The rough looking Pizza Hut located about a mile from my home has been taken over—and successfully operated—by a hardcore metal band currently taking a break between albums. This is an assumption mind you, as I can find no alternative explanation for the gruff crowd that serves me soda and swipes my credit card at this place, all of them grungy and well lived, twenty year olds that look forty, faces that look like tree bark. They’re nice enough, speaking in non-threatening restaurant tones. “Just two this evening? Would you like a booth?” Everyone smiles and follows the waiter with saucers in his ears, but I’m paying attention. I’m watching his hands for a switchblade, or sudden sweet-ass guitar solo. Wild and weaving ink veins around their arms, necks, and hands, testaments to their hard road livin’, people who’ve stirred heroin into their morning coffee, people with irregular heart beats, people who’ve woken up in strange places. We sit down, peruse the battered menus, and minutes the later the man I’m trying to peg as the bassist sets down two sodas and asks me if I’m ready to order. I stir the glass cautiously. Certainly there’s a pill dissolving in here.
I only visit the shack on rare occasion, largely when I’m itching for a salad bar so I can construct a ranch-conveyance device of my own design. The food is guttural, terribly greasy and heavy in the pipes, so it’s rarely a first choice. The roof looks like it’s about to catch fire at any given moment, and the peeling yellowish paint everywhere makes the restaurant look like it was claimed by squatters thirty years ago. Inside is the usual Pizza Hut affair—quarter candy machines and a few aging arcade games that’ll probably have you itching red bumps on your palms for the next few weeks. It’s not so awful that you dread it, at least, not before you’ve eaten. The plan was to visit and eat their chow, but beware of the bathroom in this one. The only urinal is seven inches from the only sink, no divider to shield your business from splashy soapy stranger hands. Pizza, breadsticks, something fried, and something something with a side of garlic something. It’s all fine and well, but it’s the staff that’s got me pondering the bizarre. They’re all young males, they’re all tattoo’d, and they all seem like they’re up to something. As soon as they cook my food and I’ve eaten it and I’ve enjoyed a salad and I’ve had a refill on my soda, and after I’ve paid the check—shit’s probably going to maybe get real.
Here’s how I’ve got it down: The lead singer runs the registers and acts as the host, relying on his natural charm and crowd control skills to get people excited about appetizers. The lead singer spends the day resisting the urge to break out in a scream-song and start doing bumps of coke out of some old lady’s bellybutton. The drummer is in the back of the kitchen, using his sticks to mix large drums of pizza sauce, and keeping tabs on the pantry. His long hair occasionally dips into the large plastic drums of Thousand Island, and he cleans it with his mouth right after muttering, “Rad, free tasties.” The bassist keeps the salad bar in check and buses the tables. The large tattoo of Mr. Clean on his back was, as he told his band-mates, “Totally for irony.” In reality, he suffers from debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder and quietly cuts himself in the bathroom whenever the lead guitarist doesn’t wipe down the pizza stations. The lead guitarist is the one to watch here. When the group decided to take over the Pizza Hut, an internal agreement resulted in a no-music policy while on duty. The lead guitarist didn’t take this well, so the occasional meat lovers pizza needs to be checked for psychoactive mushrooms. The last time he started a band argument, the place was full of retirees trying to pull off a Roman slave orgy.
I sometimes wonder if they’re armed. It’s like one of those early nineties movies where the bank is being clumsily run by euro-terrorists for about an hour right before the smoke bombs change everything. A big bearded German struggles with the english language, constantly returning some housewife the wrong change, sweating it out as he vies for normalcy. He keeps repeating, “Yes, thanks yes,” while darting his eyes to the ringleader, desperate to scatter the room with his silver uzi. In the 2009 mega-failure Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the group that commandeered an entire mall was a bunch of extreme-sports terrorists. They didn’t chase you down on foot. No, they did it on skateboards and BMX bicycles, flipping ollie twists or tubular flip kicks or whatever the hell the kids call these things. The balls on that movie, cinema that glues me to the screen in a frothy mixture of disbelief and dark depressive murder fantasies. I kept thinking about movies like this while pushing garlic-cheese bread-a-tizers into my maw. When will the shots be fired? Which one of these tattoo parlors is going to use my table as a bike ramp?
I start to wonder who used to work at this Pizza Hut, and what disastrous fate they may have suffered. Maybe nobody used to work there. Perhaps this particular Pizza Hut has simply always been. Maybe the band struck an underworld deal: In exchange for a platinum certified record, they must first own and successfully operate a single Pizza Hut for a thousand years. In what used to be a vacant lot in the late 1980’s, twisted roots started to climb up from the earth, swirling into place like something out of Beetlejuice, and from a steel fireplace a cackling skeleton with a long parchment contract steps from the green flames. “So,” he begins, “you want to be radical dudes, eh?” More laughing, and the bandmates look to each other with worried faces. “Here, sign this, and in a thousand years, you will be most cowabunga!” Their tattoos, leather pants, and metal jewelry all remain, but with the blood oath now complete, red aprons latch themselves around their waists. If they don’t produce enough faux-Italian grub before midnight, they get what they’d later refer to as “The bleeds.” Their lyrics that used to be, “Grandmom’s gonna get her a gun, gonna get her a knife, gonna get her murder on tonight,” are now replaced with synthesized keyboards and the words, “Would you like to try some P’Zone intense burning hot wings with zing? Perhaps some pizza rollers or maybe an order of chocolate dunkin’ sticks.” Ahh, just like the Italians.
They’re nice enough, which is probably a stipulation in their contract, customer service and the like. In fact, their friendliness is probably what throws the whole idea in a strange arc. The long haired burnout that’s waiting our table was quite prompt with our orders. His speech was pleasant, and our food didn’t taste like someone pissed in it, so I’m naturally forced to assume his stereotype holds. I then construct an elaborate game around the whole scene. They look like ravenous savages, people you cup your children tighter for when in their presence. Like I’m supposed to play it cool when a member of GWAR, covered in blood and sporting a three foot synthetic phallus, asks me in a pleasant tone if I’d like a refill on my Diet Coke? “Take it!” I scream, swiping my hand so nervously fast to the cup that it spills from the table, brown ice shattering everywhere. I look to the demon. “I… I’m sorry, I just…” He stops me with a hush. His fingers glow red, the cup and the ice floating from the carpet, the stain pulling back from the floor as a liquid. The cup floats tenderly down to the table, and with a fizzy noise it magically refills itself. I look to the waiter, and plead to him with my eyes. I start to mumble, “I… you… it was, the cup…” He smiles a grim wide display, a thousand green venomous teeth poking everywhere, and with a reversed echo, he speaks with the sound of three voices all at once. “Can I get you another salad plate?”