Pizza Diaries (Excerpt) – Short Story by M. Pitter


Front-page headlines are always designed and gauged to cause worry. This July 31st issue of the Wall Street Journal smacked readers with the quite climactic and apparent truth that “US Intervention in the Iran-Israel Conflict Brings Danger to American Homeland”. Photos disclosed by the Iranian government of their new Fajr-5D missiles aimed towards the Atlantic sat below the headline.

I looked out the window,

into the sky,

the wide blank azure, four-dimensional blue, leading up to the zenith,

thinking:

I was there when America finally fucked with the wrong foreigners.

“Hey kid, you’re smaart, I tell ya” said Charlie, slick haired with a smirk and the bridge of his reading glasses at the tip of his nose. “Look at you, just sitting there, reading the paper. My last drivers: fuckin’ jerkoffs (and he gestures it), too busy nodding off that oxy shit.”

“That is too bad.”

“But you’re a good kid, I like having good kids workin’ fa’ me.”

I nodded. Honestly, an empty gesture of respect was better than some elusive still that could birth worry within my co-workers, giving them incentive to investigate me, eyes between ajar lids until their excavations brought them to some nucleus of truth, revealing all that which existed privately behind my eyes, nose and mouth.

I can’t believe Obama, quote, concedes to urgent geopolitical necessity, end quote, all to show that America isn’t afraid to–

The phone struck the receiver. Charlie looks up: “Alright college boy, you’re going to 6 Brandy Lane. You know where that is right?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“It’s…off of Washington and then–

“No. That’s the long way. Told you, I know the streets, the short cuts.” He was pointing to his solar plexus. “Listen to me, not no GPS. Got it? Who knows the roads better, me or the GPS?

With hands in a subtle surrender. “You?”

“That’s Right.”

The little bells hanging above the opening door rang out to express lackadaisically the establishment’s appreciation for the entering presence of hungry people. In the kitchen, Nestor, originally from the Petén region of Guatemala, who basically made all of the food on the menu, from the pizza to the pasta to the subs, from the faggioli to the chicken fingers to the dinners, from the calzones to the tiramisu to the coffee, twitched at the dancing sound while he stepped from the wild steams of the stove to the preparation table where a very large knife awaited his use.

The bells ceased. Incoming: Two older men on the brink of an orange skin tone which surely complimented their Miami Vice air. Lightly seasoned, they were, with country club swagger as they came in guffawing as if they were about to settle down in some velvet clad booth of a tittie bar, eyes turned up –> two content men: eligible for arousal, with rosy cheeks and middle grade whiskey on the brain.

The shorter one wearing white shoes turned from the brown shoed taller one to lay his eyes upon Charlie and I.

Charlie focused on me for a bit: “Turn right onto Jaspers, by the high school, keep on that road and it’ll turn into–

“Stillwell. Road.” I told him.

“That’s right and then–

“Ay, Charlie!” One of the men exclaimed to my superior.

To me, Charlie went: “Look at the map, would you?” he pointed. Turning away: “Vinny, how ye doin’ you dog? Hey! You brought Chrissy! Haven’t seen this knucklehead since the Bayonne days.” The two men smiled, waiting for more kicks and mutual flattery. “How’s Carlo?” Charlie went on. “He got so much (pussy) back then, he made me think I was a fag.” They laughed and Charlie’s eyes made inquiries as to how he could remain in the good favor of these two gentlemen.

I slipped out of there with three large pies, a large order of cold antipasti and an order of garlic knots. The air was young and optimistic, blowing through this sleepy town, as if drifting from a more remote place. Voices from people I couldn’t see behind the rays of a setting sun spoke of the imminent danger that was to come to the States:

“The news said that Iran (aye-ran) declared war on us today. They had already sent missiles to Tel Aviv.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah. Israel supposedly…orchestrated some covert–

Shut went my car door. Customers would call and complain if their pizza didn’t just pop out of smoke, confetti and music before them. Pushing the gear into reverse, looking into the rearview, a heat source of American Italian cuisine filled the car’s air despite my open window.

The GPS system on my mobile phone gave me the same route that Charlie had given me. It was quick indeed. Hooking a tight left into Brandy Lane introduced me first to an era of trees, a sinuous road and the deep shine of a setting sun. The first homes I could see were entities of faraway bricks and Georgian architecture, the great pinnacles of their wanton driveways. Stopping the vehicle at the very first mailbox on the right revealed to me a most bizarre structure of a human head with its tongue sticking out choking on mail, various letters and a standard size – large – FedEx envelope, eyes bulging, squeezed out of stereoscopic position like a chameleon’s and with a 10 on the forehead. I had to get to number 6. I turned the car around with eyes more sensitive to breaks in the bushed monotony. Looking left out of the window, a little flag of violet silk, lustrous, swayed meek in front of a small egg-shaped light bulb surrounded by leaves. Squinting conveyed the fact that there was indeed a small passageway leading down into a further reach. Entering the opening, I could see now a thin golden 6 on the violet flag. Ah.

Descending into the sleepy alcove I discovered a concentration of Bentleys, Aston Martins and a few limousines. And here trotted my hooptie colored like a late ‘80s Fischer Price product. I turn the keys into a purring close next to a glowing fountain, grandiose, reproducing some ancient Greek myth: Europa and the Bull it seemed.

I walked to the nearest structure that resembled a front door. A panel of tinted glass thresholds stretched before me from some point left out of my view to some point right out of my view. Closest to the leftward shadows, I see an intercom and an extremely hot-pink button below it. Pressing it sent a goofy decrescendo down the E-major scale, intertwined with cartoony syllables and sequences through the mansion. Amused in the discovery of another one of the world’s idiosyncrasies, my eyes fell upon a sign written in Arial font: “For all deliveries, come to the back rather.”

Backing up, a voice came onto the intercom: “Who is it?”

“Pizza” I said.

Sounding a little like Astrud Gilberto: “Bring it to the back please, by the garage.”

So I did, like a good pizza boy. Taking a while to get to the back, I traipsed alongside aged and ivied brick for a lengthy stretch when the sudden presence of more luxury vehicles led me ultimately to the six-car door garage. There were several doors from which a person could emerge waving money in the air saying: “Hello, alright, thank you. Bye-bye.”

A glowing amber square persisting its energy against the growing dusk found itself above yet another intercom on the house. I walk over and push it. The amber button shocks my finger. What the fuck?

Immediately. “Pizzaman?” A different voice asks.

“Yes. I am the Pizza Man.”

“Ok. I am opening the door.”

“Thank you.”

Beginning to hear the wind blow, I had expected someone to come sooner.

The mosaic wall upon which the intercom found itself transformed. A click sound created an ajar door right there before me. I proceed through. This narrow corridor reeked of mothballs until the scent of marihuana slowly accompanied it. The hall gave way to a wide, low ceilinged foyer, minimalistic in every sense, only white and gold all around. My steps sent posh echoes all about.

“Um. Mister Pizza Gentleman! Walk towards my voice” said a man overjoyed and theatrical. I walked into another hallway where the voices of people crept up into a higher and higher volume, introducing laughter and jovial argument. Suddenly, I found myself in the midst of a most opulent gathering. A soirée. Wearing squeaky white Adidas sambas, I walked to the most attentive person through the webs of buzzing conversation.

“Finally, Mr. Pizza Deliverer. I had begun to think that…my stomach would…consume its own very self.” Faces pivot with quick and light laughter to the banter of this mutton-chopped, three-piece suited fellow wearing a rose at his breast. A customary smile is all he gained from me. I established that “Everything is $58.90.”

A voice from behind:

“Here you are.” An attractive amber haired woman certainly in her early thirties presents to me five one hundred dollar bills fanned out.

She didn’t understand. “Fifty-eight, nine–

“Keep it darling.” She extends her arms with (especially) pronounced lips and eyes demure.

“Thank you.”

“How goes the pizza business these days?” I turn delayed to face the mutton-chopped man who had already been observing me, building conclusions through ajar eyelids. The collection of voices seemed to shrink.

“It’s fine. I’m,,,this is only temporary.”

“I see. I’m sure you have dreams of a more personal and fulfilling venture.”

“Yeah sure.”

Someone cleared a throat from an extremity of the room. “And would it be something that history will regard well?” exclaimed a man in a golden Venetian mask. “Young lad?” And he grinned on a champagne high.

“Don’t you worry about him”, ensured Amber Lady looking at me, “He likes to stir up predicaments for his own amusement.” The masked man grinned more humbly now with an expression saying: “Take it for what it’s worth.”

“I have to get back and deliver more pizza,” said I. True, it was.

“How do you feel about what has happened today?” asked the mutton-chopped man.

I had already neared, surreptitiously, the hallway exit. Smoke rose to the ceiling in this ballroom, from various sources.

“With Iran??” I wasn’t patient.

“Aye: With Iran.” He was.

“I don’t know. I guess it was bound to happen.”

They pondered that.

I reminded them that “Uh, I really have to go. I apologize. Thank you very much.”

Went back down the narrow hall into the foyer to enter the secret passage again bringing me through the wall out into the humidity. I passed the bright amber button, passed the great height of the brick walled, gilded age manor returning to the car.

I had gotten here at 6:48, it was now 7:22. At 7:33, I was back at Positano’s.

Charlie with his glasses still sitting low on his nose, looked up from his laptop and steak dinner as the bells above the door urged for paid attention.

Walking in, he was chewing. “So.” Sucking his teeth: “‘Where’d you go?” Cleared his throat.

“To Brandy Lane. Remember?”

“What took you so long? You got another delivery on Stillwell. Pizza ain’t ready yet, though.” Clearing his throat, he rose from his chair, walked to the credit card sector of the register, pushed a series of buttons and out popped a little white receipt and then another.

“45 Stillwell. They’re good tippers.” He looked at me, tipped his head and then turned to check on the pizza.

Nestor had checked on it already. He had made it. He made it from a ball of dough to one of America’s favorite meals.

I looked down and over at Charlie’s laptop. He had had a window open to some coarse American news source headlining that: “Iran’s Military Forces Plan to Fire Missiles at American City Centers!” The exclamation point was actually in the headline.

“Crazy, ain’t it?” said Charlie as Nestor let the steamy pizza slide from the wood into the waiting box. “Fuckin’ Arabs.” Johnny closed the box shaking his head.

“Uh. Yeah, I read about that.”

“And fa’ what? Why ruin a good thing? People want what we got, these guys, these Middle Easternes, they do.” Pointing out the window. Then he smiled. “Just like the people ‘round here, they want my pizza.” He defended. And then demanded an agreement.

“Yeah. The pizza here is good.”

A smile exploded out from within.

“But there are also a lot of pizza places around here”, I reminded him.

A laugh did develop out of him. “Hey. But they don’t got what I got, kid.”

I didn’t notice his little golden molar before. He handed me the pizza. I put it in the box-shaped bag to keep it warm. Then, I drove it to 45 Stillwell. The place was a cottage, obscured by hanging branches and unkept shrubberies. The path leading to the front door crossed over a simple network of brooks that I could see most people finding aesthetically pleasing. I rang the doorbell; it sounded like some rabid cat. A dog from within howled. After literally seven minutes and more rings of the bell, someone came. I figured that if the dog was there, so would man, his best friend. Or was it only the dog that was the ‘friend’ in the relationship? A one way street.

A person from within unlocked the door and pulled it open. Still a shadow, the figure pushed open the outer screen door and emerged from solitude for some pepperoni pizza. It was a woman. Old with a totally shaved head. One blue eye and one silver eye. A woman’s face will always retain those fine acute angles. Her lips were pursed.

“Hello ma’am. How are you?”

She gazed at me stunned out of some wit – her eyes, like a dagger’s tip.

“There you are”, with a tired voice as if it hadn’t formed words for days.

“Yes. Sorry I’m late. Total is $16.30.” A little pause followed. “Oh, I apologize.” I took the merchant copy of the receipt for her to sign.

“Do you have a pen?” she asks me. Checking my pockets, I thought that I did. I usually did have one.

“No I don’t. Sorry about that.”

She scoffs. “Goddamn it. One minute.” She retreated into her seemingly ransacked habitat very slowly. She used a cane. She had grown injured by time and gravity. Usually I carried around a pen.

Thunder started to roll and tumble above the clouds. But the forecast didn’t project rain. Casting my view onto the forest to find a deer staring dead at me before it leapt away, the thundering came to actually be man-made and began to zoom, nearer and nearer to the earth and I. Moving faster, growing louder, coming closer to the earth and I. Just an airplane it was. I had altered my stance to the sound as if that would have saved me from some incoming Iranian missile.

“Would you like to come inside?” She had re-appeared without a sound. “A bomb’s a-coming this way on this day.” Calm and serious with a light smile.

“Today?”

“Yes, today.”

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t make a difference whether I was inside or outside.”

“Actually it would. You see, this old house was apart of the Underground Railroad. Down in the cellar, there’s a room that’d bring you further underground…literally, actually” with an expression of halted zeal. “This is one of the few places along the Underground Railroad that was actually underground.”

“I’m alright.” I handed her the customer copy receipt.

“I don’t want that. Just give me my pizza.” She ordered.

I did as I was told. She slammed the door. The tip was alright. I left.

Driving back, the moon had developed a pinkish tinge to its surface.

At Positano’s, I continued reading the paper and drank coffee. Charlie drank white wine. My shift would be over in five minutes. The phone rang. Charlie left his laptop to answer the phone. Nestor had the phone in his hands already and then to his ear: “Positano, can I help you?”

This customer had to have been Hispanic because Nestor proceeded to take the order in Spanish.

Me, I turned to the page where they continued the front-page story. I read on:

“Officials postulate that US intervention in the conflict matched with Iran’s general resentment towards the United States’ foreign policy given also the Iranian government’s notorious connections with Taliban forces will prove detrimental in the near future. The diplomatic quagmire caused by this era of economic crisis has heightened nationalistic fervor amongst the belligerent countries which has muffled communication between them. They and the countries surrounding them have focused on their motives and have begun to mobilize in preparation for military combat.”

When the phone hit the receiver. I unveiled myself. “Delivery?”

“Yeth”, nodded Nestor. “10 Brrandy Lane. Figh banana pepperr pizzas.”

“Okay.” Veiling myself once more behind the world news.

“Hey,” said Charlie addressing Nestor who had already began flattening the dough. “Ye doin’ a good job and everything. But. But I’m gunna need you to speak English in here. Ok?”

“O Yeah”, Nestor nodded with a smile. “Of course, of course. Just: the guy speakin’ a Spanish so thas why I speakin—

“Speak English, you guys gotta speak English. This is a business, here. Ok? Can’t have that in here. This ain’t no Spanish restaurant, now.”

Nestor grew concerned. “Okay, okay.”

“Drives me nuts when you guys speak that around here.”

“Charlie, okay. Relax. What a your pro’lem?  I doin’ the job fo’ you. De man speakin’ Spanish so I sp—

“No. Listen to me: I don’t care. This is America. You hear me? Amer-ic-a. This ain’t Guatemala or whatever. Alright?”

“Charlie, I know, I—

“No. You’re not listening. Did you hear me? In here, you fuckin’ speak English. If you wanna speak Spanish”, he pointed out the window, “go on back to Guatemala.”

Now, Nestor grew livid. Shaking his head ‘no’, he began to untie his apron.

Charlie was annoyed. “What are ye doin’, where ye goin?”

Nestor went to get his jacket in the back of the restaurant. He didn’t look back at Charlie who spoke and walked after him.

“Nesta, come on. Where you goin’? Why you gotta be like thaaaat?”

Nestor returned from whence he came but jacketed.

“Nesta, come on. Look, if we was in Guatemala, wouldn’t I have to speak Guatemalan? You’d tell me, ‘Hey Charlie, you have to speak Guatemalan.’ Charlie said halt with right hand until he had Nestor’s chest in palm’s grip.

“Let me-go!” Nestor wailed leaning a bit into Charlie’s face.

“No! Why you gettin’ mad at me when I’m tryin’ to tell you something?”

“It because e’ery  day, it the same thing. You make-a troble for me. Why? What-a your pro’lem?”

“What’s my problem? You’re workin’ fa’ me. So when I say you speak English, you speak English. This is a business here! In America!”

Nestor walked on pass Charlie towards the front door. Charlie grabs Nestor’s arm: “Nesta, come on. Where you gunna go? I pay you guys well! I pay yous! Every week, I pay yous. You’ll be out of the job if you leave!”

“I go workin’ somewhere else!”

“They ain’t no jobs out there!”

“I find-a something else! You have fuckin’ pro’lem!”

“Ok wait, Nesta. I need you. Don’t leave me. I’m good to yous. Come on. Please don’t leave. If you quit, I gotta shut the place down. And you got a family. Please Nesta, stay.

“Charlie e’ery day you make-a trouble por me. E’ery day. I cannot work like this. I cannot.”

Charlie still held onto Nestor’s arm at the front and center of the restaurant. “Nesta, I’m just sayin’….

I went outside through the backdoor. The stars were out. The moon was still weird and looming. A busboy or busman, rather, from the restaurant next door was outside smoking a cigarette. I bummed one from him and said “gracias.” After a while I went back inside. Nestor was sliding the fifth banana pepper pizza pie into the oven. Charlie stood next to Nestor soothing him back into that laborious rhythm and status quo. They didn’t notice me walking in. I sat back down and unfolded the paper:

“Chemists in Tehran have—

“Hey Kid! When you carry these pizzas, make sure you hold them level so that they don’t lean. I sawr you before, they was leaning. The cheese slides that way. Bad for business.”

“Okay.” I read on:

“Chemists in Tehran have inserted–

“Make sure the cheese don’t slide, you hear? When you put it in your car, keep the boxes level.”

“Okay.” “Chemists in Tehran have inserted within the–

“Hey, kid. You hear what I’m saying right? Sometimes I dunno if you hear what I’m tellin’ you.” Eye lids ajar for a sharper focus. “Look, you let me know if you ever got a problem with anything up in here. Okay?

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