creative writing nonfiction
I really hate partying with Mike, I thought, and then tried to assess how much danger the smoke entering my bedroom posed.
As I clambered off my bed, I could hear Mike, a close friend, snoring down the hall on my couch. The smoke curling around my bedroom door was somehow his fault—after years of partying with him, I had no doubt—but I wasn’t sure whether he’d started the fire by dropping a cigarette or by cooking drunk. I found out the answer when I left my room and saw heavier smoke billowing from the direction of the kitchen.
The smoke was spouting from my oven, which was shut and set to 450 degrees. I advanced toward it like a feral cat approaching an unfamiliar human, then violently slapped the temperature selector back down to 0 degrees, as if the oven hadn’t already been smouldering all night and was actually in danger of exploding RIGHT THEN.
Shoulders slumped, I opened the oven door, coughed my way through a moving wall of smoke, and saw a blackened disc. I imagine it’s what a hubcap would look like after it’d soaked in burning jet fuel for six hours. Still, I immediately recognized the disc’s original form: a pepperoni Totino’s Party Pizza.
Before Mike charred off all of its nutritional value, the Party Pizza had contained 740 calories, more fat than a Whopper, and nearly as much sodium as a full block of Maruchan Ramen Noodles. On the plus side, Party Pizzas cost $1.25 and are excellent for soaking up alcohol. Often when Mike and I hang out, we spend the night drinking beer and telling each other about our problems, and then stuff ourselves with Party Pizzas to ward off hangovers before passing out.
This time, that strategy hadn’t worked too well: I had a moderate hangover and felt like I’d just returned from vacationing in a forest fire. I went into the living room, kicked Mike awake, told him about the smoke and the ruined pizza, and asked him to explain.
“I set it up to cook and I guess I musta sat down on the couch and passed out,” he said.
I wondered why, if he was going to leave the kitchen, he didn’t go into the TV room instead. The living room was virtually empty and had no entertainment options. I asked, “Why’d you come in here?”
“I thought if I went in the TV room and put a movie on I’d fall asleep. And then the pizza would burn.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I told him to help me clean up the pizza.
We were without proper kitchen tools—and even if we’d had tools, I’m not sure which one you’re supposed to use for cleaning up cremated pizza—so we jabbed the burned-pizza disc out of the oven with forks.
Since neither of us had ever held such an item before, we argued over who’d get to destroy it, which was sure to be fun. Mike wanted the right to dispose of the pizza because he “cooked” it, while I insisted him nearly burning down the house voided his pizza opinions.
I won out, and threw the pizza like a Frisbee into my back yard, where it shattered upon hitting the lawn. Something will eat it, I figured. Raccoons will eat anything. But for days, nothing took so much as a bite; apparently raccoons are smart enough to avoid Party Pizzas, even if Mike and I aren’t. I eventually got rid of the remains by running over them with my lawn mower.
As pizzas go, that was a particularly terrible one. Yet pizzas of all quality have spawned elaborate praise:
“The crust, with a two-inch edge, is layered first with mozzarella, then toppings—the excellent spicy, fennel-seed-inflected sausage and peppers, onions, and mushrooms are a classic combo. A superbly rich reduced tomato sauce is ladled on top, and it’s all cooked in a cast-iron pan, which is delivered by the waitress with a valiant hoist.”
—food writer Shauna Lyon on one restaurant’s Chicago-style pizza
“[T]here came a day when you let it slip off your hands and spin free in the air, and it returned to you the way you had always hoped it would, perfectly round, ready to slap onto a tray, to sauce evenly, to cheese just to the edges, to dot with pepperoni, mushroom, and green peppers, and to place tenderly in the oven.”
“Fuck it, let’s get four.”
—Mike, in front of a Walmart freezer full of Party Pizzas
That’s the kind of praise Party Pizzas deserve—profane and vaguely fond.
They’re savagely utilitarian: Mike is fond of leaving them out on the counter instead of refrigerating them, because our main party area only has a mini fridge, and Party Pizzas would crowd out the beer. “If one of ‘em goes bad, we’re only out a buck,” he usually explains, though so far we haven’t found a reliable way to tell when a Party Pizza turns from merely unhealthy to poisonous.
Regardless of how we refrigerate them, the cumulative toll of the Party Pizza lifestyle will itself shift from unhealthy to poisonous, eventually. It probably already has started: As I enter my late 20s, stretches that involve more beers than hours of sleep, and more Party Pizzas than vegetables, hurt more than they did even two years ago.
But when I remember all the nights those pizzas have helped fuel—with grinding card games between evanescent groups of friends, hour-long conversations about music, longer rants about love and death—for a bit longer, “Fuck it, let’s get four” sounds about right.
For more from this writer, visit his blog The Steger Sector.