It’s not often that the idea for a column literally hits me in the face. But last week I went to my first “Pie the Professor” charity event. The math department was celebrating March 14 — you know, Pi Day — and somehow I got mixed up in all the hoopla. In case you’ve forgotten high school geometry, pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, a number that always works out to 3.1415, etc.
Naturally the celebrations were kicked up a notch in 2015, when Pi Day fell on the actual calendar date of 3/14/15. Math departments all over the world really let loose over that one. Granted, some have made the argument that since the next number in the sequence is a 9, then the 5 should be rounded up. Ergo, they say the ultimate Pi Day was in fact last week on 3/14/16. This is the sort of thing mathematicians argue about on big math holidays.
So there I was, on the list to get a pie in the face for charity. I agreed, on the condition that I got to choose the type of pie. I wanted to be sure that frozen lemon icebox was not an option. After all, if I’m going to have my nose broken, I want a better answer to the question, “Hey, what happened?” But as it turns out, the only choice was canned whipped cream on a paper plate. Frankly I was hoping for French silk but was in no position to make demands.
So I went to the front lawn on Monday and found the math department’s booth, where faculty volunteers were already waiting the pie-throwing mob. That’s when I realized that I was overdressed. Apparently, the recommended attire for getting hit with a cream pie is a T-shirt and jeans. Instead I walked over in my usual work uniform — a blue blazer, button-down Oxford shirt and a tie that’s 40 years out of style. No one else had dressed up, though Cliff Ganus III (that’s the other half of Cliff and Clax) claimed to be in his “nice gray pants.” I didn’t want to argue, so I just nodded.
But even T-shirts are not impervious to whipped cream, so all the volunteers were offered black plastic garbage bags to step into, as a kind of triple-flex force field. I didn’t want to throw away my life like that, so I declined. I thought of the millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim putting on a top hat and tails as the “Titanic” sank and saying he would go down as a gentleman.
The wisdom of my refusal was confirmed when Dr. Ganus put on his giant Hefty bag, which covered him from the neck down. If he had painted his face blue, he would have looked like a recently opened bag of M&Ms. The heckling was so strong that — in a fit of machismo — he clenched his fists, ripped the bag from his body and yelled, “Bring it on!”
The drama of the moment might have been more thrilling had there been more than four students lined up to throw pies. It was hardly ancient Rome packed into the arena, but we milked the situation for all it was worth just the same. The line-up included Drs. Jim Miller, Ron Smith, James Burk, Gary Jackson, Cliff and Clax, and Harding’s president, Dr. Bruce McLarty. The students had to stand behind a boundary to throw their pies so they wouldn’t get too close. The line, incidentally, was marked by a piece of string taped to two plastic cups. I believe it was the exact same type of barricade they put in front of the lions in the Coliseum.
As we expected, Dr. McLarty drew the most fire, even though students had to shell out $5 for the privilege. Yet before it was all over, we all got a face full of Cool Whip. If someone had only thought to bring some cucumbers for our eyes, we could have looked like those women at the beauty spa. There was much silly banter, but the best line came from Dr. Ganus, who said — and I quote — “When you get whipped cream in your nose, it’s hard to know what to do.”
The funniest moment of the afternoon, though, came courtesy of a 3-year-old boy who had been brought along to stick a pie in his father’s face. When the little chap was handed a plate full of Reddi-Wip, he marched over to where his dad was sitting. He looked up at dad, and then down at his plate. He looked at his dad again, and then the plate again, at which point he sat down and started to eat the cream pie, wondering—I’m sure—why he should waste a perfectly good dessert.
When all the students had finished venting their fury, our Band of Pie Brothers dispersed, each crawling away to lick his wounds. I got in my car and drove straight to the dry cleaners. As I staggered in with my blazer and necktie covered in whipped cream, I shouted, “I have a dry-cleaning emergency here!” I had always wanted an excuse to say that. It wasn’t quite “Stop the presses!” But still. No doubt it will be a day long remembered at the cleaners.
Would you believe me if I told you the bill was $3.14?