Mandrake Wanted the Gooseberry Pie

To call the scene the aftermath hardly did it justice.  I would say that it was somewhere between the shaken focus of the Rolling Stones album cover of that name… something that might have been attributed to a mild hallucinogenic used to create its distorted image of Mick & crew; and a photograph of Dresden after the Allies had fire bombed it.  If pressed, it was a lot closer to the utterly destroyed and gutted Dresden.

It had probably been a simple tasteless room.  A meeting place that could serve as a lunch room for a warehouse facility?  Linoleum floors, suspended fluorescent fixtures… the kind with the long tubes that forecast their demise by “humming”, bare walls… or walls that would have had bad art, or dumb and dated photos.

The two six foot tables that had been put together were now separated by a good yard and half.  Only two of the cheap folding chairs that had surrounded the tables were left in an upright position. The paper tablecloth that had served as decoration and protection for the tables lay in a twisted mass.  A side table was on its side. The table lamp totally busted.  Spiral notebooks everywhere.  Pens, markers. Two smashed, very expensive film cameras.  A boom mike and a camera tripod standing like gothic spires. Shattered lighting tubes, their glass slivers covering every part of the room. 

The props that had been added to lend a “homey” atmosphere to the otherwise stark room: a globe, a glass cocktail table, incidental ceramic figurines, two faux flower arrangements — all broken and/or mangled.  A bookcase, upturned… its weathered volumes scattered.

Then a few personal items… two pair of eye glasses, one reading, one all purpose, a pack of cigarettes, a cell phone, car keys and a plastic comb. 

A mish-mosh heap of pie crust and its fruit contents… All giving evidence of the worst food fight of your life. 

And blood. Much of it. Human, not simian… that’s what happens when you try and break up a fight between a Western Red Colobus and a Capuchin. The smell?  The underlying rich sweetness was unmistakable… but it was the gamey scent and smell of blood that pervaded the scene of carnage.

I was told that it all happened in less than 20 minutes.  Talk to other folks, and that’s all it takes in a good bar fight.  You can imagine it.  Two guys fueled by Guinness, arguing about who was the better QB, Joe Montana or Steve Young… the next thing you know it’s bar stools being thrown and the gendarmes are being called in.

Mrs. Alston was there because she made pies.  Not that she expected fame from baking her pies in Shelburne, VT.  But you never know how your life will turn when Steven Spielberg takes a shine to your strawberry-rhubarb pie.  That was her good luck, or bad, depending on how you look at it.  What’s a little blood?

Anyway, Mr. Spielberg was paying.  How could Mrs. Alston say no?  Before sun up one Thursday, she packed up her Volvo station wagon with the 15 pies she had baked on Tuesday and Wednesday, and headed south to a location in Westchester County.  Two each… strawberry-rhubarb, cherry, blueberry, Dutch apple, peach, lemon meringue, Boston cream and a single gooseberry pie.  She hadn’t been given too many details… “bring your wonderful pies Mrs. A, we’re shooting a trailer for a new film and we’d love for you to be part of it.  You will be well paid.”  Sure.  Mrs. Alston even made an extra strawberry-rhubarb for Steven.

The subject of the film was about apes or monkeys.  Not exactly a remake of Planet of the Apes, she was told.  Tim Burton had already done that in 2001.  Mrs. Alston hadn’t seen the original film that was released in 1968… and she didn’t know who this Tim Burton fellah was either.  She didn’t even know what a film trailer was (“isn’t it someplace to live?”).  Mrs. A knew pies.  Pies and children… she raised seven kids.

I think you know where this is going.  Even if Mrs. A didn’t.

Call it her Yankee trait.  Be punctual… meaning, get there before you were expected.  Be neat… meaning a dark ankle length skirt, a subdued buttoned blouse with a high collar, a protective smock (she was serving pies after all), rimless glasses, grey hair in a tight bun kept in place by two steadfast pins and sensible shoes with a thick heel.  Be polite… meaning say “good morning”, “please” and “thank you.”  Mrs. Alston was certainly all that.

Steven Spielberg greeted her with a smile, he raised his ball cap, “Nice to see you again Mrs. Alston!”  He had to shake his head in disbelief, how good is this?  She looks like she answered the casting call for one of the Brewster Sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace or Mrs. Wilberforce in The Lady Killers!

Good morning, Steven.”  And without pause, Mrs. Alston and her pies were escorted into the decorated room where she set up on the side table and began to slice her pieces into perfectly portioned wedges.  There was a lot of activity going on, camera people, sound people, lighting people, folks setting the table with plates, folks putting the finishing touches to the background props.  The room when empty was probably large… but with all the goings on, the room became quite small.  Not that Mrs. Alston minded, she was used to working in a kitchen with seven kids rousting about.

When Mrs. A had nearly completely her preparations, a door opened and the monkeys were brought into the room… the New World Monkeys: a Marmoset, a Capuchin and a Tamarin. The Old World Monkeys: a Baboon, a Mandrill, a Japanese Macaque and a Western Red Colobus.  And each monkey had his or her own handler.

The room got smaller still.

Mrs. Alston looked on and smiled.  She counted them out and her eyes lit up!  The crew watched her expression in awe.  A sound guy whispered to Spielberg’s Assistant, “I bet she thinks they’re little kids in monkey costumes!”

She clasped her hands to her breast, “My oh my, aren’t they precious!”  And then she began to pick out each one with an identifying name, “Francine, Robert, Milton, Virginia, Mandrake, Felicity and Featherstone.” This, of course, without knowing the names that had already been given to these monkeys.  Presumably, these were the names of her children.  It was also presumed that her name placement was arbitrary… or was there something in the Macaque that reminded her of Virginia?  Or why Mandrake for the Mandrill?

Spielberg’s camera men didn’t need to be told “Action!” or “Roll ’em!”. They began filming as soon as Mrs. A had entered with her pies.  The cost of running extra film is not an over riding concern for a Spielberg Production.  Making a great film is the concern.  You do whatever it takes. Besides, Spielberg could approach a big studio with an idea of making a film about Silly Putty and he would have a budget of 75 million dollars the next day.  Such is Spielberg’s reputation in Hollywood.

The handlers got the monkeys in their seats, and Mrs. Alston began serving each a piece of pie.  While the monkeys appeared nervous and fidgety, the same could not be said for Mrs. Alston.  She hummed to herself in a happy and contented way, “Robert, some Dutch apple for you… your favorite. Milton stop fussing and don’t fool me! I know you love gooseberry.”  And she hummed her way thru the table, always bestowing a comment to each monkey, “Virginia you look so cute this morning, I love what you have done with your hair… and Mandrake!  Do you think that I would forget how much you love Boston cream pie?”

It can also be presumed that this was not the first time these monkeys had met.  Undoubtedly other scenes had already been filmed. Pecking orders, alliances and rivalries were probably already established.  Although on this morning you could sense that both the monkeys and their handlers would rather have been someplace else.  Mandrake looked at his Boston cream and then stared over at Milton at the other end of the table.

With each monkey served some pie, and without direction or prompting from anybody, Mrs. Alston folded her hands, dropped her head and said firmly, “Felicity, will you please lead us in prayers.”

The crew looked on it amazement.  Who planned on this?

Mandrake did not wait for prayers to finish.  He looked at his Boston cream… he looked at Milton… he jumped on the table, standing up in all his glory… largest of the monkeys, blue and red highlights on his muzzle, a red penis, a lilac coloured scrotum and a blue tush (and here you thought that Ozzy Osbourne was original)… looking quite agitated.

Mrs. Alston wasted no time, “Mandrake!  Get down from the table right now, thank you very much!  And for goodness sakes, put on a pair of pants!”  And she punctuated her chastisement by whacking him on the arm with her Tiffany pie server.

Tina, the Mandrill’s handler, now stepped into intercede.  Too slow.

Mandrake’s multi-coloured appearance now intensified (later it was learned that a dominant male Mandrill’s heightened colour was the result of sexual arousal — Virginia, Francine, Felicity… Tina or Mrs. Alston? threat to territory, pie selection or just being pissed at Milton).

Mandrake, objecting to being struck with the pie server, snatched it from the stunned Mrs. Alston and turned on the diminutive handler, hitting her repeatedly in the head with the Tiffany heirloom, opening a serious gash in the young lady’s head.

Milton, second in size to the Mandrill, was intent on defending his turf, pounded on the table and jumped up and down on his chair, screeched loudly, opened his mouth revealing a set of sharp and angry looking canine teeth.  Mandrake would take none of it.  Matching Milton’s gestures one for one… he then stomped his feet, first squishing his Boston cream and then flattening Featherstone’s peach pie.

The Colubus eluded his handler and jumped over to the side table that had the extra pies and indiscriminately began heaving slices of Mrs. A’s best in every which direction.  Sensing that the situation was rapidly deteriorating, Spielberg’s handler decided that it was best to get the Master Director out of harm’s way… and took him out of the room… Spielberg suffering nothing worse than being hit with pie shrapnel.

The Tamarin and the Marmoset leaped from their seats to the overhead fixtures.  Climbing the wires, dodging pie slices being thrown by Robert, jumping from one fixture to the next, over to the boom mike, back to the fixtures, the fluorescent tubes began popping, glass raining down on the table, the handlers, the crew… even on Mrs. Alston.  That’s when Mrs. A picked up a glass ashtray, “Featherstone! Get down here this instant!” and heaved it upward, missing the Marmoset, missing the overhead fixtures, but catching Maheesh, one of the handlers, on the ashtray’s downward path, square in the snoot.  More blood.

The handlers, it can be presumed, had their own pecking order, alliances and rivalries. And this had an effect in how they tried to restore order in the room.  Angry words led to shoves… and the inevitable punches being thrown and blood being drawn.

Meanwhile, the main event was clearly Mandrake and Milton… no longer satisfied with standing on the table, stepping on pieces of pie and glaring at each other, the Mandrill and the Baboon got busy chasing around the room, oblivious to any of the humans present.  Screeching, showing their teeth, stopping only long enough to throw a book, a table lamp… or anything else they could pick up.  By this time most of the crew had fled to the safety of other rooms… leaving their expensive equipment in peril.  For the big Baboon and Mandrill, just more ammunition at their disposal!

It should also be noted that din was considerable… the breaking and crashing, the humans yelling, the monkeys screeching.  And the room, with the heavy lighting in the fairly close quarters, and with all the physical activity, was getting exceedingly hot. 

Given the confines of the space, you would think that it wouldn’t take long for the handlers to bring their charges to heel.  But you try and bring a Tamarin down from ceiling fixtures when it doesn’t want to come down… and that’s exactly what Maheesh was trying to do.  Standing on the table, fighting thru the pain of a bloodied and busted nose, he tried coaxing

Francine down, only to slip on some cherry pie, lose his balance and fall first to the table, and then to the floor.  In no time, Milton jumped on him and began to pummel the crap out of him.  Mandrake joined the scrum… and that didn’t make Milton happy.

Mrs. Alston also wasn’t happy, “I don’t like this behavior!” She set her eyebrows to a scowl and removed the pins from her bun and tried to stab Milton or Mandrake; but only succeeded in stabbing Maheesh, who didn’t need an additional adversary or loss of more blood at that time.

Maybe it was just a matter of time before the monkeys tired of their fun.  Or maybe they were just tired… tired or bored.  But eventually the humans were able to gain control of the room… just about the time the paramedics arrived on the scene.

The medics surveyed the damages. “I think I’ll call this a victory for the other team.”

A camera man was heard muttering, “Never again.  This made filming the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan look like a stroll in the park.”

When asked what started it all, a sound guy just shook his head, “The one with the funny coloured face didn’t like his pie… it just went down hill from there.”

Mrs. Alston had no interest in a curtain call.  She scanned the room with a well-I-never expression, she re-situated her hair pins, took off her smock (ignoring fragments of crust, fruit and blood), she straightened her blouse, made sure that her skirt was falling properly and proceeded to the door.

Before reaching the exit, one of Spielberg’s assistants hurried to her, “Ma’am, I think this is yours.” and handed her the Tiffany pie server.

Mrs. Alston looked at it. Glared at the assistant. Took it with a well-I-never expression and said, “Thank you.”

The defining observation for the morning went to the battered Maheesh.  As the medic made the necessary repairs, Francine’s handler simply said, “The monkeys were nothing.  But that pie lady nearly killed me!”

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