Old Man Pizza

Tonight, I went to the pizza place on the way home. I asked the proprietor, who is almost always there, for a sausage and onion slice. I’d never had a sausage and onion slice until this past weekend. Because it was no longer foreign, and also because it is more substantial than a plain slice, I thought it was an appropriate order for tonight, when I’d had a few drinks on an empty stomach.

The proprietor, who I call “Old Man Pizza” – which I like to sing to the tune of “Old Man River” – because he looks very old and owns a pizza place, went over to the case where all of the pizza is kept to get my slice. I looked at my phone to see if someone had texted me, which is something I do approximately every five minutes, if not more often, even though sometimes I can go entire day without receiving a text. When I looked up, Old Man Pizza was sliding a chicken roll into the oven. I looked around. No one else was on line. The only other people in the pizza place were three guys sitting at a table behind me, talking about how many White Castle burgers they can eat in one sitting.

I didn’t ask Old Man Pizza for what I’d actually ordered. He was hunched over a sheet pan, his gnarled fingers hard at work pressing dough into the corners, his white head bobbing with each movement. He looked like he was in pain. It had probably been a long day, though I assume every day is long for him. He’s always up and reading the newspaper, drinking his coffee, readying the shop, every morning when I walk by on my way to the subway. Tonight, he shuffled back and forth between the counter and the oven every so often while I stood propped against a refrigerator full of cans of soda, looking at my phone, willing something interesting to appear.

When he took my chicken roll out of the oven, I thanked him, even though it wasn’t what I had ordered.

“Five dollars,” he said. I took my wallet out of my purse and counted out five ones. I’d left this same wallet at this very counter this past Fourth of July, when I was drunk and far too chatty with all of the men behind the counter to notice what I was doing. Old Man Pizza wrapped my chicken roll up in tin foil and put it in a paper bag.

“See you soon,” I said, grinning the same way I did as a child, when I wanted adults to like me. He smiled back at me, his lips pressed together, and turned around to face his dough in the sheet pan.

I walked the four blocks home with my chicken roll tucked under my arm like a tiny football.

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