By Richard Rushfield
Isn’t that nice? The Paris Review came to Los Angeles! They tore themselves away from talking about existence with Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre to visit little ol’ us. Los Angeles must be getting to be sumptin if the Paris Review is coming to town.
And what do you do when you come to Los Angeles? You visit the House of Pies of course. Because you know, it’s not all just Kardashians here. And here’s what they found:
There are no lyrics in the Friends of Dean Martinez’s “House of Pies.” Instead of vocals, an electric guitar plucks the melody in sync with a heavy-bottom bass. It isn’t a catchy melody. There isn’t much to it. The tune mostly sets a mood. Under the guitar, brushes make slow circles across a snare drum, and a high lap steel whines its laconic counterpoint, casting a spell, like when heat and blinding sunlight make everything slow and heavy.
Beside the register, the display case stretches toward the dining room, drawing your eye like an arrow to the “Please Seat Yourself” sign. Rather than an expression of disinterest, the sign’s brown, looping script reads as a friendly invitation: Hey there, make yourself comfortable, welcome to your whipped-cream-filled living room.
House of Pies is one of those powerful places where no matter where you’re from or how you dress, you can come in and, for the duration of a meal, feel united with strangers, shedding your background and your origins, and just be a person, united with all other people in a shared appreciation of things simple and sweet.
Isn’t that sweet that people in LA, they just sit there in booths right next to each other, eating their pies, smiling at each other, asking about the weather. After which they go down and see Mr. Bailey at the Community Bank and ask if they can borrow 15 bucks ahead of next month’s harvest, because you know Ma hasn’t been feeling so good lately, what with that hip where the cow kicked her never havin’ healed up quite like it used to be so it sure would be a big help to her if we could hire some of the local girls to help out with some of the chores around the house – just the heavy work like hanging up the wash, just until the harvest is up and then I can pitch in too…And then we can all go back to House of Pies and dig into some of that great Banana Cream, and gosh you know, it’s so darned good Natalie Portman done went and put it in her movie.
Myself, I do in fact think back to simpler times reading this piece. I remember a time long ago, just round about this morning when I found myself in Los Feliz I used to be able to get a grilled cheese sandwich and a Diet Coke without thinking about whether the looping script in the Seat Yourself sign was an expression of disinterest or a friendly invitation. But sadly, those days are gone forever.