A dime's worth of pineapple

MY friend Benish, a graduate student in the study of filmmaking, has just made his first one. It's like one of the early talkies, short, spare, earnest, and with a from-the-heart innocence. Benish both directed and starred. I had the honor to do the screenplay. Imagine yourself in a little theater, not too crowded. Here, with my friend's permission, is a sneak preview of ``A Supper.''

One cold, gloomy evening in a city, a tall, skinny figure with poet-dark eyes -- Benish, playing himself -- stood outside the bright, warm window of a cafeteria. His gaze was wistful, not grudging, yet envying, as he watched the jovial, well-dressed people inside eating their supper.

All he had in his hand was a dime, perhaps one he found in the coin-return slot of a pay telephone. And his coat, wrinkled and lumpy, like a garment left out on a clothesline through wind and rain, hardly made him presentable. Still, it had all its buttons, and a dime, well, a dime was money, wasn't it? So, in he went.

The menu lit up on the wall above the steaming food was not encouraging. Veal, $4.50. Roast Beef, $5.00. Steak, $6.50. Even the cheapest salad cost 80 cents.

Benish took a tray and got in line. If you couldn't buy, you could at least window-shop. When he came to the 80-cent salad he paused, letting people go around him, and gazed dreamily at it through the glass counter. It was the only one of its kind left, consisting of chunks of pineapple on a bed of lettuce.

Suddenly a sly, happy look came into his eyes, and he counted the chunks of pineapple.

Eight of them there were, all good-sized and juicy-looking. Eight chunks, and he had a dime? It was as if this had been meant to be. For 10 cents he could buy a mini-salad, one chunk of pineapple on a bit of lettuce. Why not? Who says no to providence?

Elated, he asked the girl behind the counter for his order.

``You want the pineapple salad?'' she asked, thinking that's what he meant.

``No, I want one chunk of pineapple on a bit of lettuce,'' he said, and produced his dime to pay for it. ``Eight chunks of pineapple on a bed of lettuce, 80 cents; one chunk of pineapple on a bit of lettuce, 10 cents.'' He smiled a kind of down-and-out mathematician's smile.

``One chunk of pineapple on a bit of lettuce,'' she repeated.

He nodded heartily.

``Excuse me,'' she said, and went over to confer with the manager.

The manager approached with his eyebrows raised and the whiskers of his mustache bristling. ``I'm sorry,'' he said,``we sell our pineapple salad intact. We don't break it down into single chunks of pineapple. Do you understand?''

Benish sighed, and shook his head. He was sorry to be so persistent. He wasn't trying to show how plucky he was, though poor, or to shame anybody better off. He was simply very hungry.

``No, I do not understand,'' he said. ``Eight chunks of pineapple on a bed of lettuce, 80 cents; one chunk of pineapple on a bit of lettuce, 10 cents.'' Again he produced his dime.

It was obvious he wasn't going to budge. And perhaps the manager, despite his bristling, had a heart. ``Give him what he wants,'' he said.

Benish thanked him, paid for his order, and made his way to a free table. There, he tucked several napkins in his neck, taking no chances with the juiciness of the chunk of pineapple. Then, slicing up the chunk and the lettuce, and summoning all the help that imagination could give to appetite, he made that providential supper last many delicious, even feasty minutes.

It was only as he was lifting the last morsel to his mouth that he noticed he had an audience. People at nearby tables were looking at him as if they couldn't make up their minds whether he was a comical, or a sad, sight in this hungry world. Benish gave a half woeful, half resourceful smile, a little like Charlie Chaplin eating a shoe in a silent movie. Then, swallowing the last bit with gusto, he arose, took a bow, and smiled, ``The End.''

Was it a happy one? Of course. What's life, after all? It's not just finding want in the midst of plenty. Sometimes it's finding plenty in the midst of want.

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