"Don’t try the pizza, it’s so good will come back every day, it completely ruined my social life cause each night I only want to go there
I hate this place!"
“Hey Joe, you’re out of napkins again!” he dropped his change in the white styrofoam cup next to the empty napkin dispenser. It was one of those old metal-and-plastic spring loaded ones, the kind that are impossible to get a napkin out of when they’re full because spring tension isn’t constant but scales linearly with distance, and so they’re too tight when they’re full and give up too many when nearly empty and there’s just this sweet spot in the middle and in 3 months of daily dining he’d never encountered it. Hooke’s law of pizza addiction.
He grabbed his seat, folded his slice at the crust to stabilize the end and picked it up from the white paper plate, greasy translucency forming already on the scalloped edge. It did not bode well, given the napkin situation. Fuck this is good. This is better than sex. This is what I have given up sex for. I know this, and yet here I am. He glanced up at the menu - one of those soda-branded, backlit jobs with letters that slide in two tracks - took a quick inventory of the items and if there as anything new. Of course not, but it was better than risking eye contact with one of the other regulars.
“Here, sorry about the napkin. That contraption, is no good.” He took the single napkin offered by Joe, that stingy bastard. “How’s the slice?”.
“It’s good. It’s the best. Do you really need to ask? I’m here literally every day. Not literally like figuratively. I have without exaggeration been here at least once a day, every day, the last three months. Literally. I got dumped because I only want to eat here”.
Joe turned on his heel, walked around the edge of the counter and pulled a big, translucent bin from the shelf above his workbench. He popped the lid off, set it back on the shelf and heaved a mass of dough out with his dusty floured hands. He worked the dough with one hand, folding it over itself an impossible number of times, building a tension ball of gluten. You could bounce a quarter off of it.
A line was forming haphazardly now, at least 10 deep because it intruded on the periphery of his view as it rounded the corner. He knew, more or less, the time it would take for each person in line to taste perfection. He’d waited in line, counted the moments over these last months. He now took his pizza early, right at opening, like some retiree exchanging his fixed income for flawless dough.
Joe’s was one of a handful of little restaurants or cafes that interrupt the grids of single-family homes in the city. They were mostly old corner stores that had once been common in every neighbourhood, though most of those lots were levelled to build multi-million-dollar-multifamily homes as the city’s real state developers capitalized on the unquenched demand and cheap debt that fuelled this world-famous market. Gary finished his bite, wiped his hands and mouth with the meager, sandpaper napkin he was offered and left his plate on the table.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket as he crossed the threshold. His friends had given up on him - the messages app on his phone mostly full of two-factor codes and a couple of group messages that he hadn’t opted out of yet. The scroll to her last message was long, considering how few other interactions he was having. He read the last few grey bubbles. She let him down so easy. She had a way with words. She was the best thing that had happened to him. He thought about the ways he let her down. He typed a few characters, thought better of it. She deserved better.
He closed the chat and stared for a minute at the screen. There, above her name was the five digit code that all those spam SMS messages use and the message “show this code in store for a free soda with the purchase of any two slices at JOES EASTSIDE PIZZA”.