This is the latest chapter of a story I’m working on writing. It’s still very much a work in progress. Hope you enjoy. If you want to start from the beginning, you can get all the chapters here.
CHAPTER 7 – Just Like Paradise
The table shook with laughter. Well, that plus it was one of your standard pizza restaurant tables that only had three level legs on it, so any time someone grabbed a plate or a glass, it would wobble. Add in old war stories and passing of bullshit and it teetered severely.
Regardless, it was wobbling back and forth as the old friends reminisced their favorite stories. The But then the laughter fell silent. Far in the background you could hear two men yelling on the television. I think one of them was Stephen A. Smith and he was yelling intensely about LeBron James or Tim Tebow or some shit. Even his cackling faded into the background as the silence seemed to pall over the table.
After what was several quiet minutes of staring at the empty pizza pan and final swigs of beer, one of us spoke up. Maybe it was just because the silence had grown awkward and deafening.
“I’m really glad you’re out, man.”
“Yeah. It’s so great to see you. Those were crazy days, right?”
“Yeah. Crazy days.”
My Junior year of high school was coming to a close. After being in the business world for nearly a month, my thoughts, frankly, were marginally on finishing up finals, or making the final pages of our yearbook before press on our Apple IIe’s.
The thoughts, rather, hung out at the pizza place. And that’s exactly what the pizza place had become — a hangout spot for my friends. Nearly every day, Wheezy, Lumpy, and even Larry and Craig were there sucking down Dr. Peppers and blazing through packs of Marlboros. T wouldn’t let them smoke in the restaurant, so they stood just outside. I’m not sure what that solved, because on the rare occasion we did get a customer inside, they’d nearly have to walk through a wall of smoke like you’d see at a Jacksons Victory Tour concert to get in.
But Paulie’s had become the place to go after school. Once Paulie’s closed at 9, we’d all go and repeat the same thing at Perkins up the street until 12 or 1 in the morning except substitute pizza for coffee.
It became a repeated cycle until that final school bell rang. Summer. This meant sleeping in. Staying up late. And, most of all, full time work at Paulie’s.
School ended on a Thursday, and Friday morning, I was at the front door at 10 am sharp.
“What the fug are you doing here? Don’t you have school?”
“It’s summer break, T. Do you need anything? Any early orders?”
“It’s 10:00 in the fugging morning! I don’t know anybody that eats pizza at 10:00 in the fugging morning.”
T unlocked the front door, as I started to turn away to find non-business enterprises to do until my real shift started at 4.
But then he stopped and turned around. “Yeah, kid. Actually, I could use your help. There’s something I’ve been wanting to try.”
I walked into the “dining room” and began taking the nine chairs off of the tables. We only had two tables, but somehow we gained a ninth chair. It just showed up a few weeks ago.
I then started sweeping the floor, although the last task I did when I left the night before was sweep, so it was more an exercise of just moving the broom around and looking like I was doing something.
T started his morning routine in the kitchen. Over the next month, this would be something I’d see every day. First, T would turn that Dean Martin CD on. Then he’d begin preparing a giant five gallon bucket of pizza sauce. This was followed by taking all of the ingredients out of the refrigerator and getting them ready in the pizza station. Then he’d start the oven.
Every morning. T was methodical. Almost to an OCD level. But on this day, T seemed… almost… happy? Today he seemed peppier for some reason. And then it was made clear once he started up the oven.
He handed me a scribbled sheet of yellow legal paper with eight items on it.
“I need you to go get me these things. Here’s some money. This should be more than enough.”
“What are they…”
“Don’t worry about what they’re for. Just go get them. You’ll find the first two at the hardware store and the rest at Safeway. Now hurry back in case we get a lunch rush.”
He opened my hand and shoved a wad of cash into it. I didn’t have time to stop and count it, but I saw at least a twenty and several ten’s.
The list was numbered:
- Cordless drill
- Cutting wheel – 7/8”
- Rubber gloves
- Can of tennis balls
- 10 pounds of ground chuck
- Two loaves of pumpernickel bread
- Turkey baster
- 20 hoagie rolls
After looking the list over, I honestly thought he was preparing to shove tennis balls into a turkey. But away I went to find all of the items on the list.
I loved little projects like this. Checking off items on lists. It gave me a little rush each time I could check one off. There’s the cordless drill. Check. Found the tennis balls. Check.
It took about an hour and a half and I was getting back just as the lunch “rush” was to arrive. As I pulled in the parking lot there was actually a car in parking space in front of the door. A lunch customer!
As I emerged from the truck with my three sacks of items, the door flung open and I saw two men in dark suits leaving the store. One of them nearly knocked me over. Before getting in their car, they both put dark aviator sunglasses on, like something you’d see on Hill Street Blues.
I shrugged and kept walking into the store. T was standing about five feet from the door with a terrible scowl on his face.
“Hey, T! I got all the stuff!” All of this stuff to assemble a tennis ball shooting turkey I said to myself.
T’s scowl instantly turned to glee.
“Great. Great job, kid. None of those fucks are going to ruin my day.” It was notable that T enunciated fuck instead of fuq right then. T walked into the back of the store, into his private office, and closed the door.
“So… I guess I’m in charge?” I mumbled under my breath. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t already done. It was just without a safety net. So, I poured myself a Dr. Pepper, and took up a position behind the counter instead of in the corner.
This time, I had no geometry book to open, so I looked under the counter to find a deck of playing cards. I started playing solitaire.
Four hours passed. Not one person even walked by the store. Frankly, I’d lost track of time, as well. The sun was high in the sky and, although it was only late May, you could tell that today was going to be a scorcher.
During the solitaire marathon, I’d occasionally hear a clang or a drill noise over the Dean Martin songs.
Then, suddenly, the door to T’s office flew open. It caused a rush of air to sweep in through the mail slot in the front door as if a giant gust of wind hit the building. T waddled out of his office carrying a banker’s box.
“Hey kid. Let me get your help here.” T was glowing. I mean, I don’t think I’d ever seen a smile so big.
I helped him carry the box over to the pizza station as he clapped his hands and rubbed them together like a baseball player about to step into the box.
“This is going to change everything, kid.” He held up a giant serrated knife in his left hand. He raised it high enough that for a split second, I thought I’d be part of the Psycho sequel. In his right hand he held up a hoagie roll.
“Now watch.” In about 5 seconds, he had cut off the tip of the roll, then picked up the cordless drill with the router attachment and began to drill out the center of the bread.
“This is going to be it.” I nearly heard him giggle like a mad scientist working on Frankenstein’s monster. His next move was to spoon out a small amount of pizza sauce and poured it into the crevice. Then he reached into the box to pull out the tennis ball tube – only it was filled with three giant meatballs. If someone were to mistake those for actual tennis balls, there’d be one helluva mess at center court.
He shoved the meatballs into the center of the roll, packing them with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese between each. Then he placed the cap of the roll back on the end and set it on the oven conveyor.
“At my last job, I couldn’t never make shit like this.” His face turned downward. But only for a brief second.
Like a little kid he paced around the kitchen while he waited for the… whatever… to emerge out the end of the oven. “Behold! The Paulie’s Pizza Grinder.” He held it up almost like he was offering a sacrifice to the gods while standing on the edge of a volcano.
Then the cut it and handed me one half of the sandwich. It was held together by long, stringy, drippy cheese.
With as happy as he was, I’d have sealed my fate if I turned it down. Luckily, I hadn’t had lunch yet and it smelled delicious. I took a bite and I instantly realized that T was a goddamn genius. The Paulie’s Grinder was one of the most perfect sandwiches I’d ever had (or would ever have.)
By the time I’d finished chewing my first bite, T had already scarfed down his half and was nearly through preparing grinder number two.
We spent the afternoon trying different grinder recipes and singing off key to Dean Martin and laughing and eating. To anyone who might have mistakenly walked by our store (and at this point, it wouldn’ve only been a mistake) they’d think two really strange men were inside giggling like little girls.
It was Italian food paradise in an undersized pizza shop in a Northland strip mall between an auto parts store and a laundromat. It was my favorite day I would spend with T.
More chapters every weekend right here on Rambling Morons.