Editor’s Note: There are so many emotions in me right now about the election, but I can’t let myself rant just yet. Instead, while I process and search for signs of intelligent life in the universe, I’m sticking with re-posts about childhood memories, a time when our problems were so tiny. Enjoy.
Shotgun Sam’s was a pizza place that bravely made the attempt to delight both the youngsters and the older folks who had produced those youngsters, planned or unplanned. It was also one of the few places that Grandpa Lageose would bless with his approval, as he was one of those questionable people who rarely dined out and paid for food. Why go to a place where you can relax and let someone prepare a meal for you, when you can spend the same amount of money going shopping, cooking the food, cleaning up afterwards, getting into a fight with your spouse because someone else made a comment about maybe the pasta sauce needed a tad bit more oregano, and somebody ends up crying. He came from that school of thought. Sure did.
Anyway, at Shotgun’s, the cleverly-designed appeal for the wee ones was a section of the restaurant with a giant plate-glass window where you could watch the pizzas being made in the kitchen. This setup was far more interesting than watching Grandpa make his pizza, mainly because he never made pizza, and we weren’t allowed to watch whatever he might be making, convinced as he was that we were probably little Nazi spies bent on world conquest, despite having raised four children of his own. Grandpa was very interesting, to put it mildly.
So we had this giant window, adorned with a helpful bench for the tiniest of the gathering to stand on so they could gaze in proper awe like the rest of us. And gaze we did, with our dirty little faces mashed up against the glass, leaving questionable smears. (Despite the idealism of some mothers, children are just filthy little heathens. We touch things we shouldn’t, we share our touched things with other curious kids, and then we never wash our hands, because doing so cuts into our time schedule and we have a lot of things that we need to touch before some fool starts bellowing about it being bedtime.)
On the other side of the looking glass, we had the workers, who probably weren’t paid squat, having every one of their actions being scrutinized by the Children of the Corn. I’m sure this was an unnerving situation for them, or perhaps they had become immune to our prying eyes as they ran about and did things with sausages and sauce, much like porn stars, only without the annoying soundtrack that somebody recorded in their basement while they were free-basing.
Allow me to wander a bit into left field: What was the deal with that awful porno-soundtrack music in the 70s? It was terrible. It’s not like I watched it all the time back then, as a perverted little grade-schooler. But my step-dad (who worked nights and was therefore at home when I arrived from school) apparently thought that a porn fetish should be attended to on a daily basis, like pruning a bonsai tree or checking the chickens for eggs, and he pursued this goal with great zeal. There were countless times when I would be innocently wandering about the house, looking for my Table of Periodic Elements because my science teacher had stated something absurd in class and I greatly needed to write a thesis proving her wrong, when the telltale signs would surface indicating that another type of class was in session.
Cheesy dialogue oozing out from under my parents’ closed door: “Oh, Mr. Plumber Man, there’s something wrong with my drain!”
Mr. Plumber Man: “Good thing for you that I know how to work with pipes. And I brought three of my buddies with me and none of us are wearing any underwear. Just like you!”
Woman with Imaginary Drain Issues: “Oh, that’s super neato! Grab a beer off the Guest Services table and follow me into the kitchen. I’ll have to flop on my back on the floor to show you where the problem is so you can see what I need. Oops, my skirt just fell right off!”
Buddy #1: “That’s alright, Foxy Lady. We’ll take our pants off, too, so you’ll feel more comfortable.”
Drain Woman: “Oh goody. And I’ll take my top off so it doesn’t get dirty while I waller around on the floor.” (Sound of two enormous beach balls being unshackled and set free. And suddenly we have 11 known planets in the solar system, thanks to the wonders of silicone.)
Buddy #2: “Uh oh. I dropped my wrench between your fake-tan legs. I’ll have to use my tongue to find it.”
Buddy #3, uttering his only three words of dialogue in the entire script: “And I’ll help!”
Drain Woman: “Oh my. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. Not today, anyway. How can I ever repay you for your helpfulness and expert handling of tools?”
And then the music would start. 45 minutes of boom-chicka-wow-wow, punctuated with Drain Woman yelping like she’s giving birth to a Buick. Granted, I was still on the virginal side of things, but I already knew that if someone made that much noise when we were playing slap and tickle, our relationship would not be lasting any longer than it took me to find my shoes and grab three beers off the Guest Services table on my way out the door.
Luckily, things improved considerably in the porn industry, soundtrack-wise, when the 80s came clattering into view, offering impressive new technology. Synthesizers were a great development for the porn industry. Fake music worked well with fake scenes about fake sex amongst overly-endowed individuals who couldn’t go thirty minutes without sleeping with someone. Of course, the acting was still the same, with wooden people clearly uncomfortable about having to deliver actual dialogue and wear clothing at the same time as they set up the minimalist “plot”.
Whoops, I seem to have forgotten all about the younger version of me back at the pizza parlor. This often happens when adults start thinking about whoopee, the children get neglected and they eventually turn to drugs and crime. Since we don’t want the kids in our story to choose such a trite and meaningless career path, let’s return to the scene with the little hellions lined up on the Viewing Bench…
The workers in the Shotgun kitchen rarely looked our way, silently hating us as they diced and chopped and sprinkled. (I don’t know why they had such a surly attitude about the whole routine. It’s not like they didn’t know this was part of the job. You would think they noticed the big-ass window when they were hired. If they didn’t, they had bigger issues in life beyond a gaggle of miniature voyeurs hanging around.)
To be fair, there was one guy who had a bit of showmanship flair, and he would instill a sense of drama and excitement into his duties, much to our delight. (Anything can delight you when you are eight years old, but still.) I seem to recall that he would actually burst into song from time to time, much to the horror of his co-workers. I think his arias were in Italian, not sure. My only song reference-point at that time was “Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”
In the end, I think Mr. Singing Pizza Man was just drunk, and he was only on the payroll because he happened to witness something he shouldn’t have, and it was important to shadowy people that he remain happy and not feel compelled to talk to folks like newspaper reporters and government officials.
Speaking of drinking, we now get to the adult allure of Shotgun Sam’s: The beer. It was everywhere. They would haul this stuff out in glass pitchers and the big people would descend on the offering like Moses just walked down from Mt. Sinai, dragging a well-stocked cooler. In three seconds, the pitcher would be empty, thrown to the floor. This is when I first learned that people would do anything for a malted beverage. Too bad most folks don’t have this much exuberance when it comes to voting in public elections.
Naturally, I was not allowed to sample this hallowed nectar, despite a carefully-prepared dissertation that I presented with great flourish. I was still a boy-child, and I should calmly eat my non-alcoholic pizza and then go join my siblings and cousins at the Windows on the World of Pizza-Making, with a floor show by Guido at 9pm. I did not care for this verdict by the court, but at my tender age I already knew that there were still benefits to be reaped in this situation, if I timed things correctly.
Perched on the Viewing Bench, feigning interest in Guido and the way he twirled his sauce ladle, I would keep an analyzing eye on the Big People at our table, waiting for that moment when one of the drinking adults with some degree of power would reach that sweet spot. You couldn’t approach them too early, when the beer was merely making them gassy and bloated. And you couldn’t wait too late, when the beer was making them very sad about how their dinner napkin had been folded. You had to catch them at that moment when they loved the entire world and wanted to sing songs.
Suddenly, I heard the distinct sound of someone laughing too loud at something that probably wasn’t all that funny. I swiveled my head and immediately surmised that one of my aunts was sweating a bit more than she should be in this climate-controlled environment. Bingo.
I raced up to this aunt, tugging on her sleeve in the way that children do when they don’t realize that tugging on a person is incredibly annoying, whether alcohol is involved or not. “Can we go to the zoo tomorrow? They have new gorillas. I need to see them.”
Aunt, looking around at a lot of different places before determining where that voice came from: “Hi, sweetie! Aren’t you one of my nephews? I love you so much. Let’s sing a song about how much-“
Me: “No, we don’t need to sing. The zoo. Can we go to the zoo?”
Aunt: “We can go right now! Where’s my purse? It has the key cars in it.”
Me: “No, they’re closed now. Tomorrow. We can go tomorrow. Can you pick me up in the morning?”
Aunt: “Yes! I’ll pick you up. I love you so much! Do you want to live with me? I can raise you.”
Me: “That would be really swell. We can talk about it at the zoo. Can you tell Mom that you’re picking me up tomorrow? I have to get back to the window, it’s time for Guido’s encore.”
Aunt: “Yes! I’ll tell her. Because moms need to know stuff and everything.”
I hugged her, in that awkward way that you hug aunts because it’s not the same as moms, but you still love them, even if you haven’t been drinking. Then I raced back to the window, where Guido was doing something with a surprisingly large pepperoni.
Aunt: “Wait a minute. Which one of these people is your mom?”