There’s a terrible lack of sports and entertainment this week. So I’m spitting out two more chapters of Paulie’s Pizza (and also because my sister says these chapters are too short.) Will have a new chapter this Saturday. Enjoy!
(Haven’t read the beginning? Start here.)
CHAPTER 5 – Don’t Lose My Number
Christopher Allen Whecker was as loyal of a friend as you can get. If you define loyal as being a giant pain in the ass and a second shadow. But he was also the kind of guy you could tell anything to and he certainly left no word unsaid to you back. You could ask him for advice or a joke. You just couldn’t tell him to shut up.
I had worked at Paulie’s for eight days straight. I simply just kept coming back. But realized that on Tuesday, I had to go to dinner with my family on the Kansas side of the state with my Uncle. I asked Mom to get out of it and she said “no.”
So I told T that I couldn’t work the next night and he said it was no problem. “Hey, that chatty blonde kid who was in here the other day. Does he need a job?”
I hadn’t really thought about it, but said, “yeah, probably. He’s always bumming money for Dr. Peppers off of me.”
“Tell him to come Tuesday.”
I saw Wheezy the next day at school and told him I had an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I don’t believe in working. I’m going to be rich in the stock market,” he told me.
“You have to have some money to start in the stock market, idiot. You can’t just sign up for the Stock Market and they pay you every week.”
“Yeah, but I don’t believe in working for it. I’m going to make my money the easy way.”
“Well, it’s not much easier than sitting on your ass and waiting for your two deliveries in four hours.”
“Still, I don’t like it.”
“Fine. Just go Tuesday. I’ll clean really good on Monday, so you literally don’t need to do anything but deliver pizzas. T will be there if anything else happens. You just need to sit. I’m not sure how life can get any easier. Besides. If you don’t do it, I’m asking Lumpy.”
“One night. Fine.”
Wheezy was never a fan of using his Silverado for anything other than cruising up and down North Oak Trafficway – a time honored tradition of teenagers in our area since the 50’s. Using it for employment just seemed sacrilege.
Regardless, Wheezy reported for duty after school on Tuesday.
“You’re my driver?”
“Weaky? Wally? I forgot your fuggin name.”
“Wheezy is fine. Chris. But Wheezy.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, listen. I realize you are new, but I just ran out of onions. Can you run over to the Safeway and get me about 10 of the biggest yellow onions you can find? Here’s twenty bucks.”
Wheezy already smelled spoiled milk. And he kind of stomped off back to his car. He’d been employed a total of four minutes and already he hated it.
It got worse after picking up the onions because it was so hot outside, his car smelled like onions the entire drive back to Paulie’s – and then for about a week after prompting visits to the car wash each day that week to spray “new car scent.”
There were no deliveries the rest of the night, but T paid him $20 plus let him keep the $7 change from onion run. $27 for sitting on your ass and not saying anything for four hours. That’s not bad and I don’t care who you are.
That didn’t stop him from pissing and moaning the next day. “I can’t believe that music. What the fuck, man? I don’t want to hear Frank Sinatra the rest of my life.”
“I think you’re really overreacting. You did nothing and made almost $30. And it’s Dean Martin”
“Yeah, but it costs me almost four dollars to wash my car and I’m going to spend all that cash getting that onion smell off of me and my upholstery.”
“Fine. We’ll stop by the car wash after school and I’ll spray some cherry scent up your ass. And don’t worry about covering my shift anymore.”
That evening, I strolled into Paulie’s and T was standing there with a big grin. “I love that fuggin Wally kid. He’s great! How about you guys both work when business starts to pick up?”
I chuckled. For starters, in two weeks I’ve delivered maybe twelve pizzas. I’m not sure what it would look like if “business picked up.” Secondly, I’ll have T call Wheezy directly and ask “Wally” to come to work. Let’s see how that goes.
In the meantime, I walked to the corner, sat down, cracked open my Geometry II textbook, and started doing my homework.
CHAPTER 6 – In The Air Tonight
“Order up. So listen… about this delivery,” T walked out from behind the kitchen wall and began to rub his wet hands over his apron. “Whatever he does… don’t take any money from him, mkay?”
I was confused. But after two and a half weeks, confusion wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. “Yeah, no problem. These are free.”
“No, I don’t just mean free. I mean don’t take anything from him. And tell him that these are ‘compliments of T from the Wheel House and then get the fug out.”
Well now I was kind of irritated. Will he have me tap dancing to singing telegrams next?
“Yeah, I got it. These are from T from The Wheel House, and they’re free.”
“Absolutely no money. You got this, right?”
“Yeah, I got this.” I confidently loaded up the three pizzas and packed them into the Ford. I had to look at the map because this delivery had me going across the river into downtown. The address was Seventh and Grand where there was a liquor store. Grand Slam Liquors.
I managed to find it, but this was the first time I’d been downtown. After five, it was a ghost town, but there was no parking lot, so I had to park along the street across from the place.
I strode across the street with my three pizzas. I was really starting to get the hang of it. Could I do this job for fifty years? I mean, heck. Why not, right?
At sixteen, I had never been in a true liquor store before. Our gas station across from the pizza place sold booze, obviously. And I’d been sent in more than my share of gas stations to fetch a pack of cigarettes for my dad as a child. (You could do that back in the day.)
But I’d never been in a store with wall to wall liquor – the kind with the back wall full of nudie magazines. But here I was, walking in with three pizzas. A man was hunched over the glass top counter. Inside the glass I could see really fancy bottles of alcohol.
The man looked very old and had an unlit butt of a cigar poking out of his stubbled chin.
“Can I help you kid?” The voice was similar to Rocky’s trainer. The word “help” came out “hep” and sounded like the word was drug over hot coals as it came out of his tongue.
In what seemed like a higher octave than normal, I spouted out, “Yes, T from The Wheel delivered these. I mean… I mean, I’m delivering these from T at The Wheel House. I… I mean, I’m with Paulie’s Pizza and… I mean, these are from T. Enjoy your night.”
I set them on the counter and started to walk away. Rocky’s trainer stopped me cold with the dark voice, “take them to the back, kid.”
He took out his cigar and pointed with it to a wooden doorway in the back of the store. The store simply didn’t seem big enough to have to walk so far to the back. But I snatched up the pizzas and walked past shelves of Jim Beam and vodkas and something in a blue bottle. I walked past the beer coolers filled with Falstaff and Budweiser and Coors. There were 40’s of Malt Liquor and I wasn’t even close to the doorway.
I passed the nudie magazine rack which didn’t even cover up the covers like you’d see at the Stop and Go. So I craned my neck because I was looking at a pair of tits right on the cover of Hustler for the first time. Ok. Second time.
I poked the pizzas through the door and saw it was darkly lit. There was a dim ceiling light like you’d see over a pool table. It was in the center of a very small room. Under it, was a round table and there were three men sitting there. You could see cigar smoke rising from all three.
One of them without even lifting his head, pointed to a folding table in the corner. He grunted something inaudible, but it was universal enough for me to know that’s where the pizzas went.
I set them down and walked out of the room without running. Probably.
I kept moving past the nudie magazines and past that blue bottle of something. I was damn near in a sprint by the time I was past the Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.
There was no stopping me past the man hunched over the glass top table, but he stood erect and willed me to pause with his quick motion. I stopped dead in my tracks without knowing why. I clearly wanted out of this creepy liquor store, but his body motion shut it down.
“Here keeeed, let me get you some cash,” and he banged on one of the keys on his cash register and it clanged with a loud bell noise activating the drawer.
“Oh… Oh no, sir. No, I’m on strict orders. Those were on the house.”
“Fuck that. You brought these all this way, let me pay you for the pizza.”
“Sir… um.. I really appreciate it, but T said absolutely no money.”
“I’m going to fucking pay for these pizzas, kid.”
“I… but… T… I…”
“Well, let me at least get you something for your trouble,” as he slammed a $50 bill down on the counter with a hard, loud slap.
Words stopped leaving my mouth. I hadn’t made a sentence in what seemed like two hours but was actually about 12 seconds. But now I was in a quandary. Piss off my boss, or piss off this guy who seemed like he was out of a monster movie.
I stood up straight, repointed my feet towards the door and politely, over my shoulder, said, “Sir, I really apprecia…..”
And in the nanosecond following, the man’s other hand reached behind the glass countertop, underneath it. Down by his knee, he pulled out the biggest gun I had ever seen. Well, actually the only gun I had ever seen in person. But as guns go, this one seemed awfully big even for my imagination. My dad used to love Clint Eastwood movies – the Dirty Harry ones – not the Westerns – and this gun looked like it was ten times bigger than Eastwood’s gun.
I can still remember that it had a dark handle but a very silver barrel. He slammed it down about four inches away from the $50 bill with a crack on the glass that I was certain would have shattered it.
“You WILL take this money, kid.”
I remember pulling into the parking lot of Paulie’s Pizza. My hands were trembling. I had absolutely no recollection of the seven minutes it took me to drive from Eighth and Grand back across the river to the Parvin Road exit. I had no recollection of how I got across the street or how I left the liquor store. None. It was a black spot.
I remember turning the key off in my truck and my right hand shaking across the key when I did it. And then I remember seeing a crumpled $50 bill in my left hand wrapped around the steering wheel gripped by the ghost white knuckles.
I took a big deep breath. I checked myself for holes. I walked out of the car and into the pizza shop.
A smiling and cheerful T greeted me as I quickly slipped the $50 into the pocket of my jeans.
“How’d it go? Did they like the pizza? You didn’t take any money did ya?”
“It went fine, T. It went fine. Nope. No m-m-m-oney. On the house.”
I sat down and turned my Geometry textbook to Chapter Eight. I could feel the warmth of the $50 in my pocket.