Free Pretzels

I went over to Fifth Avenue at 4 P.M. on Tuesday and put a big shiny new pretzel down on the sidewalk. Stepped back to the corner and watched. Nobody touched it. Mostly didn’t notice it. A pigeon started to move in, which I shooed away.

I picked up the pretzel and put it on a fancy china plate and sat the plate down on the sidewalk. More glances but still no takers.

I unfolded the collapsible table that I had brought, stood it up, and put the china plate with the pretzel on it on it. An old guy stopped to study the setup, but he didn’t touch the pretzel. No homeless hungry individuals passed by, only well-dressed workers.

I unfolded the white table cloth I had brought and spread it on the table, and put the plate on it. Moved back to the corner. Foot traffic slowed. There was some rubbernecking at the plate on the table. The pretzel stood alone.

I slipped on the white deli jacket I had brought and walked over and stood behind the table. I opened the bag of pretzels I had brought and added some to the plate. Stacked them up in an irregular pile.

“What’s this?” a guy asked.

“Free pretzels.”

“What, like samples?”

I nodded. The guy took one and walked off with it. Another guy, who saw him do it, took one too. After that, nada. I just stood there. No action. Folks looked for a sign on the front of the table, or a hat to put coins in, but, seeing none, walked by.

Now my partner came around the corner wearing her white jacket. We stood side by side. She hung a sign on the front of the table: NEW BRAND. SAMPLES. We poured out more pretzels, filling the plate. The pretzels now went like, well, like hotcakes.

We refilled the plate several times and then locked lips in a heavy embrace. Foot traffic slowed. Folks would take a pretzel and then, on the pretext of eating it before moving on, would stand there watching us smooch. My partner was up on her tiptoes.

We broke the embrace, filled the plate, and moved down to the corner and lit cigarettes. We folded our arms and stood watching the table and smoking. Taking a break. The pretzels moved briskly until the plate was empty.

“You got any more?” a guy called to us.

We went back, refilled the plate, and embraced again behind the table.

“You guys,” the guy said.

Now our partner came around the corner wearing a business suit with a company badge on the pocket. He had a box full of bags of pretzels in his arms.

“Hey!” he said. “What are you two doing? You’re supposed to be giving away pretzels.”

We broke apart. He put down the box by the table and wagged a finger at us.

“You’re animals,” he said.

“Hey,” said the guy with a pretzel in his hand. “It’s romantic. Lighten up.”

“They’re married,” our partner said, “but not to each other.”

A murmur ran through the crowd.

“Well, they ain’t hiding it,” the guy said. “They’re moving the f-ing pretzels.”

“Why isn’t there a name on the bags or the sign?” a lady asked.

“It’s like a campaign,” our partner said. “It’s like we’re building suspense or something. My wife had the idea. She’s not out banging a co-worker like these clowns.”

He handed the lady a whole bag from the box. She walked off with it. Our partner handed out bags in anger. In no time, all the bags were gone. The remaining pretzels on the plate were plucked up one by one until only a single pretzel remained. I picked it up. The crowd watched as my partner put the plate in the empty pretzel box, folded the tablecloth, put that in the box, and folded up the table. I took off my white jacket and handed it to our other partner, in the suit. My partner took off her jacket too, and handed it to our partner in the suit. He took the folded table and she took the box and they walked off down the street.

I put the last pretzel down on the sidewalk and backed off to the corner and around it and then just peeked out at the crowd to see if, now, anyone would pick up the prezel.