I’d asked the young man behind the automated scanning machine to repeat himself, and this was merely an effort to prevent TR, my companion, from absolving the man of his larynx with a roll of breath mint candies. “Young man,” I began, “the gentleman to my left is TR Schroder, my companion in manners such as these, and I’ll not repeat myself a third time. I ask, no—I demand—that you either provide me with the quantity I’ve requested or you may fetch your superior!”
“Look,” mumbled the grocery store clerk, “I told you we’re out of Pizza Rolls. All we have left is Bagel Bites.”
This is when TR opened his hands and attempted to lunge at the boy, sending an entire stack of Cosmopolitan women’s periodicals to the floor as I attempted to restrain him. They were everywhere. The headlines had something to do with excess belly cellulose, orgasm technique, and celebrity nipple positions. Now is not the time for such bum-grabbery—I am in the middle of business.
“Bagel Bites?” I quipped. “Do I look like a goddamn fisherman to you?” I dropped my right foot onto the counter. “These summer sandals cost over thirty five dollars! Bagel Bites. Why I’d be right to box your ears for the arrogance. Offer me bagel-sized nonsense again and I’ll slap you out into the thoroughfare.”
The boy paged his supervisor.
An overweight man in a red vest arrived to our isle, speaking softly into his walkie-talkie as he approached. The man was in his early fifties, and appeared as a frumpy and sad affair. Not the kind of sad sort who’s penned lovely and misunderstood poetry. No. The kind of sad sort who’s likely had to talk his way out of molestation charges.
The frumpy manager addressed us. “Hi guys, I’m Eric. What can I help you with? I hear there’s an issue over pizza?”
I knew it—this man has paid for sex.
TR loudly cleared his throat, to which I responded with a nod, then I turned to address the manager. “Look here principal, the gentleman to my left is TR Schroder, my companion in manners such as these, and we are losing patience with your whelp of a clerk and his refusal to properly service a reliable patron!”
“Okay then,” replied the manager, turning to the checkout boy, “Nathan, may I speak to you for a moment?”
The two wandered a few feet away, so TR and I used the opportunity to look to our surroundings and stuff our pockets with dental floss and batteries. This was the least that the establishment owed us for the trouble, forcing two men of discount grocery stature to argue, two men of the wayward appetite, two men who thirst for a damned pepperoni. We only fled the scene after observing security personelle approaching our position. We briskly walked toward our automobile, hips swinging dramatically while stolen batteries clanked in our pockets, the two of us taking the four family sized bags of Chicken-Buffalo-Anytizers we’d been cradling in our arms, now the spoils of the evening. TR pushed over a stacked display of diet cola and tipped his hat to the young clerk, just before the doors closed.
They were frisky days, the ones back when calories were a fat person’s word, back when you could lay down and watch the television, knuckle keep in an oversized jar of maraschino cherries just because you wanted to feel like a warrior. More than once TR and I spent the afternoon at the convenience store, vehicle after vehicle outside the windows under our gaze as they gathered fuel, the whole while stuffing our hunger with potato chips and anything that tasted like artificial fruit. Mayonnaise went on the cold display-case ham sandwiches in long lines, each packet a tiny offering of sodium and transisomer fatty acid, each bite squishing away another week or so we’d eventually have to spend in a retirement community.
Coffee was another part of the life, and TR made short work of embracing the madness along with me. Your average citizen brews a cup of coffee for the morning commute, something to handle along with the newspaper and whatever satchel that carries their goods from place to place. We’d embraced our drugs differently, and we did so with reckless aplomb. The variety of coffee was large, and it was never decaffeinated. Row after row of sugary additive, syrups designed to look italian, creams and all variety of coffee salve lined our humble kitchen, and we would wield them like a meth cook: equal parts careful hand and an unabashed ferocity in use of our own product. We’d burn through coffee makers and cheap espresso machines, all day and night shooting the drug into our valves, insulin dripping from our ears like slow careless molasses, vibrant scenery and plans for things we’d never accomplish just requiring a piece of blank paper. TR would nod along to the free flow of ideas, but I’d find a snag that had no bearing to anyone outside of the conversation. “We should start a business that has something to do with gorillas,” I’d offer, and then pause at the first hiccup. “Ah, but you’re right—where would we acquire all that uranium?” I’d take another sugary shot of dark coffee, then immediately lose consciousness in my chair.
The most damnable turn-coatery we’d ever faced, however, was at the hands of the Red Baron.
Sample junkies. Deviant snack thieves. Unrepentant appetizer devils. We’d heard it all, and the names rolled from our feathers like sweat beads from silk jockey shorts in the palpable Nebraskan humidity. The grocery stores in town used Saturday to offer up their samples, an attempt to sell off whatever product had paid the appropriate fees required for a blue-hair to cough over a lukewarm tray of carefully sliced hotdogs. TR and I would use these Saturdays to re-feed—to fuel up—to take from the grocery stores what was rightfully ours by birthright: an entire brunch cobbled of sample trays and errant glances from bored octogenarians. Brunch on this particular Saturday morning would consist of pigs in a blanket, cheese pizza, breakfast sausages, what appeared to be a quadrant of eggplant, a dixie cup of fruit snacks, and unconscionable betrayal.
We’d arrived at the grocery store bright and early, 11am, the time when any respectable member of society gently rolls into their sweatpants and decides to greet the public. The Super Saver was known for two things: 1.) You could buy the small Mexican-style pizza foods that reminded you of the only thing that gave you solace in high-school, aside from the first time you’d exchanged awkward gropes to the bathing suit area with a quiet girl from chemistry class. They were here, in stacks of five, and they were delicious. 2.) They sold microwaveable mini-weenies filled with cheese, and they kept the product restocked with an admirable promptness.
TR and I were unshaven and hungry, and on first blush this might be construed as laziness from two underpaid office workers who may or may not have recently sprayed canned cheese into their mouths directly after waking. No, that would be what one might think, but TR and I had come to liberate the local Super Saver from sullen behavior—we had come to carefully review their sample offerings and make an informed judgment on their products. Also, if this grocery store refused to carry Pizza Rolls brand snacking foods, we were going to burn it to the fucking ground.
As we perused the aisles and traded over-shirts in an attempt to confuse the women at the sample stands into providing us with more than just the one portion, we encountered the strangest thing. Alone, shoulder to shoulder, TR and I walked an empty aisle at the Super Saver—cooking supplies I believe it was—when a man in flamboyant costume approached us from the opposite end. As he neared, on his lonesome, the tall soul’s identity became immediately apparent. Leather cap, crisp flight jacket, bright red scarf, tight pants tucked into an impressive set of boots, and perhaps the most perfect handlebar mustache the world has or will ever know. It was that former German ace of World War I, that crimson destroyer in the sky turned master of bread, tomato, and cheese. It was The Red Baron, made flesh.
As we passed, the Baron looked us both over, meeting our eyes with the commanding glare that only a man who has both rolled a pizza crust and murdered his enemies could muster. Neither the Baron, TR, or myself stopped our cadence. As we neared one another, the mighty pilot nodded to us both, with his only word a polite, “Gentlemen.” TR and I nodded in return with an equally brief reply, “Baron.” We’d thought the encounter bizarre, but our adventures had produced similar events, and it wasn’t our chief concern at the moment to ascertain why the Red Baron was giving the Super Saver his business that day. No, we were on our way back to the sample stands, as we had already gathered that Pop Tarts were on display and available for critique. However, not two moments had passed when the loudspeaker for the store hissed, then clicked rapidly. A voice poured from all corners.
“Ladies and gentlemen of Super Saver I hope you’re having a terrific Saturday morning as you find the lowest prices in town and enjoy some of our wonderful samples located in almost every aisle. We wanted to let you know that we have a special guest in our store today, The Red Baron! If you see the Baron somewhere in the store, don’t let him go—the first super shopper that spots the Baron will win free, that’s right, free Red Baron pizza for an entire year!”
TR and I stopped in our tracks, and we needed not exchange words. We ran from our aisle, but it was as if the Super Saver was plotting some grand foolery, some cosmic joke was enacting itself at that very moment. In but the blink of an eye, the loudspeaker hissed and crackled once more.
“Ladies and gentlemen of Super Saver, boy was that fast! We want to congratulate shopper Suzanne. Suzanne has spotted the Baron and has just won free Red Baron pizza for an entire year! Let’s hear it for Suzanne!”
TR furrowed his brow and withdrew a box of matches from his pocket, but I steadied his wrist and shook my head. The betrayal. The demonstrable pizza-related betrayal was almost too much to comprehend. Free pizza, at that ginger stage in our adulthood, could’ve changed the course of our nutrition forever. We had the Baron in our sights, and the man eluded to not a thing, not a heads up, not a warning or a cue as to why he was wandering the aisles. The Baron had greeted us warmly, but his word had turned sour now, his presence nothing but a firm kick to the man-purse. Instead of free pizza for a year, something we could’ve used, loved, and abused, the Red Baron left us with only a swollen pair of bulldog cheeks.
We ran from the store, grown and unshaven men with tears forming, what a terrible morning this had become. As TR removed his hat to sob into the thing privately, as a man mustn’t publicly show his grief, and especially not over something as precious as pizza, I turned to the Super Saver building, and raised a fist into the air.
“I’ll not forget this, Super Saver!” I yelled. “And as for The Baron, I’ll not stand for the cold blood that runs through your even-countenance! I loved your foodstuffs once, but from this day forward, Totinos and their ketchup covered cracker pizzas will feel my embrace! Do you hear me Baron? I will devote my surely considerable and stalwart lineage to Totinos!”
Bastards… the Super Saver did not reply.
Image from the gallery of deflam.