Omiage. Omiage. I gotta bring something, I said to myself. I was going to my friend Hectors house for dinner. He and his wife just bought their first home and invited me over to see the place. Thinking some kind of dessert would be nice I started looking for a local bakery near their new home.
Driving down the road I saw a huge sign reading, AMERICAN PIES, Where the Dough Always Rises. Now usually I like to pick up something from Angel Maid Bakery or Kings Hawaiian, but for convenience I thought Id give this place a try. I should have known better.
On the way inside I passed an older Nisei lady. She had on a baby blue sweat suit, white walking shoes and a yellow sun visor. We exchanged a tiny nod and smile.
People were lining up to get inside so I figured the place must be pretty good.
Once inside I knew why. The cooling racks were packed with cakes galore, colorful fruit tarts and glazed turnovers--everything imaginable.
The Pies were especially amazing. One in particular. They called it the American Dream Pie. It was so gorgeous, so mouthwatering, even an all-star team of baking Nisei women would drool in envy. Oh, and the smell. Mmmm. The aroma was intoxicating. With my nose stuck on the glass counter, the clerk approached me.
Clerk: May I help you?
Tony: Yes, Id like one of these please. Your American Dream Pie. It looks delicious.
Clerk: Oh it is. Its full of ripe red cherries, premium white chocolate and tender hand-picked blueberries. All baked in a flaky golden brown crust.
Tony: Great. How much?
Clerk: Im sorry sir. That American Dream Pie is for display only.
Tony: Oh no. It cant be.
Just then I watched another customer purchase an American Dream Pie.
Tony: Excuse me, Why is that guy getting a pie?
Clerk: Oh, Mr. Smith. He's one of our long-time customers. He golfs with the owner. May I suggest another item? How about our master bakers, Mr. Jim Crow. He says the secret is in the white wine.
Tony: No, what else do you recommend.
Clerk: With the Presidential election coming up we have a special on our Democratic Pie a la Clinton and our Republican Pie a la Dole. Buy one get the other free.
Tony: They look the same. Whats the difference?
Clerk: Well... Umm, they are cut from the same mold. But trust me. These are the best President pies money can buy.
Tony: No thanks. Anything else?
Clerk: Perhaps our Minimumwage Razzmatazz. Its guaranteed to feed a family of four.
Tony: Which one is it?
Clerk: This one here.
Tony: But thats only a tiny slice of crumb cake! That wont even feed one person.
Clerk: Well, its very popular. Just this morning I got a an order for 12 dozen from a large hotel in Little Tokyo.
Tony: Nobody can live on that. Dont you have something more filling?
Clerk: Something rich and thick, let me see. Yes, how about our Military Cherry. Its the biggest and richest pie we make. In fact, sometimes we dont even have enough dough left over for anything else. Some people say its so big they have a hard time cutting it.
Tony: I could cut it easy.
Clerk: Talking about cutting, then you might want to try our Wonderful Welfare Wafer--oh, I'm sorry. I forgot, its recently been discontinued. Of course we still carry our much larger and more expensive Corporate Welfare Wafer Deluxe. You might know it by its more well-known name--Corporate Subsidies Chiffon.
Tony: Dont you have any normal desserts?
Clerk: Do you like cheese cake?
Tony: I love it. Cheese cake would be perfect.
Clerk: Then you must try our Scapegoat Cheese Cake.
Tony: Scapegoat Cheese Cake? Never heard of it.
Clerk: Why sure. Its an American tradition. Its your standard cheesecake, but we charge the customer three times as much money for it. Although its not true, we tell everyone its because scapegoat cheese is expensive. Then we pocket all the profits.
Tony: So why are you telling me all this?
Clerk: Because most of the time its easier for customers to blame the scapegoat cheese than it is for them to admit theyre being ripped off.
Tony: Come on. Youre crazy. What kind of place is this?
Clerk: Please sir, make a decision. Others are waiting.
Tony: OK OK. Just give me something simple. Do you serve brownies?
Clerk: We do, but only on Wednesdays from the back door.
Tony: Thats it. This place is sick and racist. A person comes in to get an American Dream Pie and what does he get? The runaround, thats what...
Suddenly, someone behind me yells out. "Hey, if you dont like it here, go back where you came from!" Several others chimed in and quicker than jello jiggles, the line of customers turned into an angry mob.
I thought, forget the omiage this was no time for being chanto. I was getting out of there quick. Some fool who just bought a bag full of English-Only Eclairs tried to block the door but I gave him a head fake and a straight-arm to the kisser before bursting out the front door.
Outside the Nisei woman with the baby blue sweat suit was behind the wheel of a burgundy four-door Toyota Camry. With the engine revving she honked twice, winked and yelled, "Get in." With the mob at my heels pelting me with pound cake, I dove head-first through the front seat window. Luckily, her zabuton seat cushion broke my fall and my only injury was bumping my head on the Kaeru Frog hanging from her rearview mirror. Slamming down her zori, she put the pedal to the metal and we took off.
Screeching away, I saw my car going up in flames and the crowd chanting, "White flour power, White flour power." Without a doubt, I owed my life to this mysterious Nisei Lady.
Tony: Thank you, thank you for saving me.
Nisei Lady: No shimpai. I bet you came in to get a piece of American Dream Pie didnt you?
Tony: Yeah, howd you know?
Nisei Lady: They always do. Did you know that for every American Dream Pie, they bake 1000 Minimumwage Razzmatazzes and Scapegoat Cheese Cakes.
Tony: Thats not fair. Why cant they just bake American Dream Pies for everybody?
Nisei Lady: They could, but some hi-tone greedy people want to have their cake and eat it too.
Tony: What can I do to change things?
Nisei Lady: Ever heard of Justice Pie?
Tony: Justice Pie, you mean like freedom and justice? Equality and things like that?
Nisei Lady: Thats right. But not just words--actions. Doing things like helping Japanese Peruvians win Redress and voting No on Proposition 209.
Tony: What about making Little Tokyo strong like it used to be by supporting the New Otani Hotel workers?
Nisei Lady: Sure, working people's rights are a main ingredient in Justice Pie. It's packed with our Fruits of Labor. And don't forget hopes, dreams and courage too. Because we want the People to rise up, not just the dough.
Tony: Wow. Where can I buy Justice Pie?
Nisei Lady: Young blood, you cant buy it from a store. It has to be made by hand.
Tony: Is it hard?
Nisei Lady: Easy as pie. Plus you're not starting from scratch. Some of our Issei were real fighters. They could bake with the best of them.
Tony: How long does it take to make?
Nisei Lady: A lifetime.
Tony: Nani!?! A lifetime.
Nisei Lady: What--you got something better to do? What else could be more important than giving our children and grandchildren the gift of freedom and justice? Now thats the ultimate omiage.