This is a continuation of a larger story called Paulie’s Pizza. It’s a story of youth, and pizza, and shenanigans, and pizza, and shitty trucks, and pizza. If you missed any chapters, you can catch up here.
CHAPTER 8 – Little Red Corvette
The first week of summer break was incredible. I spent nearly every waking hour at the pizza place. Several of my friends were in tow and we’d take turns going on the occasional delivery. At any given time there were three or four of us just sitting and shooting the shit. If we got hungry, we’d go back to the pizza station and make us something to eat. If a customer came in, we’d wait on them dutifully. And if T needed anything, we’d run and get it for him.
No matter if it was a light day or a lighter day, T would alway pay us $5 an hour for however long we were there. Cash. We could’ve stayed there 24 hours, and T would pay us for our time. I’m not sure that’s how they teach it in business school, but we weren’t about to complain. Plus, we were too young for business school.
It’s not like we weren’t working while we were there. The floors were spotless, and we wiped down the same spot on the counter so many times, the linoleum surfacing was changing colors. It’s just that we never really sold any pizzas. And the ones we did sell, we’d deliver to T’s friends or former co-workers.
“That’s how you gotta do it, though,” T would explain. “Sometimes you gotta scratch a back to get your back scratched.” Just one of the many life lessons T would periodically drop on us.
“Always dress nicer than most of the people at a party, but not nicer than the host.”
“Trust your closest friends – always. Until you don’t trust them anymore.”
“If you don’t ask for a kiss, you won’t get a kiss.”
“The cheapest gas is on Front Street.”
“Control the things that you can control. And if you can’t control it, get control of it.”
“Being nice ain’t never did nobody any good. Be respected.”
Luckily, we hadn’t had any more deliveries to Grand Slam Liquor Store. But there were a number of deliveries to various back rooms and poker games. We figured that’s just the crowd that T ran with. A few of them would come into the store, order a pizza and then go to the back office with T to catch up.
On Friday, I had a doctor’s appointment that my mom made me go to so I wasn’t able to be at the pizza place as it opened. By the time I made it, they’d already cleared the lunch “rush” and I walked into the usual suspects. T was in the kitchen working on some sort of gourmet contraption. Fletcher was in the corner. Lumpy was behind the counter. Wheezy was on the phone calling someone about his overdue wheels for his Silverado.
But as I walked in, there was something else. Someone else. At the far corner of the counter, a dark haired girl wearing a cheerleader’s outfit was sitting on the bar stool. She turned around and it was just like out of a movie. She made eye contact with me as her hair fluttered in slow motion. I’m pretty sure I heard music in my head. Actually, that was the Dean Martin. But Deen Martin sounded… better.
It was one of those breathless moments that you only have once or twice in your entire life. I stopped. I physically couldn’t move. The girl finished her slow motion head turn which took maybe two hours it seemed, and turned on the brightest smile I’d ever seen. It was a big, toothy grin. Normally, braces would’ve been a turn off, but her’s seemed to only make her more beautiful. Like a billboard covered in lights.
Her tan legs turned towards me sticking out from the cheerleader skirt and she let out a giggle. “Get in here. It’s hot outside!!”
It could’ve been 200 degrees standing in the doorway. I’d have no idea.
Her voice was high pitched, but not shrieking. It was beyond adorable. Yet, here I stood. In the doorway. Unable to move.
She jumped down from her stool dropping about a foot and started walking towards me. Oh my God. She was walking towards me. This wasn’t in the script. How are we going to embrace and kiss and run off to be married to each other if I’m unable to move? How long had I been standing in the door? Am I saying any of these things out loud? That would be weird.
My arm was jerked forward by a surprisingly strong, four foot, ten inch tall girl in a cheerleader outfit. She nearly pulled my arm off, but she accomplished her task of getting the door closed so she could enjoy the air conditioning.
Her hands were cool on my skin and I remember thinking that I’d like her to hold my arm a little longer, even if it meant ripping my arm out of its socket.
She had apparently let go and climbed back on top of the bar stool. My mind was a haze. I needed to pull it together.
Even the name hung in the air over her overly jet black aquanetted hair. My head was still spinning when I realized that it was my turn to tell her my name. “I’m… I…”
“That’s Kool-Aid,” Lumpy said.
Fuck. Fucking Lumpy.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Kool-Aid.” She giggled under her breath. She was clearly enjoying being surrounded by several young boys.
T came out from his office to the dining room. “So, Bailey is my niece. She’s going to be helping us out this summer. Don’t any of you’s fugging touch her.” And then back T went to the office, closing the door with something just under a slam.
From the corner of the room, Fletcher leaned back in his chair and balanced his back against the wall with an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth as if he was James Dean. “Why are you wearing a cheerleader’s outfit? School ended like two weeks ago.”
“I had to help at my sister’s cheerleading camp. It’s something all incoming juniors have to do.”
So she’s a year younger than me, a foot shorter and 50 times cuter than I am. Yeah. I got no shot.
The afternoon drug on as each of us got a chance to spend a few minutes at the counter with Bailey. Lumpy was first up, leaning over the countertop as if he was expecting a full on kiss. This was followed by Wheezy, who went with the disinterested interested approach. Then Fletcher with the too cool for school move. And then it was finally my turn.
I started to feel beads of sweat build up on my forehead. I’d been in the air conditioning for about two hours by then, so flop sweating was unexpected. My hands felt moist as I tried to wipe them off on my shorts. I walked over to the soda machine and asked Bailey if she needed anything.
“You guys drink too much soda. I’ll just have an iced tea.”
I poured out my soda and poured two iced teas.
Handing her the cup, I noticed for the first time, that her cheerleader outfit was from our rival school. The top was white with red trim and the skirt alternated white and red with each pleat. Sewn on the front were the letters “W V”. Maybe that was my in. I’d make fun of her school. You know, as an icebreaker. Just to start a conversation.
“I hear that Wood View got its name because all the guys have to look at each other’s junk.”
That was my opener? Were those even words that formed a sentence? What the literal fuck is wrong with me?
Bailey blinked her eyes a few times like a robot that was computing the foreign language that had just been entered into her database. “Well, I think it’s actually because it’s got a lot of trees behind the building. But I’ll ask around and get back to you.” She smiled again.
This is no exaggeration, I had no idea whether it was night time or day time because her smile was all that I could see.
“Oh. Yeah… you do that. Ha ha. I’m… I’m going to just stop talking now.”
“Yeah. That might be the best move here.” I’m not 100% certain, but at this point, I think she winked at me. Yep. That’s what we’re going to go with. She absolutely winked at me. Or she had something in her eye. Let’s just go with wink.
So that was my fifteen minutes with Bailey before Lumpy crowded me out of the way. “Let’s show you how to use the cash register in case we ever get a customer.”
I slumped away to the back of the room stopping only to swat the empty cigarette out of Fletcher’s mouth. “Idiot.” I’m not sure if I was saying it to Fletch or myself.
Chapter 9 – It’s Raining Men
As the high summer sun reached its peak, T once again emerged from the back office and streaked out the door. “I’ll be back. Sell some fugging pizza while I’m gone.”
T hopped into his white 1988 Crown Victoria. It had dark blue fabric seats. Like velvet or velour or one of those fancy fabrics where if you run your hand one way, the fabric kind of changes colors.
I had a chair like that when I was a kid, and it’s where I learned to spell out my first cuss word.
T took off right as the lunch “rush” was set to begin. Even though we didn’t have much of a walk up crowd, we always had pizza by the slice ready. We had a pepperoni, a cheese, a sausage, and a supreme. All in the back sitting on top of the oven ready for whatever patrons would wander by.
We were between a laundromat and an auto parts store, so we did get the occasional person waiting for their whites to be done pop in for a slice. But just as T left the parking lot, it got… what’s the word?? It got busy.
And the clientele wasn’t greasers with oil under their fingertips swinging by the auto parts store for a set of spark plugs. It wasn’t someone wearing sweatpants and a food-stained wife-beater t-shirt waiting for their Chiefs jersey to be cleaned next door.
No, nearly everyone that walked into the store was well dressed. Most were wearing dark suits. No more than two at a time came in. They asked for a slice of pizza and a soda, paid, and then left. We probably served 20 or so. They walked in in pairs. But we never saw where they were parked.
Bailey was the first to speak up. “Wow you guys get busy over lunch. This is going to be a fun job!”
“Um. Not really. This is weird,” Fletcher piped up. Brent headed to the back as we were running low on warm pepperoni pizza.
“Maybe they all work nearby and decided to take a walk.”
“It’s 97 degrees.”
“No it’s not. It’s not warmer than 90. You’re full of shit.”
The four of us basically argued about everything. The temperature. The TV shows that were best. (Obviously Knight Rider, The Cosby Show, and Cheers.) We’d fight about who was fatter, or who was skinnier, or whose car was a bigger piece of shit. (That is one I normally won.)
Bailey seemed to eat it up. She was enthralled at the banter going back and forth. Having noticed this, without communication, the four of us seemed to amplify the discussion.
“Well fuck you. Dan Henry said it’d get no warmer than 90 today.”
“Fuck Dan Henry. What is Dan Henry, like 200 years old?”
“Dan Henry is an American hero. He’s been our TV weatherman forever.”
Bailey’s smile got even bigger, if that was possible.
“Fuck it. I’m calling.”
“Who are you calling?”
“I’m calling Dan Fucking Henry.”
Under the counter was our phone book and we searched for W-D-A-F television. Brent was the one crowing that he was such a big shot, he could just call up a major television celebrity like Dan Henry.
Now Fletcher, Wheezy, Bailey, and myself began to inch closer to Lumpy before he could back out of his challenge.
“Found the number. Imma just call him up.”
“You do that. Tell David Hasselhoff to come into the store, too. Or George Wendt. See if Dan Henry knows them. Hell, get Dan to come in.”
“Fuck you guys. I’m just asking for the temperature.
Lumpy picked up the phone and dialed as we all waited in anticipation. This was big. A real life celebrity. “Um. Hi. I’d like to speak to Dan Henry please.”
Gotta hand it to Lumpy, tho. Takes some stones to call up the biggest name in Kansas City. Dan Henry was a rock star.
“Yes. I’ll hold.”
“He’ll never get him. Henry is probably too big for a phone call.”
While we were waiting, my eyes seemed to fixate on Bailey. Yeah, I guess it was staring.
“Oh. Um. HI! Mr. Henry. My name is Brent and my friends and I work at a pizza place.” There was a short pause where we assumed Dan Henry was saying “What the fuck do you want?”
“Well, um, we were wondering what the temperature is?” Pause. Pause. Pause. Christ, how hard is it to tell him one two-digit number? “Oh. Ok. Thank you sir.”
Lumpy hung up the phone and proclaimed, “It’s 94 degrees.”
Lumpy, Fletcher and myself all exclaimed, “WE WERE RIGHT!” Because the number fell within the range of 85 degrees and 100 – we all took credit.
Bailey spoke up next, “What was Dan Henry like? What did he say?”
Lumpy leaned in closely towards Bailey and began obviously smooth talking, suddenly filled with Dan Henry endorsed confidence. “He said he would stop by the pizza place and that pizza was his favorite.”
“But you didn’t even tell him which pizza place, fuckhead.”
The swooning was interrupted by more dark-suited men buying more pizza.
After an hour, T drove back up. We had sold nearly $200 in pizza. He had the trunk on the back of his car tied down with a huge box sticking out of the back of it. “One of you’s help me with this.”
Eager to show Bailey our strength, all four of us rushed outside to carry the box in. It was a BBQ grill.
We told T about the lunch rush and how all the guys seemed to be dressed alike. “Put this fugging thing together, would ya? I gotta go in the back for a while.”
Nobody walked in the store for the rest of the day. As the shadows of the 94 degree day began to grow, we managed to assemble the grill. As we did, we continued to provide Bailey with hours of entertainment in the form of bullshittery.
Catch the entire story as it unfolds here.