Sometimes I like to think of life as The Game of Life, in which I collect experiences like tiles—the ones you flip over at the end that say things like, “Write Great American Novel: $500,000.” Except, so far, mine mostly say things like, “Write Reasonably Well-Received Blog Post: $0.”
This particular Life tile reads, “Work Summer at a Pizza Parlor: $1,300.” (I made $7 an hour, working about five hours a night, three nights a week for somewhere between 10 and 15 weeks, so this is my best approximation.) I spent all this money on a computer for college that now sits in my closet, useless and riddled with viruses, but the lasting value of that summer came in stories.
I got hired after a 10-minute interview in which, after trying to frame a summer as a counselor-in-training at a Girl Scout camp as “work experience,” I admitted that I was completely unqualified. My soon-to-be boss liked that for some reason.
“Now we can mold you into whatever we want,” he said. I gave an uncomfortable laugh and tried to look moldable. If I didn’t get this job, my mom was going to make me apply to be a bagger at the grocery store.
I guess they succeeded in molding me because before long I was reasonably adept at most of the job’s basic functions: cleaning, cash registering, transferring pizzas from pan to box without breaking them, washing dishes (except the deep dish pans, which can’t be put in water, so we just wiped the crumbs out with an already grease-soaked rag and put them aside to be used again). But my hamartia was that I was too generous with my cheese.
We were supposed to weigh our cheese in a little metal bowl on a little metal scale and limit each pie to a scant few ounces. I felt the customers should get their money’s worth of mozzarella, so I would grab it by the fistful and plop it on with abandon.
“Do you know how much the owner spends on cheese every week?” my boss asked one evening, catching me in the act.
I did not.
“One million dollars. One. Million. Dollars. Weigh your damn cheese.”
The store seemed to have no such qualms about wasting dough. Whenever we whipped up a batch, someone would inevitably make a doughy penis and send it through the oven, or start a game of catch with one of the doughballs. One such game turned aggressive and ended up with a doughball smashing through a stack of medium pizza boxes, destroying them.
My doughballs were always lumpy and unattractive, so I started compensating by drawing smiley faces in them with my finger. My coworker noticed me doing this one day, one thing led to another, and the next thing we knew we were sculpting our boss’s head out of dough and storing it in the freezer. I wasn’t working the day he discovered it, but apparently he grew very attached to it, gave it seasonings for hair and carried it around all day.
This behavior was par for the course in our ensemble cast of weirdos. For instance, an assistant manager in his late 20s was in unrequited love with a girl my age who also worked with us. Once, he had a giant teddy bear delivered to her at the restaurant. She put it in the refrigerator.
One of the drivers had a side job selling knives; he was always trying to convince our boss to replace the giant pizza samurai knife we used with a circular rolly slicer from his company. Another wanted to go to Florida on vacation—if his parole officer would let him. The youngest driver we called Birdman. I’m not sure anyone knew why.
My last day before I left for college was typical. I ate my last order of free cheese sticks and the guys stood around discussing our boss’s motorcycle (when he first bought it, I had been forced to walk out back and admire it. “It’s nice,” I said. “Nice?!” He shook his head. I clearly didn’t get it). I said goodbye, nice working with you, the usual things.
“You should be proud,” one of the drivers said. “I’m 40 years old and I’m still delivering pizzas. At least you’re making something of yourself. I’ll probably be here forever.”
He was still there, at least when I came home from winter break my freshman year and accompanied my dad to pick up a couple pizzas so I could say hi. Birdman was there too, and knife guy and the guy who helped me build a doughy replica of our boss. I gave a wave, expecting some kind of awkward small talk at least, but there was none. Not a single one of them remembered me.
The pizza was good, though.