Jan 27

Have another chocolate pie, professor?

You might think you’ve read this story before, if so, then read it again! If you haven’t, here’s a tale of how The Brothers & Co might have ended more than a decade ago had it not been for a chance meeting, a nap and a chocolate pie.

By Gery L. Deer

(From “The Adventures of The Brothers & Co.)

If you’ve ever been to a pot-luck dinner at a family gathering or church function, you have a pretty good idea of what Saturday evening looks like at Freedom Farm as people trickle in for The Brothers & Co. rehearsals. Family and friends have gathered each Saturday for a dozen years to eat dinner together and spend the evening playing music.

Over the years, my mother made most of the evening’s victuals but people would routinely bring a desert, if they felt compelled to bring anything at all. Inevitably, we end up with all manner of pies, cakes, cookies, and other treats that a house full of diabetics should probably be avoiding in the first place.

I met Jim Karns in 1994. Our lifelong friendship began from a most unlikely encounter and would eventually determine the fate of The Brothers & Co. and one unfortunate chocolate pie. But to understand why, you have to be told how it all started.

When I first started at the engineering center where Jim and I met, I got to know a guy named Dan. He was a big guy; a little over six feet tall and two hundred and fifty pounds give or take an ounce. His graying beard and jovial personality gave him a bit of a Santa Clause quality, if the North Pole had been closer to Oklahoma.

One morning I went to speak to Dan at his desk. He was sitting very still at his desk as I walked up, his back towards me, and he seemed to be concentrating on the computer screen in front of him.

“Dan, I was wondering if you know,” I was interrupted by a heavy sigh and a sort of snorting sound. “Uh, I was wondering umm…?”

“He’s asleep,” droned a, deep bass voice from beyond … a metal equipment shelf.

“Excuse me?” I stepped around the shelving to see the back of a man bent over a mass of wire and circuit boards on the table in front of him like some kind of mad scientist.

“If you’re trying to talk to Dan, he’s asleep,” he said again, without looking up from his work.

“Really,” I asked, confused?

Expressionless, the man straightened and turned to look at me. His eyes blinked through fogged glasses perched between dark hair and a beard. Plumes of what I assumed to be smoke from a soldering iron wafted up around him as he turned. (If it wasn’t, then something had been on fire, which was really not that unusual of an occurrence in our labs.)

He glanced in the direction of Dan’s desk and stared at it for a moment.

“Yep,” he said, finally. “About twice a day he’ll be sitting there at the computer and the next thing you hear is the roar of a nap in progress.”

“Do you ever wake him up,” I asked, wondering if he ever just fell over on the desk. Now we were both kind of staring at the sleeping man in the chair.

“No,” the man said again, turning back to his table full of experiments. “His snoring usually wakes him up.”

A minute or two passed in silence and I stood there staring at Dan, kind of mystified by the whole thing. He was so still. “What if he’s dead?” I thought, hoping I hadn’t said it aloud. I stepped back around the shelf and leaned around Dan enough to see his closed eyes as he sat, still motionless, but breathing.

By now, the computer’s screen saver had popped on, repeatedly scrolling the word, “Microsoft” in bright green letters across a black screen as if it were a news bulletin. I was still having a hard time soaking it up. There he was, sound asleep sitting straight up with one hand on the computer’s mouse and the other propped up on the arm of the chair.

As I stood there knees bent, peering at him like an archeologist examining a mummy, a sudden snort erupted and Dan startled to life. He jolted awake so abruptly that I was caught by surprise too. I stumbled backward into the equipment shelf, caught myself before I knocked anything over, then just stood there slack jawed, staring at him staring at him.

He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and took a deep breath, looking around befuddled as consciousness gradually restored his senses.

“Are you ok,” I said, worried and looking around to see if anyone else had noticed what happened.

“Yeah,” he said. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long…um… I just came to see if you wanted to have lunch today,” I told him, moving back around to stand across the desk from him as he turned his office chair around to face me. That was, in fact, not what I came for, but at this point I couldn’t remember what it was I actually did want see him about in the first place. I doubt it mattered anymore anyway.

“Sure,” Dan said, still collecting himself, “come on over. “Jim can join us too,” he said with an invitational gesture to his neighbor who was still occupied with the gadget on the desk.

“I’d be happy to,” Jim called back from behind the shelf of junk, err, um, equipment.

“Ok, see you at noon then,” I said, and turned to leave, glancing over my shoulder to see him adjust himself in his chair, presumably, for another nap.

When lunch time came around, I grabbed my Tupperware of leftovers from the fridge and made my way back to the other lab. We worked on kitchen appliances so there was always a microwave around to use. No actual kitchen required.

I zapped my food and joined the rest at Dan’s desk, each with our respective brown-bagged feasts, Dan said, as if he suddenly noticed he was on fire or something, “Oh by the way, Gery Deer, this is Jim Karns.” Jim and I stuck out our hands to each other, shook, and that was that.

Our discussions turned to old television shows and I mentioned having just seen the original Gilligan’s Island pilot. Jim commented on an actor who had appeared in two episodes of Gilligan’s Island named, Hans Conried. It so happened that I had just got the two Conried episodes on video and offered to let Jim borrow them (Yes, I said video tape – this was 1994 after all).

Dan, Jim, and I shared a unique sense of humor and a combined love of, or at least fascination for Gilligan’s Island, I think each of us for different reasons, but it didn’t matter. The SS Minnow connection seemed to stick us together like glue made from tree sap. We were against the boat, attached to the boat, even mounted there. Inside joke – Jim will get it, but no one else will. “Quiet you birds.”

It seemed like no matter when I saw him, Jim was always tinkering with something and before long, I started referring to him as “the Professor.” Of course in kind, I was the skinny goofy one, so I got the “Gilligan” moniker, and, not to be left out, Dan fit in quite well as our Skipper. So in case you ever wondered how he got the name, that’s why we call him ‘Professor.’

gilligan-prof-gery-jimAs long as we all still worked together, we ate lunch nearly every day at Dan’s desk. Somewhere along the line, we discovered a hole-in-the-wall Chinese buffet not too far from our office that we dubbed, “Onion Baby’s.” We called it that because of the owner’s niece, who looked a lot like an Asian baby in a grocery store TV commercial who morphed from an onion. It wasn’t until years later that I actually learned what the name of the place really was, and I eventually forgot.

The three of us had a regular table about once a week at Onion Baby’s. Jim and I would get going on some ridiculous comedic rant and we would get Dan laughing so hard that his face would turn bright red and the whole table would shake from his hysterics.

After nearly two years of working together, circumstances split us up. Dan’s job ended shortly before I decided to leave as well after receiving an offer to work for an engineering firm across town. Dan eventually moved back home to his family farm in Oklahoma and Jim stayed at the engineering center until it closed.

It was a tough time for me. I’d purposely always maintained an arm’s length from anyone I worked with. Making friends at work always seemed to cause me trouble. But these guys were different. I haven’t seen Dan in many years, thought we will exchange an email now and again. Jim and I, though, have never been too far apart.

We’ve seen each other go through marriage and divorce, unemployment, and just about everything else. He is my best friend and the odd circumstances of our meeting defined our friendship.

Junior may be my only biological brother, but I really have four counting my cousin Ed Jones, my friend Kirk Bass, but especially Jim. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without any of them. But I digress.

So what does all of this have to do with the pie that Jim brought to band one fateful Saturday night? Well here’s … the rest of the story. (Thanks Paul Harvey!)

Jim came down the stairs and I met him crossing into the band room. He handed me a plastic grocery bag with a box in it.

“Here, Gilligan, set out the desert.”

“What is it,” I asked, trying unsuccessfully to look in the bag.

Jim was already at the popcorn machine filling a bag. “It’s a chocolate pie,” he said.

I took the bag to the kitchenette where I removed the box and set it on the counter. Like some kind of confectionary nested doll, it was also in a sealed, clear plastic shell that fit in two pieces like a transparent clam shell. Inside was, indeed, a chocolate pie with swirls of whipped cream on top.

I picked up the pie and stood next to the trash can to remove the cover. I struggled for a few minutes to remove the tape sealing the top to the bottom. People came and went past me and I dismissed several offers for assistance when finally, cutting the tape with a butter knife, the seal went ‘pop,’ and the shell opened. I lifted the pie out and let the empty container fall into the trash can below.

“I got it,” I said, proudly holding aloft the liberated pie for all to see. Just then, as he was walking toward me, I noticed the smiling expression on Jim’s face gradually morph into horror. I followed his gaze downward, where we both fixed on the pie. Just as I looked down, the pie gracefully slid off of the cardboard plate, flipped completely upside down, and landed, top first, in a mass of gunk in the bottom of the trash can.

It was like watching the slow-motion replay of a competitive skier taking a header during an Olympic run. The whole thing seemed to take hours to happen. Since trash can was near the glass doorway, everyone could see what happened from nearly any angle of either room.

IMG_0010I just stood there staring blearily into the darkness of the trash can where the inverted pie came to rest. I tell people were staring and I could hear gasps and talking. That didn’t just happen, I thought. Not to me.

Still entranced by the sight at the bottom of the can, I heard myself say, “It smelled really good. And think of all the calories we just saved?”

In one, swift Gilligan-esque move, I had made a mess of the Professor’s plans – in this case for desert. Jim walked over, stopped beside me and we both stared down in silent contemplation. A moment later, we walked away from the can, laughing so hard I thought I was going to pass out.

The rest of the night, people passing through that door would pause for a glance into the trash can at the wrecked pie, as if paying final respects – and they laughed too. I don’t know about anyone else, but as far as I am concerned, the pie that no one got to eat, and cost Jim $4.95, created a priceless memory for me.

As 2004 went on, I had some pretty rough times. My marriage broke up and my mother started to show more signs of the terrible dementia that would eventually rob her of any memories at all. But, for me at least, the memory of that pie sliding forever into oblivion gave me a smile that helped me through all of it – sometimes it still does.

whips-wands-jim-gerySo, if Jim and I had never met, no one would have brought a pie for me to have dropped into the trash can, and there might not even be a Brothers & Co. today. Either way, we’ve never had another chocolate pie at band practice, and Jim never, ever lets me put his deserts out on the counter.

As far as I know, we haven’t lost any more deserts to the discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, but there’s always next Saturday night!

And the adventure continues …