catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 16 :: 2013.09.06 — 2013.09.19


Want some pie?

The gang members encircled our beautifully arrayed table set with fresh flowers, elaborately folded cloth napkins, starched table cloth and real china. Over the course of an hour or so they came ever closer, eyeing our motley crew, sizing us up. Finally laying down bicycles and heavy chains, they joined us at the table for mixed-berry and pecan pie.

Before we’d all packed up and gone home, they were showing us their tumbling tricks in the grass, joined by a particularly flexible member of our group of friends. Competing in hand-walking, the men who’d seemed so tough now laughed and tumbled like puppies, their usual masks of bravado shed so as to let the impish kids that they’d so recently been revisit childhood, if only for an hour or so.

On another occasion, a well-dressed, dapper man with a perfect white smile sat down at one of our tables for peach pie. He quickly said, “I’m so glad you’re in this park feeding people pie. You never know what kind of hard stories people have.”

I replied, “Yes, we can only imagine the pain of people walking around this city…so many hard stories we’ll never know. You’re right.”

He slowly turned towards me and said, “Well actually I’m talking about myself. I know I have a big smile, but I’m hiding a lot of pain behind that.” He went on to tell me that he was a victim of ongoing domestic abuse with his long-time partner, abuse that had recently escalated to the point that the police had been called. This man had found himself newly homeless and — that very day — was beating the pavement looking for a new apartment. He’d stumbled on our offer of free pie on two festively set tables on a busy city corner on this steamy August Saturday. He’d joined us and said, “I can’t tell you what it means to me today to be invited to sit down and eat pie with strangers. It helps.”

It’s not that complicated. It’s about sharing a table with whoever shows up. We claim a city corner for a couple of hours; we eat homemade pie with strangers; we aim to leave the spot better than we found it.

Some friends and I have been creating Flash Tables in Washington, D.C.  Part flash-mob, part banquet table, these impromptu, thrown-together-in-a-flash, moveable feasts create a couple of hours of community. We choose spots that might normally be drug-dealing havens or simply plots of forgotten concrete and weeds. We set up our come-one, come-all banquets in areas that are pass-throughs for tourists and locals alike.

We just invite people with a, “Want some pie?” We assume that everyone has a desire to be known and seen, invited and valued — even as we all hide those longings behind our confident swaggers and benign demeanors, generally not revealing the human condition lurking within, the core of us that has us scanning the horizon for the possibility of connection while halfway fearing the vulnerability and risk that getting our hopes up includes.

And then with whoever says, “Yes,” we simply sit at a table and eat pie together, shoot the breeze, and share some time together. Nothing more, nothing less.

Do we solve the growing problems of inequality, affordable housing and hunger in the city? No.

Do we eradicate the isolation that many feel as they navigate a powerful city, often invisibly? Only briefly, if at all.

Do we take away the aches and hurts of those who pass by or stop? I can’t say that we do.

Do we create lasting relationships with those we meet? Time will tell, but probably not.

Do we trust that what can happen as we share pie at a table for a brief time on a city sidewalk is actually community? Yes, we actually do. 

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