It’s a good story, involving two tired pizza guys and a junior high gymnastics team. John was standing in the pizza. Right now, I am standing in the metaphorical pizza.
If John would care to explain, it would save me some work, and be better told besides.
Edited to add: John has written his explanation in the comments. You’re only cheating yourself if you don’t read it.
I start making headway into the movis with folks rootin’ for me, and ya’ start shootin’. Just put a picture of me on the bar with a beer next to it.
I’m not in charge of set-dressing, but they did include a plastic squirrel, in much the same pose as the alert sign. When you turn it on, it plays “Whistle while you work” with sound so distorted it is nearly unrecognizable.
When you turn it off, it keeps singing until the song is over.
Years ago, Jerry and I worked at a Mom-and-Pop pizza joint in Los Alamos called Tony’s Pizza. We worked the late-morning-to-close shift, along with a teenage redneck whose nickname was John-Boy. Really.
One slow weeknight the place was dead — not a customer in sight. We had done as many of our closing duties as possible while still being prepared to serve food. John-Boy was done. Every dish was clean, so 20 minutes before closing we gave in to his whining and let him leave.
Five minutes later two middle-school gymnastics teams, chaperoned by their coaches, walked through the door. Dining options in Los Alamos at 8:40 pm were extremely limited back then, and I doubt that’s changed much. Jerry and I huddled and decided that we would sacrifice our evening in the name of customer service, and Jerry communicated to our customers that our service staff of two would be a bit swamped by a sudden party of 20, so the entire meal might take a little while to be served.
The sensible thing to do would have been for the teams to order a bunch of large pizzas with a variety of toppings. Instead, random aggregations of kids formed and Jerry was presented with about eight or nine different orders — separate checks, of course. Jerry delivered the orders to the kitchen and told me he’d take care of everything but the pizzas, so I started slinging small pizzas as fast as I could.
Over the course of a day, a slate-bottomed pizza oven gets grungy. Not unsanitary, as no micro-organism is going to thrive on a 500-degree slab of rock, but cheese and sauce gets on the slate and makes sticky patches. Cooking a pizza on a sticky patch is an invitation for big trouble — Catastrophic Crust Blowout (CCB). Any pizza slinger worth his salt keeps a mental map of the sticky patches in his oven, for they are the snags, sandbars, shallows, and rocky shoals that will turn an otherwise placid and beautiful journey from kitchen to customer into a nightmare voyage from which no pizza returns. Reputations have been destroyed, business deals scotched, engagements cancelled, and peace-treaties torn up in the aftermath of CCB.
But I digress.
The oven was typically grungy that night, and trying to cook 10 or so pizzas nearly simultaneously meant I couldn’t avoid the sticky patches. Having worked around the nastiest as long as I could, the last pizza ended up on the worst sticky patch. I had a bad feeling the moment I slid that poor, innocent pie onto that malignant carbon deposit, but I was the admiral, the pizzas my fleet, the oven was a harsh mistress, and if I had to send young pizzas to their deaths it was a responsibility that I couldn’t shirk…
Oops, off again.
I pulled the pizzas out of the oven as they were done, until only one remained. When the last one was ready I slid the metal paddle under it gently, with all the skill I could muster. Hard-won skill, forged over seasons (well, weeks) of staring into the teeth of the gas jets, learning the timeless dance of dough on hot rock, intuitively sensing the bond of pizza and oven. Bond was right — that stupid pizza was stuck but good.
In a case like that there’s only one thing to do: push the paddle down really hard and shove it back under the pizza really fast. There’s always a miniscule chance you’ll get lucky and break the stuck pie free from the stone without ripping it to shreds and leaving it streaked all over the bottom of the oven like road-kill on blistering pavement. I didn’t get lucky. Neither did the pizza.
At least now I had plenty of room in the oven to cook the replacement pizza, once I had made it. But the oven was getting really grungy by now, a situation I hadn’t improved by gutting a pizza all over the left side. To improve my chances of getting Pizza v.2 out of the oven, I slathered extra flour on the pizza board before I made the pizza at warp speed. Quickly turning to the oven with the completed pizza, the pizza slipped right off the board — lubricated by the tiny ball-bearings of the extra thick flour layer I had used.
The pizza landed on the kitchen floor with a hollow flop, right in the middle of the work area between the prep station and the oven. I stared at my latest failure for a moment, turned back to the prep station, and started working on yet another stupid small pizza. From there on out, I was standing in the pizza.
Our customers ate, and were thankful. They also hadn’t managed their money very well, so after they handed over all the cash they had Jerry got something like a two dollar tip.
Jerry and I turned out the lights and stole a couple beers from the company, which we drank in dark silence in the bombed-out shell of what had once been a cheery family restaurant. Birthdays had been celebrated, first dates had taken their fledgling flaps, starlets had been discovered, and Dr. Pepper had been given up for Lent in that happy place, but all that was in the past. On that night there was nothing but pain and exhaustion, death and depression, a pall of smoke and a lousy tip. And raw pizza in the soles of my shoes.
Then we decided the morning shift could clean up the mess and we left.
Have I contributed enough verbosity (to say nothing of adverbosity, nounosity, pronounosity, and my favorite, adjectivity) in my latest term?
MArk Twain, aka John H. writes…
Any pizza slinger worth his salt keeps a mental map of the sticky patches in his oven, for they are the snags, sandbars, shallows, and rocky shoals that will turn an otherwise placid and beautiful journey from kitchen to customer into a nightmare voyage from which no pizza returns.
Marvelous writing. I swoon. If Jer ever devotes space to guest episodes I vote this one in as the maiden (pun intended) guest episode.
It’s a great start and a huge improvement over the last two millenia of nothing but blogosphere cricket chirping.
I’m sure Samuel Clemens would have been proud of the way you worked the phrase “road-kill on blistering pavement” into an essay on pizza preparation.
What else do you have in the works for this brave, new millenium?
Unless visitor 20,011 was another egg-fryer it was a great end, at least for now. Let’s hear it for no term limits.
One hundred beers!!!!!!111111eleventyone!!
John, your handling of metaphors is superb! Your imagery is absolutely stunning. Your timing is dead-on perfect — just when the reader takes a breath, you bring out yet another hilarious detail. You bring vividly to life the activities of a pizza place, but more than that, you make the reader really care about it.
In short, you do a whole lot of the things I want my students to do, but a huge number of them believe that “real” college writing has to be stiff and boring. Would you, please, allow me to use your writing as an example of how writing can fulfill all the rhetorical purposes while also being fun?
You may certainly use my purple pizza prose for your class. Thank you for your kind comments. Payment is in the mail.
Evidently Jer has determined that the pretender from Japan was merely a frier of eggs after all.
You are now the longest serving MOH on record (the FDR of MOHs, if you will).
Please keep the entertaining posts coming.
I PM’ed with a attendee at an antiques conference
Who wrote: Two muddled and rambling Megs of prose
Lurk on the Web. Threaded through them, in the comments,
Half drunk, a black-and-white gravatar lies, whose nose,
And lidded eyes, and leer of dim intelligence,
Tell that its taker well those vanities read,
Which yet survive, revealed in these brainless things,
The band that mocked polka, and the reason that fled,
And within HaloScan these words appear:
“My name is John H., MOH of MOHs:
Look upon my tenure, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal dreck, referenceless and spare
Sensible and level heads look away.
John, that was the most engaging story I have read in ages. Thanks for sharing it.
Ooooh, “Look upon my tenure, ye Mighty, and despair!”
This is too sexy poetry for me to bear. I’m dizzy with it. Do you have more?
I’m all out of poetry, but would you like to come up to my place and see my etchings?
Hmmmm…. maybe I’ll put “Ozymandias” in my next Poetry Corner.
Great takeoff, John!
On a scale of one to ten: Bravo!
“The Oven Was a Harsh Mistress”
Hmmmm, could be a good story title, oh one-time Admiral of the Pizza Fleet.