The walls of his cubicle are particularly low. Ruben sits at his desk, his cornmeal oxford shirt crinkled and untucked at the hips, his white crew socks showing, his coiled black hair flattened on one side, glinting with the kind of rich, human shine you only get from not showering for three or more days. Sometimes, I’m reminded of Fight Club when I look at my coworker, but I know that Ruben isn’t the leader of an underground bare-knuckle boxing society. How do I know? That’s artisanal jam on his shirt collar, not blood.
“The Stetson report, I need it before our 10am,” says Kip, finger drumming his pack of Gauloises Blondes.
“I left two copies on your desk,” says Ruben.
“That was last week, dumb dumb. Seriously, aren’t you analysts supposed to be good at counting?”
Ruben looks away first, color in his cheeks. Kip proceeds, off toward the elevators, off toward his morning smoke, off toward his morning dump. Ruben pointed this whole routine out to me one morning last December and now I notice it even when I don’t want to.
According to his business card, Ruben is Junior Data Analyst at the Applebum Group. But that’s not what he really is. Ruben is a pastry chef. A damn good one, if I can say so. Cakes and puff pastries come easiest for him, but fruit pies and tarts are his passion. He goes to culinary school during the evenings on Tuesdays and Fridays and helps with catering gigs on the weekend when he gets lucky. Once, after a few rounds of beers, Ruben told me that on his last day at the Applebum Group—which will be the same day he tells the Applebum Group he’s leaving—he plans to throw his best and most beloved dessert of all time, key lime pie, right in the face of Kip Applebum.
That day is today.
I’ve worked at the Applebum Group for seven years, five more than Ruben. I have the same title I had when I started, my salary has increased at 1% each year, and I get 10 days of annual vacation. But, I get health insurance and a gift card to P.F. Chang’s every Christmas. I hate working at the Applebum Group the same as Ruben. The difference between us is that I appear to like it, which goes a long way; I tuck in my shirt, take regular showers, and even get along with Kip Applebum (don’t let the last name fool you, he married into the family and changed his last name). But the most important difference between Ruben and myself is this: Ruben is a talented, passionate, red-blooded pastry chef and I am a mediocre writer, at best, who has spent more years of his life talking about writing than actually writing.
I need the Applebum Group. Guys like Ruben never do.
After his 10am meeting, Ruben meets me in the Innovation break room. There’s no coffee maker and the freezer smells, making it a good place for private conversation. I greet him with a congratulatory haymaker when he walks in.
“All good things,” I say.
“I’m not at the finish line yet,” says Ruben.
“Does Kip know?”
“That I’m throwing a pie at him today?”
“That you’re leaving the company today.”
“We get our paychecks at 4:30. The timing for it couldn’t be better.”
“Ruben, you’re not really going to do this.”
“I’ve been up all night!”
“Key lime pie doesn’t take all night, even I know that.”
“But I didn’t make key lime pie.”
“Or lemon meringue.”
“I’ve got to show you something.” Ruben opens the refrigerator door and, as if sliding back a plate of marbles, reveals a beautiful, glowing, billboard-worthy pie, strips of brushed golden dough crisscrossed atop a mysteriously molten red filling.
“Are those beets?”
“Rhubarb. I think they’re considered a vegetable.”
“You baked a rhubarb pie to throw in Kip Applebum’s face?”
“Not so loud,” whispers Ruben as he pokes his head into the hallway.
“That doesn’t make sense—the whole point of throwing a key lime pie is that it’s fluffy, like in cartoons! A rhubarb pie is dense and heavy and seems hard to throw with any precision. Why didn’t you just bake a calzone?”
“Rhubarb is tart. Like our experiences working at the Applebum Group—mine, at least.”
“Fine, I get it.”
“Also, I was in a meeting once presenting to Regional and some of the real Applebums, when right as I put up a red pie chart slide, Kip took out that stupid, little Sharper Image laser pointer of his and— ”
“No one could stop laughing for the rest of the meeting.”
“It was an hour meeting, too.”
“Look, friend, I have to ask a favor.”
“Ruby, I think you’re making a mistake. But, I told you before, I won’t stop you.”
“I need you to help me.”
“Help you what?”
“I need you to help me pie Kip.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Please, there’s nobody else—”
“No. No way in hell.”
“I’m asking you, friend—”
“Hey, you said it yourself. You can’t stand the place.”
“Well, we can’t all frolic around all day like we’ve got nothing to lose,” I declare. “We’re not all pastry chefs, for Christ’s sake.”
Ruben folds the tin foil back over his creation.
“You’re right,” says Ruben, crimping the edge closest to him. “Just forget I asked.”
My quarterly team lunch at Red Lobster ends early, and afterward I find myself still pissed about Ruben’s ridiculous request and his belief that I’d say yes. After all, I still have a career at the Applebum Group, LinkedIn connections I need to maintain for my future. But oddly enough, I soon fantasize about not only helping Ruben throw the rhubarb pie, but about hurling the rhubarb pie—make that the key lime pie—myself, and then shouting, “Eat shit and die, Applebum! I QUIT!” as I march toward the elevator and along the way kiss Summer, our receptionist, for good measure.
That would be one hell of a story. A story I could actually write. In fact, as I continue to imagine the expression on Kip’s face and the roar of the office behind me, I start to scribble parts of the story down, right on a sheet of paper. It’s been a long time since I wrote like this, without trying, and it feels good. I write off and on for the rest of the afternoon.
Just after 4pm Ruben meets me again, this time in the Collaboration break room because we both need coffee. We fill our mugs and tap creamer dust from the tin without speaking.
Finally, I ask, “Since when does one pie take two men to throw?”
Ruben holds back a smile and finds me a stirrer. “Kip leaves every day at five, as you know. I wanted to catch him then, on his way out, but it hit me—I have to pie Kip inside the office, in front of everyone.”
“Look, I’m throwing this pie alone. It’s just me, myself and pie.”
I remain silent, which somehow encourages Ruben.
“I just need you to schedule an emergency meeting with Kip at 4:45 inside the Synergy meeting room. Then as soon as he steps out—splat!” says Ruben.
“Synergy, right across from the courtyard?”
“Won’t they stop you in the parking lot?”
“I didn’t drive today, I’m going to run all the way home.”
“Look, I even wore my New Balances.”
“Kip will suspect I was a part of this.”
“I thought about that,” Ruben says. “You’ve got a good thing going here, friend. I need your help, let’s be clear, but I’d feel like a real asshole if I were the one to mess things up for you.”
“Don’t lose sleep over it.”
“I’m serious, pal. You don’t have to do this.”
“Kip Applebum deserves to be pied. I admire what you’re doing, Ruben. I really do.”
“What are you saying?”
“You were never supposed to work at the Applebum Group in the first place,” I say, opening the Outlook calendar on my phone. “Let’s send you off right, pastry boy.”
Witnesses would tell me months later that while it was a respectable throw on Ruben’s behalf, the rhubarb pie landed mostly in Kip’s ear and shirt collar. I do remember hearing the splat, sitting nervously in the Synergy room after my bogus meeting with Kip, and thinking that it didn’t sound like a splat so much as a thwack. Witnesses would also tell me that the rhubarb pie didn’t really explode, at least, not the way the key lime pie with whipped cream exploded in my adaptation of the story; it just sort of crumbled upon impact, sliding off in tectonic slabs, falling slowly to the hallway carpet. I guess it was all the same to Ruben. When I came out, I saw a reasonable mess, nothing too bad, just a spill that would take a few minutes to clean. I watched Ruben sprint through the courtyard toward the setting afternoon sun; I had never seen the man run so fast. In the weeks to follow, Kip never brought up the rhubarb pie to me or building security or anyone for that matter, understandably.
That June, I left the Applebum Group.