The Pizza Rebellion, Part II
By Mike Smolarek
It was Tuesday, pay day again. I was sitting on my new stool next to the blazing inferno we call a pizza oven. Watching the five o'clock news, Jerry sat on his smoke stained white lawn chair, that he called the king's throne, puffing away on his Winston Light 100's. I guess he's finally worried about his health since he switched to lights. Jim and Dennis sat in the back of the restaurant, playing five-card stud with black Delta Airlines cards. Studs were something they were not. Jim was winning, as usual, so Dennis quit, as usual. He didn't like losing. It was a pizza driver superiority thing. It was always a contest between those two. Jim was the better driver. He had youth and a nice Honda Accord on his side. Dennis was the more experienced driver, but his little Ford Escort gave him little chance at being all that he could be. Dennis walked around, waiting for a pizza to come out of the oven, like a vulture hanging over a dying animal. Chris sat up front, working on his algebra homework. Well, he wasn't really working. Chris never did much of anything, but eat, breathe and exist. Our two Italian goldfish swam around in the fifty-gallon fish tank. One kept sucking up the little rocks that lined the bottom of the fish tank and spitting them back out, as if he were rearranging them. Floyd Colbert was on the news talking about a car accident on the Kennedy. I hate Floyd. He bugs me with his pathetic attempts at witty anchorperson (political correctness) humor. "That was a real bang-up," he said before laughing like a jolly old geezer when describing a four-car accident. Vicente and Balthazar were busily slicing and dicing old, yellow, onions. I could have helped them, but I would just slow them down. They could slice onions like you wouldn't believe. They were faster than the easy dicer, and you didn't need to make three low payments of nineteen ninety-five. The early evening sunshine blazed through the screen door in back, ten times brighter than the dull fluorescence that hung from the ceiling above my head. Every once in a while, I could see the reflection off the TV off of Dennis' balding head as he walked past it. I looked out the front window, hoping for someone to walk in, maybe a beautiful girl. But, it didn't happen. It was never going to happen. It was simply a plain, old, slow night at La Roman's Kitchen.
Dennis blurted, "Floyd is an idiot."
"I really like him," said Jerry.
"Yeah, but only because he is older than you," I said. Floyd was sixty-two and he just celebrated Jerry's sixtieth last week.
I peeked into the oven and spottted the browning cheese of a pizza through the lifting smoke that rose from inside the oven. With one motion, I deftly grabbed the wooden handled paddle, snatched the pizza from the oven and swung it into a box. I did my best samurai swordsman imitation, cutting the pizza four with the eighteen-inch machete combo pizza knife.
"You're up, Dennis," I said as I closed the lid on the pizza, never to see it again. I didn't have to tell Dennis the pizza was ready; he was standing right in front of me. I just wanted to hear myself talk.
"Thank you, sir," Dennis said as he does every time anyone gives him a pizza to deliver. He took off out the back, leaving the door open as usual.
"Close the goddam door," Jerry yelled. We heard a slam, the loud bang of a Ford starting and then all returned to quiet. It was just the low babble of Floyd Colbert, and the tiny chopping noises bouncing off the wooden cutting board. There were no more pizzas in the oven, so I had nothing to do. I went up front to bug Chris, because he never has anything to do.
"This sucks," Chris said before I could even sit down.
"Yeah," I said. It was quiet again.
"What are you doing next weekend?"
"I dunno. Working, then going home."
"You do that every week. Don't you want to go out and do something? He nodded his head no. "Chris have you ever gone out with a girl that wasn't your mom?"
"Maybe once. I can't remember."
"Don't you ever want to go out with a girl?"
"No way. Too much trouble. Anyway, I might miss Star Trek."
We sat, staring at the fish tank a few more minutes, until Chris said, "Okay, let's eat." He took an order pad, scribbled some stuff on it and handed it to me. He didn't have to be neat, because we always wanted the same pizza every time we worked; medium, half sausage and onion, half green pepper and pepperoni; I was the onion and he was the pepperoni. I guess we weren't into change.
Talking to Chris is like talking to a wall sometimes; someone might be on the other side listening to you, but you only hear the echo of your own words. I wasn't really concerned about Chris and his weekend. I was more worried about my own. It had been a long time since I've had a date, and although I always blamed it on work, I didn't want to end up like Chris, worrying about missing Star Trek. But the right girl never seemed to come at the right time. Hell, the wrong girl never even came at the right time, and even if any girl came at any time, I'd screw it up by saying something stupid like, "You are weird if you like me," or other such deep words. It was a losing battle. I was destined to be just like the pathetic others who had made La Roman's what it was today: a haven for aging single men who had no chance of finding someone.
I went over to the dough roller and cranked out the crust for our pizza. This was one of my favorite things to do at La Roman's. I guess I was just into heavy machinery, like the roller. It was a man, power, danger thing. Sometimes I was afraid the roller would suck up my fingers and crunch then into a ten-millimeter crust.
"Who's that pizza for?" Jerry asked when he noticed I was working again.
"Uh, its for, uh, Chrisanmike," I managed to get out.
"Chrisanmike? Who the hell is that? What's the phone number?"
He looked at me with bewilderment, but then he finally figured out who it was. His face turned angry red and he said, "You little shits are hungry already? You haven't even worked an hour yet?"
I didn't answer, because Jerry knew Chris and I suffered from perpetual hunger. Most people say that working around food makes it so you are not hungry. I think those people have ever worked in a restaurant. In fact, I think I get hungrier seeing all this food pass right by me. It's like perpetually making dinner, but never being able to eat what you make. In Chris' case, I think the food teasing caused serious, permanent brain damage.
The phone rang while I was tossing the onions on my half of the pizza. Chris answered it on the third ring. Usually it takes him four.
"Is that damn kid retarded?" Jerry bitched as usual. We often wondered about Chris. Was he always this slow or only when he was getting paid? Was it hereditary, or did Chris learn this all on his own? Was it a virus? A prolonged, lifelong case of mono? Or was he just retarded? Jerry always voted for retarded.
I cheesed our pizza and slid it into the oven, as careful as I could. This was my pizza, so of course I am going to take care of it. Chris hung up the phone, scribbled a little more on the pad, ripped it off the base and hung it on the line.
"Chris, you're going to bankrupt me if I have to pay you by the hour," Jerry said. "What's the name on that one?"
"Williams," Chris mumbled.
"Williams," Chris said a little louder.
"What the hell did he say?" Jerry asked me.
"Williams," I said. I think Jerry's hearing was going, and taking his sight with it.
"She ordered last night," Jerry said, bedazzled. It was news to me, because Monday was one of my few days off.
"The blond Williams?" Jim asked. He was bored sitting all alone in the back watching the mold grow on the walls of the refrigerator since Dennis left on his delivery. "The one were you dropped the candy?" he said as he gave me a stare.
"That's the one," I said.
"Boy did you look stupid on that one," Jim said.
"But I saved the pizza," I pleaded.
"But you left my floor all shitty," Jerry said. I was quiet there, without a comeback. When I cleaned the floor with hot water, the candy melted and the mess even worse. I had to use steel wool to get if off, and we never had candy in the store ever again.
"Things have changed," I said after a pause. "I talk to Michelle all the time now."
"Oh my God, he knows her first name," Jim said.
"Hey, she's in a couple of my classes," I said.
"But she's a blond," Chris said. "She can't be smart."
"She's smarter than you'll ever be," I said. "And you're a blond, too?" That shut Chris up for a while.
"So you know her first name," Jim said in a "so what" sort of way. "I know Madonna's first name, but that doesn't mean I'm cool with her."
"That's cause you don't know her last name," Jerry said.
"Oh, yeah, that's right," Jim answered. "But I know Julia Roberts' first and last name, but I'm not cool with her either."
"Jim, I don't think you are cool with anybody," I said.
"Yeah, I guess you don't have what it takes," Chris said.
"Well, neither does loverboy over there," Jim said pointing to me.
"When was the last time you had a date, Jim?" I asked.
"Two weeks ago," he said.
"That's because your sister was home from college," I returned.
"Give it up boys," Jerry said. "Take it from the man with the experience. You might be in love now, but a year after the wedding, the honeymoon is over. Then it becomes, 'Honey, do this,' and 'Honey, but this,' and all sorts of great stuff like taking out the garbage."
"No wonder you're here six nights a week," I said.
"Ah, I'm too damn old to be worried about shit like love. It's unimportant."
"Spoken like the old man he really is," said Jim.
"Ah you guys wouldn't know a nice girl from the back of your asses, let alone ask one to go out on a date with you," Jerry said.
"I would," Jim said as he turned to stare at me. "But him, he couldn't even if his life, or his wallet, depended on it."
"The heck I can't!" I said.
"The hell you can!" Jerry bellowed.
"Watch," I said. "I'll talk to Michelle. I'll ask her to go out with me next weekend." Everybody, including Vicente and Balthazar, who probably couldn't understand what I had said, were laughing at me." We'll see who is laughing after that."
"Ten bucks," Jim said.
"Twenty," Jerry said.
"You're a pair of morons," I said. "I can't refuse to take your money."
The bet was on.
I made Michelle's pizza, because, well, I wanted to. Jerry didnít care, because he wanted to sit down and listen to Floyd Colbert's pathetic ravings. Floyd was talking to the weatherman. "Where did you get that suit," he said before chuckling. I carefully spread the sauce onto the pizza, making sure I didnít go over the edge of the crust. Next, I threw on the onions. I used the fresh ones that Vicente and Balthazar just cut up. I figured nothing but the best for the girl I was going to ask on a date. Lastly, I pile on the extra cheese, and leveled it off, completing a perfect pizza. I flipped open the oven door, shook the pizza off the paddle, and closed the door behind it.
"Wow," said Jim. "You're really good at that. Can you make my pizza next time?"
"Talk about an easy ten bucks," Jerry said. "I don't have to get up, risk getting burns on my arm or even change the channel. God damn, I love betting!"
"You shut up, too," I said. "And have my money ready." That was the one thing about Jerry. If you won a bet with him, you didn't see the money for weeks.
I checked the oven again and pulled out the wonderful pizza I had made for Chris and myself. I sliced it up, and brought it to the front counter so Chris could dig in.
"Ten minutes till showtime," Chris said, stuffing a piece into his mouth. I was tired of hearing these morons, so I checked the oven one last time, punched down a cheese bubble with the fork and left the oven. I walked away and headed to the back of the kitchen to sit down and talk to the amigos.
"Whatís up Vicente?" I said.
"He, he, he," he giggled. "You too funny, loco boy."
Now even the guys who I trusted the most, my two amigos, were laughing at me.
"Hey," Balthazar said. "You bet me, too?"
"That's it, I'm going to the bathroom," I said.
"Don't forget your oven," Jerry hollered.
"Jim will watch for me," I said.
"Yeah right," Jim muttered. I walked into the bathroom anyway.
I knew that Jim would watch the oven, because deep down inside he is a nice guy. He just never shows that to anyone.
The real reason I went to the bathroom was not the animal urge to relieve one's self, but more importantly, to think of something to sat to Michelle. I could start out with, "How was school?" but that's really lame. Maybe I could use, "Boy, do you look beautiful," but that was definitely not me at all. I was not a charmer or the go out and get 'em type. Maybe I could say something in French, since Michelle was in my French class, but the only thing I can remember is "Le chat est dans la salle de bains." I didn't think the cat is in the bathroom was a good way to break the ice. Maybe I could comment on her eyes, but knowing my luck, she'll be wearing mirrored sunglasses. I could always ask her where she bought her clothes, like Floyd Colbert does, but I didn't want her to think I wear girl's clothes or anything like that. I could also act tired and weak and try to get a sympathy date, you know, complain about how hard it is to work at La Roman's under these repressive conditions, but that has never worked for me. Then there is the old, never-fail method of bringing up everybody's favorite subject . . . the weather! I really didn't know what to say, so I gave up trying to formulate a plan of attack knowing that I would never follow it anyway.
I left the bathroom. I headed back to the cooking area and shooed Jim out of my stool. Jim just looked at me. He said nothing. Actually, everyone was looking at me. Nobody's lips moved, nobody adjusted their seating arrangement. Vicente and Balthazar stopped their slicing of onions. It was if the fate of the entire world rested on my every word. Maybe not, but at least Jim and Jerry were counting on me for personal gain.
"Any minute now," Jim said, trying to increase the tension that was already as thick as a thick crust pizza. "This is a big moment in a young man's life. Everyone around him is waiting. Hanging on to every word that might cross his lips. Worried about the future of their children. Would he be able to save them, or would he fail like so many before him? Can he actually get a date? If he does, where will they go? What will he wear? Will he use the thirty dollars he might win from the bet? Will he buy new clothes? Is it true he only shaves on Tuesdays or will he make an exception for Michelle? Only time, or a psychic, will be able to tell us what will happen to this young man, what fate has in store for him, as he prepares to . . ."
"SHUT UP!" I yelled. "Shut up, shut up, shut up already."
"A little testy aren't we?" Jim said.
Just then, the creak of the door echoed throughout the store, and as a foot hit the electric pad, the bell rang.
"Oh boy, this is it," said Jerry.
"Last chance to back out," said Jim. "It'll only cost you thirty bucks." He laughed quietly.
My manhood was at stake. There was no backing out. It was time to face up. I was alone on this one. I was on a mission. In fact, I was alone on a mission; a mission I readily agreed to. How did I get myself into this? What was I thinking? Was I nuts? It seemed I had let my male ego override my brain again! The sweat began to bead up on my forehead. I started to walk up to the counter, but my legs weren't working. I was frozen.
"Anytime, buddy bot," Chris said. "I'm not getting up." He looked at me with an evil smile, then turned back towards the fish tank and his pizza. I turned and looked at the TV. I couldn't hear it, by Floyd was babbling about something. Then, the lights inside La Roman's dimmed and Floyd stopped talking. He just stopped talking all together. The next thing I knew, he was staring right at me. He was looking directly at me!
"I might be an old geek, but at least I can ask out a girl," he said.
"Are . . . are you talking to me?" I asked.
I looked around. Jerry and Jim were both staring at the TV, too.
"Did you hear that, Jerry?" I asked.
"Yeah, the Cubs lost again. They really suck."
"What about you, Jim?"
"Huh?" Jim was looking at the TV, but he was off in his own world again.
"They can't hear me," Floyd said. "Because I am only talking to you. Now go up there and talk to that girl." The lights brightened up again, and I heard Floyd describing a twenty-car pile-up on the Edens expressway. Finally, my legs started to work again and I walked up front. As I turned the corner, there she was.
"Hi, Michelle," I said when I came into full view.
"Hi," she said. "How's it going?"
"Not too bad," I said. She rested her crossed arms on the counter, showing off the blue, sleeveless sweater she wore. Her shiny, blond hair hung down onto her sweater. She had a ten-dollar bill and a Little Mermaid key chain in her left hand. Her right hand was fiddling with the dangling earrings she wore. She had a slight smile on her face that showed no teeth, but left two big dimples. She wore no makeup, because there was no need; she was beautiful enough without it. Her blue eyes were looking at me in anticipation.
"Is my pizza ready?" she asked.
"Yeah, let me get it for you," I said. Jim had taken the pizza out of the oven and sliced it up while I was up front. I should have killed him for that. What if he had screwed up the cut? I can't take a chance like that. I slowly walked back to the oven, being careful not trip. I shuffled along, and met the pizza at the oven.
"This one's for a date," I whispered as I picked up the steaming box.
"What was that?" Jerry said as I walked in front of him.
"Nothing," I mumbled. I hurried back to the front, dodging the smiling faces of Jim and Chris. I saw Jim's wallet lying on the counter, purposely left there as a reminder of the bet. I slinked on past it, clutching the pizza and almost crushing the box. My fingers were bright red. I turned the corner and faced the challenge.
"Here you go," I said. I shakily set the box on the counter.
"How much?" Michelle asked.
"Eight ninety-two," I said. She handed me the ten-dollar bill and I punched the register.
"How's business?" she asked as I counted out the change.
"Not too good," I said. I was glad that she broke the ice. I didn't want to resort to weather.
"Doesn't it get hot back there during the summer?" Well, back to the weather anyway.
"Yeah, but only during the summer," I said. "In the winter, it's really comfortable." I handed her the change and said eleven-o-eight."
"Thanks," she said. She slowly turned towards the door, as if she knew I wanted to talk to and, and as if she wanted to listen.
"Hey, Michelle," I said as she stopped in front of the door.
"Yeah," she said as she turned back with an excited expression.
"What are you doing Saturday night?"
"I don't know," she said.
"Do you want to go see a movie?" My muscles tensed up and I closed my eyes, waiting for the impact of the word "NO."
"Sure." I opened my eyes and saw her leaning on the door, wearing a bright smile.
My shoulders relaxed and I smiled back. She creaked the door open and said, "Call me. You have my number."
"Right when I get home," I said. She stepped outside the door, then looked back in. "Did you know I was going to ask you?"
"Why did you think I ordered so many pizzas?" She turned away, her hair flipping behind her. I watched as she opened the car door. She stepped half way in, waved to me, then shut the door and pulled away.
A smile grew and grew and grew on my face. I slammed the drawer shut, turned around and headed to collect my spoils. It was like thousands of people were cheering for me. Their screams and yells echoed throughout my ears.
"I am the champion, I am the champion, of the world," I sang as I turned the corner and faced those whom I had triumphed over. "Thank you, thank you, thirty dollars, please."
"What the hell?" said Jerry, puzzled again.
"No way!" said Jim.
"What should I do with my money?" I said. "Should I spend it on food, music, or a date. Jim, what would you do?"
"Well, I'd . . ."
"You sure wouldn't spend it on a date, Jim," I said. "But I'm going to!"
Jim slipped his wallet out of his back pocket, opened the two folds and handed me a fresh, crisp, twenty-dollar bill.
"Thank you," I said. "Thank you very much."
"Shut up," Jim said.
I turned to Jerry and said, "It's your turn old man."
"We'll call it even," he said.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"What math class are you in?" Jerry asked.
"Are you passing?"
"With an A?"
"I guess they don't add or subtract in Calculus."
"What are you talking about? I am really lost."
"Hey Jim," Jerry said, "What's ten dollars minus eight dollars and ninety-two cents?"
"A buck-o-eight," Jim said.
"Thanks. For a minute I though I forgot my arithmetic."
I was really puzzled. I don't remember doing anything wrong. I gave Michelle the right pizza, I took the right ticket and I'm sure I gave her the right change . . .
"Aw, crap," I said.
"Keep your mind on your job, dumbass," Jerry said. He took a wad of bills out of his left breast pocket. "Next time I won't be so forgiving." He slipped out a ten, handed it to me, and gave me a wink.
"Thanks, Jerry," I said.
The back door swung open and Dennis' balding head charged right towards us.
"What did I miss, what did I miss?" he asked.
"Well, this man," Jim said as he slapped me on the back, "This man got a date."
"No," said Dennis. "On the news."
"Just Floyd Colbert," I said. "He was babbling about something or other."
". . .and before we go, I would like to say something to a friend of mine," Floyd's voice said over the TV. "Congratulations and good luck to a certain friend at a local pizza place." I smiled to myself. "Thanks," I said, and then Floyd winked at me.
"What the hell was that?" Jerry asked.
"Nothing," I said.
"Good night, and drive safely," Floyd said.
Wheel of fortune came on after the news. Jerry relaxed in his chair, screaming, "You morons," to the highly intelligent contestants on the show. Jim and Dennis returned to their cards, Dennis muttering, "Damn cheapskate," the whole time and Jim praying for a delivery so he could out-tip Dennis. Vicente and Balthazar had finished with the onions and moved onto green peppers. Chris sat dully up front. He finished his algebra, and wasn't about to get up and do work he was getting paid for. And as for me, well, I was standing in front of a blazing hot oven with a giant smile beaming from my face, simply because . . . it was Tuesday.