The Origin Of Pizza Night

At work, I received a call before quitting time.

Aiden, the voice on the other end said.

“Yeaaaahhh,” I responded taking as long as I could.  It was almost 5 o’clock.

It’s Kilgore.  Pick up a pizza on the way in.

“Why don’t you have it delivered?”

Not missing a beat:

We are.

And that’s how pizza night at Marlin’s Inn began.

By 5:05pm I was in my car. 

At 5:07, Ellis was waving at me from his car, trying to get me to roll down my window.  He even honked for my attention.  Gregory, another coworker of ours, probably thought it was because Ellis likes boobies.  That’s what the bumper sticker on Gregory’s car says to do if you like them.  But I figured, why bother?  All he was going to say was I’ll meet you at the Inn.

When the numbers 5:22 blazed from my dashboard, I was pulling into the parking lot of Moveable Feast Pizzeria.  And you’ll never guess who I ran into there…

Esme.

The Princess.  The better looking half of the couple we call the Lovebirds.  I almost didn’t recognize her sober.  I mean, me being sober.  Nothing against her.  I hadn’t seen her since St. Patrick’s Day.

She noticed me first.  Aideeennnn, she responded taking as long as she could.

“Hey Esme.  How are you?”

Hungry.  Hence waiting for some pie.  And you?

“I wouldn’t say I’m hungry.  But I’m sure I will be eventually.”  Well that was dumb.

That’s cool.  So, you heading up to the bar?

“You know it.  I live there.”

You actually live there?

“No!  No.  I meant it feels like I do.”

She laughed and pressed on.  Oh, because you know, there are some people that live in bars.  Like in the back, or upstairs.

“There’s no upstairs.”

I know.  She paused to nod.  It’s too short.

The cashier finally called her name and an end to my miserable attempt at small talk.

She pointed toward the counter.  That’s me.

Why I did what I did next I do not know.  I extended my hand.  To shake hers.  It’s weird right?

She laughed again.  I’m still not sure if it was at me or at the situation, but I was beginning to grow fond of it.  She shook my hand.  It was nice seeing you again, Aiden.

“Likewise.”

Back at Marlin’s Inn, the brood swarmed the pizza box like they hadn’t eaten for days. 

I never really got hungry, but Ellis made sure to inform me, I was trying to get your attention to say I’ll meet you here.

The Warm Whiskey Shot

I returned to Marlin’s Inn feeling like a new man.  If time can mend a broken… who am I kidding?  I was still a mess, but I wasn’t going to show it.

The day’s were longer now, so it felt strange to enter the bar and have my eyes adjust from leaving the sunlight.  I blinked at the coat rack, and looked at it twice before remembering I wasn’t wearing one.  Spring was finally here, or at least it was close enough.

Hank and Grace were seated at the same table.  I wondered if it was “their table,” but instead of making a meaningful exchange, I nodded as I passed them.  Grace raised her glass; Hank just looked at me.  Whatever that meant.

My eyes weren’t fully adjusted until I reached the bar and discovered Ellis was sitting in my spot.  I could have asked him to move, but I was in good enough spirits not to let it grate on me.  So I sat in Hank’s old spot.

Thank goodness you’re here, my co-worker began.  There’s so much I need to chat about that we can’t chat about at work.

There was probably more of a reason that I didn’t chat with Ellis than simply being at work.

My girl’s left me.  Again, Aiden.

Instantly, I’d had it.  New Aiden wasn’t going to put up with this.  “Which girl, Ellis?  Huh?  Which girl left you?”

The love… the love of my life.

“Did I ever meet her?”

I never brought her in here.

“Then pardon me when I don’t give a damn.”  I threw a look at Santiago, and he handed me a shot of whiskey.  It was warm, and while I was hoping for a beer, I slammed it anyway, down the gullet, over and onto the counter.

Ellis nodded beside me.  Understanding?  Perhaps.

I barely looked over at Kilgore.  He waved his pen.

I barely looked over at H.L.  He was lost in his game on the MegaTouch.

I didn’t look back at Hank.  But I’d like to think he would have gestured, too.

As I sat in my self-congratulation, the warm whiskey chilling in my throat decided it didn’t like being there, and it shot back out through my nose.

The Toasted (Part 3)

Noon was rolling around on St. Patrick’s Day.  Kilgore shouted: It’s a hold up!  And only I seemed to dart my eyes around concerned. 

Even my old (young) buddy Steve caught on to Kilgore’s playful announcement.  He raised both of his hands in the air equally, then shortened one to imitate the minute hand.  When I still didn’t comprehend, he pointed at the grandfather clock on the wall.  I remember laughing when I realized it was a grandfather clock though, and how most of my friends are old men.

Wuz and his band had finished setting up awhile before the hold up, so now they were working on setting themselves up, which required lots and lots of booze.  By the way, his was band was called ATWEBTAW, which was short for All There Will Be, There Always Wuz… It said so on the drum.  And here I thought it was a clever saying.  Forgive me for my dimwittedness, but in my defense, I had been drinking since the bottle crack of dawn.

Noon also meant we had a new addition to the party.  Her name was Kat Barkley.  And she was the proud owner of the Marlin’s Inn.  I loved her right from the start because she brought pizzas.  Santiago loved her simply right from the start, oh so many years ago.

She commanded attention as soon as she entered, but not in the way that young girls do.  She may have been in her “fifsixties” (I’m terrible with ages, weights, and heights), but she was so magnetic and enigmatic.  And did I mention she had pizzas?

Hello boys, the cavalry called.  You all can thank, Santiago, not me.

As we thanked our solemn yet stoic bartender, that’s when I saw it – a smile.  It wasn’t a smirk, or a leftover from some boorish joke.  It was a 100% genuine smile.  One that told me right away – and was later confirmed by Kilgore – that Ms. Barkley meant something awful to our usually dismal Cuban friend.  And I mean “awful” in every way possible.

Clad in a tight wool trench coat that met her leather heeled boots at her knees, she placed the pizza boxes centrally and with merely the curl of one finger, lead Santiago back to the hidden areas of the bar.

While they were away, we devoured the soggy sauced slices.  I never knew pizza could taste so good, and I wondered if it had more to do with eating lunch after five hours of boozing, or if it’s simply that – what was the name of the place?  Oh yeah!  Perhaps it’s that the Moveable Feast Pizzeria makes the best pies, period.

Santiago returned to his place behind the bar not a moment too soon because a bus load of boozers arrived, and I literally mean a bus load.  As a part of a party bus called the Safe Patrick’s Day Parade, this group of thirty or so people in their thirties or so (I told you I’m bad at ages) filled Marlin’s Inn to the gills.  (I’ve been dying to say that.)

Wuz and the crew took up their places and their instruments.  One spot remained empty – behind the microphone.  H.L. rushed forward to take it.  Who knew?  Together, they did a cover of this song, and the place came alive.

Ms. Barkley was nowhere to be seen through the remaining festivities, so I assumed she left as quickly as she arrived.  Kilgore and I kept Santiago company between the visiting patrons’ refillings and between ATWEBTAW’s sets.  The bus eventually departed as did the bulk of the people, but the activity inside still drew more random people in from the outside.  A few other “regulars” even made their appearances throughout the course of the day… The Lovebirds for one, and my co-worker Ellis for another.

At one point, Ellis pulled me aside and begged me, Please don’t tell the office I’m out drinking.  They think I called off sick.  Didn’t he realize I was doing the same thing?  And was that girl he was with his new girl, or his new girl on the side?  He didn’t swear me off on any of that, but I swear I didn’t and still don’t even care.

St. Paddy’s Day was that one day of distraction that I so desperately needed.  Because after what happened the next day, I deserved some recent happy memories…