“Any time of the day is a good time for pie.”
__Fabienne in “Pulp Fiction”
A friend of mine died in 2005… Ron Nakamrua… a great guitarist, a man of unselfish generosity and humor…He and I went ‘way back’ as they say. He is featured in my ‘Reflections On The Garcia’ writing.
This bit of business was one of his favorite stories and he often begged me to recount it. For a time we even made it into a song like a talking blues… I got to thinking about him and that story so I thought I’d share it because I know he’d like me to tell it one more time…
Once upon a time Ronnie, I, Jimmie (Jimbo) Carmichael and Dan Swetlik (with occasional appearances by Ed Donnelan) were in a little almost-jug band called ‘Polecat’. We played Grateful Dead stuff, a little Eagles, things like that…
Ronnie played brilliant lead guitar on his marvelous Martin D-35, Jim handled most of the vocals and Dan played bass and sang harmony. I was playing Dobro for the group. We were several cuts above a garage band, making little gigs here and there and getting together for rehearsals, alternating between Dan or at Jimbo’s house. We had a nice little following.
We had a lot of stories to tell… One day I’ll tell about the time Jim lost the band truck in San Francisco but today I’ll tell you Ronnie’s Pie Story.
Now it happened that my thirty fifth birthday was drawing nigh and being born on April first as I am causes me to exercise a certain amount of caution on my natal anniversary. ‘Getting through a birthday’ has a little more meaning for me than it does for most mortals.
Little did I know my thirty-fifth would have a special ‘sweetness’ to it.
We had gathered at Jimmie’s on this occasion for a rehearsal and we were taking a break. It was about eight thirty or so… dark out.
Jim said “Anyone want to smoke one?” …the times being what they were, folks were known to take a little smoke of cannabis on occasion (only for the camaraderie, of course. It would be bad manners to refuse.)
I knew I was up for it but Jim said, “We have to do it outside so’s not to smell up the house.” I should have seen this as an omen, a portend, of mischief because this had never been a concern before. Still, it was a reasonable request because marijuana does have a pungent odor.
So we went outside on a moonless night illuminated only by the back porch light. We passed the doobie around in good fellowship.
Ron then asked me if I wanted to hear a joke. “Hail no!” I said.
Now folks…having Ron tell you a joke was a challenge to one’s comprehension because he would usually go into fits of laughter during the telling and be incapable of finishing the damn thing coherently. Often by the time he gasped out the punch line the joke will have lost its momentum and the punch line would go flat…
So, in spite of my protests, he starts this long rambling tale, commencing to crack up in the telling as usual.
At last he seemed to be bringing it to a merciful end. There he stands, laughing his head off, while I’m waiting for the punch line. Finally, I get impatient and say:
“Let me have it.”
Ronnie looks at me in mid laugh, almost unbelievingly, and says “What?”
“I said…Let me have it.!”
“Okay!” said Ron with a grin of sheer delight…”You asked for it”…
And I saw, almost in stop motion, his hand come from behind his back holding a coconut cream pie which he plants firmly in my face.
There is no experience quite like it, folks… You can watch all the old slapstick movies you want that feature such shenanigans but there is no substitute for the real event.
I remember reacting with a stunned roar, momentarily immobile but not for long. I was looking over my glasses for someone to grab and punish when the next surprise was unloaded… a bucket of water splashed on my chest. Ice water…
Cold! That slowed me down and a second bucket of water at groin level pretty much stopped me gave the miscreants ample time to flee. I saw one scurry over a fence and Dan virtually flew over the rear gate.
I was half blind and wet and cold and about as disoriented as one could be.
After a beat or two, one of the guys asked if it was safe to approach me and I said it was because I was of two minds… outraged that such a thing had been done to my person and at the same time the realization had started to sink in that not many people had undergone such an experience. and I could see it was every bit as ludicrous in life as it seemed when done in the movies.
The boys had planned well. They had the setup planned weeks in advance, even to the point of having a dry jumpsuit set aside so I could shower and change (and cool off a bit) allowing us to all have a great laugh, not at my expense, but at the whole project and its brilliant execution. Ronnie had thoughtfully provided some ‘sip of the day’ (Peach Brandy) to assist in the warming up process…
That is the essence of ‘Ronnie’s Pie Tale’ and it achieved the status of near myth over the years.
It did have some negative footnotes however…
We were scheduled to play at a now defunct beer and wine joint called “The Rhinoceros’ that once existed across from the legendary Gelb Music store. It was early in the evening. The place was empty and the boys were back in the main showroom getting set up. I was in the bar drinking coffee.
Alan, one of the bartenders, brought in a familiar looking box… a pie box! I rose to my most threatening height and put on my War Face but Alan said… ”No, wait… we thought you should have a pie to eat for your birthday.”
Well, that was an altogether different matter so I picked up the pie and took it into the main showroom intending to show it to the boys but they all scattered like marbles dropped on a linoleum floor when they saw that pie in my hands. They didn’t want to share evidently.
About a week later we went to play a gather at a rented hall at the San Mateo YMCA, when the line between fun surprise and malice blurred and started to spoil the effect.
That very night someone mushed Ronnie with a chocolate cream pie. He didn’t take it well but the poor guy had no recourse to get it all off him until he got home. No shower and jumpsuit waiting for him. All he had was the facilities available in the rest room and we had a show to play. I’ll tell you from experience it takes a couple of showers to get the sugary-ness off. So the poor guy was gooey and grumbly about it for the rest of the night.
It became dangerous for anyone in our circle to have a birthday for a while after that. They tried to pie Dan the bass player, whose birthday was near mine by a couple of days but he avoided the pie assassins. Jimbo got blindsided at a joint called ‘The Rusty Pelican’. Ed Donnelan, a frequent band mate, told us that “…the ‘pie tradition’ that year, cost me a bloody nose and a loose tooth because the perpetrator’s of my ‘pieing’ neglected to fully thaw the frozen banana cream prior to “surprising” me with it.”
Finally one of our number from our fan base, Rick Chatfield, got slightly injured which should illustrate to the masses that your standard surprise party is a much safer and saner way of doing things. They know what they were talking about when they say ‘Kids, Don’t Try This At Home.’
So then the pie in the face routine faded into the realm of Legends Told…
The thing I remember most about it though, isn’t the pie in the face as much as it was listening to Ronnie laugh because he knew what was about to happen… he loved to laugh…
Here’s to you Ronnie…thanks for the memories… miss you terribly…