Editor’s Note: It’s been two and a half years, so I don’t expect you to remember, but back in the before times, I started a writing project. It was a novel that was semi-autobiographical about my first job as a pizza delivery driver. It’s called Paulie’s Pizza and it’s about half-finished. The idea was to put out a chapter a week until it was done on this here website for accountability. I crushed the first half of the book, and, frankly, got stuck. Then… yanno… life. Then… yanno… Covid. But almost every day since my last posting, the gleam of intention to come back to this writing project popped in my brain. Today, I am picking it back up, dusting it off, and, with all the best intentions, to finish the job and at least get further down the road.
You can read the entire project from its beginning here.
And now… Chapter 14 of Paulie’s Pizza.
When youâ€™re a teenager, everything is theoretical until it becomes actual. You donâ€™t know anything about the world. Youâ€™ve seen people talk about it. Youâ€™ve seen scenes in movies. Youâ€™ve heard about them on the radio. But the rest of your life is simply gaining the experiences that you learned existed when you were a teenager. You read about sex. Then, later, you have sex. You see the stock market talked about on television, then you learn to invest your money. You see violence in movies, but it takes a moment to experience it first hand.
It seemed like a bigger collision. But, in hindsight, at about 15 miles per hour and only about 100 yards away, it didnâ€™t quite have the impact as the split second decision making intended. Still, the Ford F-100 solid steel bumper swacking into the molded fiberglass of the grill of the Chevy Impala left a Ford-sized dent in the front of the car.
There is a specific sound two cars make when they hit, as well. If youâ€™re driving and thereâ€™s a fender-bender off to the side of you, itâ€™s immediately noticeable and recognizable as if a sheet of paper that happens to be made out of molded plastic is crumpled into a ball. But what you really notice is the silence after the crumple. Itâ€™s the silence that strikes you.
With our two vehicles locked in an awkward embrace, you could start to see a faint whisp of steam come from the Impalaâ€™s radiator. There was stillness in the car. The front windshield fogged over.
I moved the shifting column downward, then towards me smoothly and reversed the last 20 seconds in my mind as well as with the truck, backing away from the Impala. It began to drip green liquid which glistened in the headlights of the truck. Pulling out of the parking lot, there was still no movement in the car.
Luckily, the drive home was only a couple of miles and the truck and its driver found their way home. As soon as the eyelids fell, the knock on the bedroom door rang loudly. â€œHoney. Time to get up and go to work!â€
Fuck. It was 9:30 already. Oh my God who is hammering next door? Only one eye opened for what seemed like eternity. The other eyelid received the same neural command the first one did, however, it simply didnâ€™t respond. A subsequent command raised the eyelid ever so slowly.
My bedroom was what every teenager wanted. It was built in the back of the basement and windowless. So it was pitch black 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the door closed. You could, quite literally, sleep all day if you wanted and it would seem like the middle of the night to a teenagerâ€™s body.
Except this morning, the small sliver of sunlight from the crack at the bottom of the door felt like a laser beam shaft of lightning directly into my pupils through my eye socket and bouncing off of the back of my skull.
My first hangover. Yay. What a way to pop that cherry.
I gave a perfunctory sniff to my armpit, removed the grey shirt and replaced it with another grey shirt from the floor and stomped up the stairs with my eyes closed to all but a slit to make sure I didnâ€™t walk into a wall.
Walking out the front door was exactly as painful as you wouldâ€™ve expected it to be. The banging turned into a thudding and went from sharp to dull, but managed to increase in amplification at the same time. My whole body ached and my memory of how I reached that stated seemed to end with the banging of Larry on the front door to the pizza place carrying the bottle of dark liquid.
It was the dark liquid. Shame on you dark liquid. Shame. I reached in my pocket of the jeans I wore last night and were still on my person to find the key to my truck as I climbed inside. I gave a brief thought to whether I could drive with my eyes closed, but a passing cloud managed to drop the level of sunlight by 10 degrees, and allowed my eyelids to open to a Department of Motor Vehicles approved amount. Off I went. Back to the Pizza Place.
Parking in my normal space right in front of the door, I made it there after T – which was notable. Yesterdayâ€™s events began to recap in my mind. The baseball bat. The assault. The cops. But there was Tâ€™s Crown Vic right where it always is, and the OPEN sign lit.
Walking inside there was the familiar waft of garlic and pizza crust hit you in the face. The Dean Martin CD which was perpetually on repeat was accompanied by a light humming coming from the kitchen. Walking to the back, there was T dancing and humming while preparing a pizza. He was… smiling? Thatâ€™s new.
â€œHey – taste this, will ya? A new sauce Iâ€™ve been thinking of.â€ I put my lips up to the tomato-based liquid. It tasted like the same pizza sauce weâ€™ve been using all along.
â€œGreat! You can really taste the change!â€
â€œI know, right?? Man. Feelinâ€™ good today. Feelinâ€™ good!!â€ He slapped the pizza onto the conveyor oven and grabbed the telephone walking back to the office and slammed the door in one fell swoop.
I was alone in the kitchen. Hung the fuck over. That pizza was going in my belly, I can tell you that much.
Turning around, I began to clean up the speckles of mozzarella cheese T left on the counter. We had a flat blade with a handle that weâ€™d use to sweep the extra ingredients into the trash can at the end of the preparation station. As I swept the crumbs into the trash, memories began to flood back. The cold touch on my arm. The laughing. The brown liquid. The more brown liquid. My neck was both hot and cold in a flush all of a sudden. I felt sick to my stomach. Like, really sick.
I walked to the small toilet in the back of the kitchen and closed the door. Intuitively, I haunched over and ejected most of last nightâ€™s stomach contents. The worst vomits are the ones that make it up — and through — your nose. This was one of those.
And then, as if Iâ€™d been plugged into an electrical outlet, I stood straight up. All of it came back. I remembered the foggy window. The rhythmic rocking of the car. The collision.
With a flush of the contents in the bowl, I rushed to the front of the restaurant to see about any damage to my truck only to be met with the Paulieâ€™s Pizza gang beginning to stream into the restaurant all nursing the same hangover I was. Everyone except Bailey and Fletcher.