyes to sneak upwards as she wraps together the forks, knives and spoons, investigating the few tables occupied. She seems almost mischievous in this way and gives me the feeling that five years in this job didn’t suck all the fight and life out of her. Maybe she can get angry and see things still.

I poke at the slice of Grandma’s Best Pie on my plate. It smells of burnt pizza crust and peach oatmeal. The bite I take tastes alright, but I’m not much into pie unless it’s pumpkin on Thanksgiving or wild blackberry out of mom’s oven. One time I tried a cherry pie with my great-grandfather, and it spoiled my liking for any such textures.

All these people working here so people such as me can buy a two dollar slice of crappy pie, I think. My willingness to buy such shit supports the waitress and the other poverty line wages. I’m a regular humanitarian.

I can presently feel eyes on and off me, on and off. It is the now-counter-wiping waitress, whose name tag catches on the edge of the counter top as she bends low, reaching across and wiping in circles with a gray rag. The way she wipes right in front of me, all hanging over, is just asking me to see down her less-than-modest gray top. She even pauses in line with my eyes so as to allow this act. But I hold my own and don’t take the bait. I sip hard on my coffee and fork another crumb of pie into my mouth. She likes this because she approaches the table and asks how everything was.

“It’s very nice,” I said.  “Do you make the pie here?”

“We bake it here,” is her reply. She follows with a large and straight smile, as though this is impressive and praiseworthy news.

“Fair enough,” I say, placing a ten dollar bill on the table and reentering my Sunday.
 

 ***

 

The Price of Pie

By Andrea Fricke

 

I have turned it into a determined mission of numbers and items to tick off a check list running in my head. If I buy a whole bag of flour for four dollars and sixty-eight cents, I’ll be able to use half of it for something else. Then there’s butter at two dollars and thirty cents, and I’ll need shortening, fruit filling, sugar, salt, and the time that it will take to bake a pie. I’ll have to come up with the time.

My daughters want to know if we have enough money to buy a bag of chicken nuggets. They are tired of the regular regimen of Ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese with hot dogs that become our staple meals at the end of every month.

I start another list in my head: lessons for my girls. I need to teach them about budgets, about being grateful for what we have even if it sometimes seems like it’s not enough. And somehow I still have to show them how to remain confident in the idea that if they work hard enough, they can have anything they want.

Another list: the lies I tell myself.

The lies I tell my daughters.

I haven’t told them yet that I frequent the food shelf in order to put meals on our table when the money runs out. How I took on extra hours at work because their dad stopped paying child support. How the rent got raised on our apartment.

I haven’t told them how scared I am that I’m running out of energy, out of time, out of money.  And I only half-hear the conversations they throw in my direction about preteen dramas and school and friends and needing new shoes, a new tablet, more lead for the mechanical pencils, and money for the football game.

Add it to the list, I tell them. That lined paper magnetized to our fridge that details everything we’ll buy when we have the money to pay for it.

We add the bag of chicken nuggets to the grocery cart and now I can’t afford the flour. I take out all the ingredients that I was going to use to make a homemade pie and leave a trail of discarded groceries on the shelves in my wake; abandoned plans, discarded dreams, all waiting for their place on my list.
 

 ***

 

Shopping for Pie

By Kori Flowers

 

My journey for blueberry pie starts at the thrift store on Paul Bunyan Drive.

No, I’m not at the thrift store for pie. I’m looking for a jacket, and the thrift store is the first stop on my shopping trip with Ani. I find a leather jacket, but I don’t have the right amount of money in cash, so I promise the lady running the store I’ll return later.

Our next stop is the Dollar Store. I don’t expect to find any blueberry pie here either, so I’m  not disappointed when I don’t find any. Surprisingly,  there are frozen individual slices in the refrigerated section—one is even wildberry—and if we weren’t already on a serious search for good pie, Ani and I would buy some here because they look good. Say what you want about being cheap, or the ambiance, but the Dollar Store is my new favorite place to shop.

My next stop is Wal-Mart, where Ani has to shop for cake supplies for a friend and I make a total nuisance of myself. Mostly because neither of us know where the whipped cream is hiding, or what kind of caramel topping we need. There is pie in the frozen food section, but it isn’t the kind I want. I’ve been craving a slice of blueberry pie for several weeks. I can’t explain it, but I want one.

Our journey ends at Perkins, where I expect there to be blueberry pie at last. But no. They have wildberry, banana, French silk and peanut butter cup, but no blueberry. Our waitress tells us that they no longer sell blueberry pie, thanks to the price of blueberries. My disappointment ends up tasting like cherry cheesecake pie, which is not a bad consolation prize.

Ani has banana cream pie, and I must say her pie tastes better than mine. Or at least there is more essence of banana involved. We each have coffee—mine takes four creamer cups and five packets of sugar, while hers requires three creamers and two sugars. My coffee is nowhere near my ideal cup, but I drink it anyway, even though it’s too bitter.

All around us, families are having breakfast, even though it it’s 3:30 in the afternoon. There’s a particularly loud, screeching baby two booths away. The rain, which began as a drizzle when we left Wal-Mart, is now a downpour, and I have no jacket. The smell of bacon tempts, but we are  there for pie, only pie.

A quick dash and drive through the rain later, and we’re back at the thrift store.  I buy my new old jacket. And while I don’t get my blueberry pie, I do have fun with my friend, and I do get a cool jacket. I call it a success.

MasonsCafeVachonNickalas Adams is an English major at BSU, and he thinks you’re pretty neat.  Kori Flowers is a senior at Bemidji State University, learning about writing and life. Andrea Fricke is a student at BSU.

 
 
* See From the Editors for more information on Minnesota photographer John Vachon