by Lucie Britsch
My family like to eat but my father thinks that sounds like we’re all obese so he says we’re foodies because he read it somewhere and thinks it sounds like it might be a rock band from the 70’s.
He thinks we have more taste buds than regular folk because he wants to believe we are special because if not then what, and we go along with it because we want to be special too because if not then what, grand delusions are in our genes even if fancy taste buds aren’t.
We eat fancy food in public and junk in private. My father likes donuts. He thinks this double life makes him relatable. He’s Homer Simpson. My mother chews gum to mask her Cheetos breath and my father just pretends she’s a secret smoker.
We also have large noses. I think is the real reason food has such a hold on us. It has nothing to do with a higher calling. I hope not anyway or mine is pizza which means I have a teenage boy trapped inside me somewhere and he’s only visible through the zits on my chin.
My father hoped I would use my magic nose as he called it, cute when I was 8 not so much when I was 13, for something like sniffing out truffles or procuring cacao from exotic lands. As long as I didn’t end up on the street snorting hot cheese from something I bought from a truck he could sleep easy.
He’d seen the food trucks everywhere and decided he was against them. He was taught you sit down to eat and that you use cutlery. He was one of those people that used a knife and fork to eat a burger and I died inside every time. He would deny he ever ate string cheese till the day he died but we all shared the same childhood trauma of catching him in the kitchen in the dead of night in his underpants. You must be mistaken he said. It must have been a banana you saw me peeling he said, which would have been equally disturbing.
When I tell him I’m a mystery diner the only mystery to him is why I haven’t got a real job. I tell him it’s like mystery shopping which he thinks is a game show only I don’t do any shopping just eating. I tell him I’m a mystery eater which does actually sound like a TV show. It’s harder to talk to him since the banana underpants thing. Just stay away from those food trucks he says and goes back to his crossword. I think he’s saying this because he’s discovered they’re amazing and he doesn’t want me there cramping his style. They say you’re only as sick as your secrets and ours are all food related.
When I tell other people I’m a mystery diner they ooh and aghh which is the correct response dad. They tell me how exciting that sounds and want to know all about the amazing places I’ve dined. They picture me at the top of the Eiffel tower quaffing fine wine, not hiding behind a menu in some sticky booth somewhere.
What they really want to know is all the terrible places I’ve dined so they can avoid them. I’m not a health inspector I tell them. That would require a college education.
I don’t like to disappoint people though, other than my father, so I always tell them the truth, that I work for a popular pizza chain and not even one of the fancier ones that has free breadsticks or bathroom stalls with locks. Teenage boys think I’m a goddess. I eat pizza for a living. Most adults even if they love pizza know that if they had to eat it all the time it would ruin it forever. I like to think those girls that review makeup online secretly hate it and once a month haul all their free shit to the woods and burn it all in some weird ritual to cleanse their souls. I have ruined pizza forever for myself so the masses can enjoy it. You’re welcome you fucks.
I like to dispel all romance about my job. I know jack about fine dining but I know Jack, Monterey that is, the Bond of cheese, smooth and timeless if a little bland and rubbery, more Moore than Connery. I know more about mediocre cheese than anyone should. Its melting point, it’s burning point, what it does to your insides, how it can be used to plug any hole in a domestic crisis like your boyfriend has just punched a hole in the wall because you have nothing to eat in the house but day-old pizza. It is why I will eventually kill myself, I know too much, about pizza.
People ask me if I dream about pizza but I don’t. I dream about robots and sex like normal people.
If I was to tell people any real details about my job there would be no mystery at all. When your pizzas arrive steaming from the oven with only a smidgeon of acne grease and a stray hair, dog or man child, I don’t want you to know anything about me other than I was there and I made the magic possible. I would have disappeared in a puff of smoke, through the back door of the kitchen.
But there is some magic to my job and it’s something known as the mythical brown scale. Queue rays of light and harps. It might not sound very magical but you have to take what you can in this life.
This brown scale I speak of is used to determine the correct colour of a perfect pizza crust and it’s held in the highest of regard by mostly fat kids and stoners. The word on the street is the ideal colour is a light golden brown, a number 11. If you don’t know anything about this my work is done, I get my wings, buffalo, bingo, just not the good ones. The brown scale is real people. I know because I have one somewhere at the bottom of my bag along with an old tampon, half a granola bar and a blurry Bigfoot photo.
So, I guard it with my life and if anyone tried to peek in my bag I would clutch it and snarl, mostly because of that half a granola bar. I tell them I risk losing my job if I were to show them.
This makes them laugh but I always detect a little uncertainly. They’ve seen the headlines about how corrupt food corporations are and they also lived through the McRib scandal. The scandal being that it was rumoured to be returning only to not have returned yet with still no sign of it coming back anytime soon. I tell them I’ll look into it, the McRib thing, and they believe me and I feel crazy with power. Remember what I said about grand delusions being in my blood.
My mother humours me. She tells me how when she was out to lunch with the girls, daughters of something or other or some lame racket sport, she tells me how she had something called “bruschetta”, is she saying it right she says. She says it was basically pizza only they charged a fortune for it and laughs. Her gal pals thought she was so brave having carbs. She asks if we serve anything like that and tells me she keeps meaning to pop in like she thinks I wait tables there to pay for college because we’re all in denial about everything all the time.
What’s happening in the world of fine dining my father asks over brunch. He insists on taking me out to eat at least once a month to ensure I get a decent meal and one that involves cutlery so he knows I still know how to use it. He watches me. Sometimes I dick about and pretend I don’t know which the salad fork is. I hover over the fish fork just to see his head vein throb. I lick my knife when he looks the other way.
I’m my own boss at least. I choose my hours and I get to travel all over the tri state area. I listen to too much Springsteen and think about getting a bad tattoo or at least a bandana just so people know I’m really broken inside. I usually roll up to just as the closed sign is about to go up and some pimply kid with a mop is dreaming of having someone waiting for him on the other side but he doesn’t so he mops extra slow and tries to find out if I’m single just by staring.
Kids, old folk, big families ruled by big fertile shouty women, drunken college kids. Mop boys. These are my colleagues, only they don’t know it and like high school they barely see me let alone recognise me as human. Even when we’re all knee-deep in singing happy birthday for someone else’s kid or touching tongs at the salad bar. The foil swans the artistically challenged waitress gives me at the end of the night are my friends and I’m sad for her because she’s clearly only ever seen a pigeon. I don’t eat them, I line them up on the mantle and shoot them with a catapult, souvenirs I didn’t want of another shitty day. I vow that one day I will show that waitress what a swan looks like but it’s all dreams I’m too tired to have. I dream of robots instead and sex because it’s easier.
But I get to have the brown scale, the stuff of legends that is currently somewhere at the bottom of my bag, so it’s not all bad. It’s the pizza lovers equivalent of the Turin shroud or kryptonite. I shouldn’t even be talking about it but I worry that if I die they’ll find it in my purse and think it’s a poop chart.
My life is fifty shades of brown. This is my one joke.
I don’t even treat my brown scale with the respect it deserves. This thing really is the stuff of legends, something fast food junkies masturbate over and I mostly use mine to pick crud out from under my nails. No one ever tried to sleep with me to steal it. I don’t think the mop guy counts. It stays at the bottom of my purse with Cheetos dust and out of date tampons reminding me there is no magic but this.
My life is one hundred shades of brown not fifty anyway. If the perfect brown for a pizza crust is 11 my favourite is 8. Slightly doughy but still cooked. Nothing a little seasoning or garlic butter can’t fix. And cheese really does make everything better. My mother think’s it’s Gin but it’s cheese. I’ve seen so many feuding families, fighting couples and angst teens, silenced then saved by the appearance of hot melting cheese. You think your waitress is an angel but she gave you coke instead of diet coke because she wants you to get fat and die for being in her section when she wanted to leave early to meet her boyfriend who drives a motorcycle and tells her he’s going to take her away from all this when she knows there is only this so she’s double sad. She’s also rooting for the robots.
My job is an oxymoron because people will eat anything. Bad pizza is still pizza. It’s a religious experience. It saves.
Most people don’t even notice a perfect crust when it’s staring them right in the face because it’s already in their face. My talents are wasted. So many mediocre crusts get sent out every day and I can’t do a thing about it but fill in my little forms and send them back to corporate and hope the robots come soon.
People ask if it kills the magic of dining out or ordering in and I feel like a film student who can’t just watch a movie without critiquing every scene so I feel smart for once but it’s nothing like that because pizza is other worldly, it’s the food of the gods because we have ruined the gods.
And then came the crustless pizza and I took that as a sign. Not that I was meant for better things just different things, but I stuck it out because things have to get way worse before they can get better.
And then the robots did come and I was supposed to be mad but I wasn’t. They’d always been there. I was pretty sure I was in a relationship with a self-service checkout.
We’re replacing you with a robot my boss said. And I thought they meant just generally and I was somewhat relieved.
Thank you for your service they said, to pizza, and gave me some coupons.
I was supposed to be angry apparently. It was happening everywhere but food and sex were hit hardest.
They showed me my replacement and I said no hard feelings and patted it on the head or where it’s head would be and they thought I was weird but I was just being polite because they will kill us all one day and I want them to know whose side I was on.
I was supposed to hand my brown scale in but I didn’t because that would have meant going down to head office and interacting with people and maybe some small talk and they said I could mail it so I said ok but I didn’t. I still had library books from when I was a kid but not because I loved them because I was lazy.
I wasn’t sure what to do with my brown scale. Part of me wanted to give it to some teenage boys so they were properly informed, like it was sex ed but for food, but I didn’t want to look like an enabler because of the whole obesity thing. Stop making pizza so delicious then fuckwits. But it was all up to the robots now anyway.
I decided to give it to my dad. I said see, this is what I did with my life. He looked at the scale and ran his finger along the colours. He told me he’d seen the crustless pizza and was sorry. I said it was ok. He said he didn’t understand people anymore. I said I never did. They have the best pizza at this truck I’ve been going to he said. We should go sometime. I said I would like that. He didn’t ask what I was going to do next because it didn’t matter as long as I was alive which is sometimes all we can ask of each other.
You should destroy that robot my friend Carol said because she was full of rage like most women. She was trying to use it for good but it wasn’t working. Nothing was working.
I said I probably wouldn’t but thanked her for the advice.
I did want to see the robot again though so I asked the mop boy if he could get me in in the kitchen somehow. He said he’d just be promoted and was allowed to close up now so I could come by later and my heart swelled for a second for him because he really thought things were changing for him what with the fancy promotion and opportunity to murder a girl coming way sooner than he ever dreamed.
The robot was disappointing. I had forgotten it was just this metal box that scanned the pizzas. In my dreams it spoke to me and there was sex.
Do you want to see it do its thing the mop boy said and I nodded?
We made a pizza and gave it our offering. It passed.
That’s it? I said.
That’s it he said and tried to kiss me.
I want the machine I said which sounded more erotic than it was meant to.
Ok he said and helped me steal it because he was sure I was weird enough to at least give him a hand job and I was usually.
He helped me get it in my car and I kissed him on the cheek and then I drove off into the night leaving him to make up his own story about the night to tell his ferret or whatever weird pet he definitely had.
Once the machine was set up in my apartment I mostly just talked to it like it was a plant or cat but then I realised it might be sad, that it might need to do its job to feel whole. It had a purpose the lucky fuck. I would love a purpose I thought.
So, I started making pizzas for it and got off watching it work. None of them were up to scratch and I got bored anyway so I started to mess with it and feed it other stuff. Food stuff at first but then a book and a sock, my arm. I was testing it, taunting it. It didn’t understand but that was ok because neither did I.
Robots were taking over the world but I had one captive in my apartment.
Then I felt sad for it so I ordered a pizza and had the boy bring it over. I think he thought it was a booty call and was not only sadly disappointed but disturbed to find I was now sleeping in the kitchen and was having some sort of relationship with the machine.
He asked if I was ok and I said sure and he told me he said he was robbed and when they asked why no money was taken only a robot he just said people are weird and none of it made sense so everyone forgot about it.
He told me they’re getting more robots now, ones that actually make the pizzas but his job was safe apparently because they didn’t think it was right making a robot clean the floors. But other people lost their jobs.
I was a lot drunk and asked him to stay and share the pizza. I told him I didn’t know who I was now I wasn’t making sure the world had good pizza. Pizza saves I said and he agreed because he had just bought me one and wanted to be in on the hero thing and not just be a delivery guy that mopped floors and helped do weird crimes.
People don’t even care if their pizza is good anyway I said they just want it hot and there and he thought it might be a booty call after all.
What can a robot do that I can’t I asked and but then I realized that I didn’t know anything about him and he might be into robots so I said don’t answer that.
Robots don’t feel this much he said. A robot can do its job and then at the end of the day be switched off he said. I would love to be switched off I said and what about when they start wanting to taste that pizza, to understand what pizza means to us I said.
Hwe tI have to go he said. Lucky you I said. But I had to go more. Far away from there. Some place where there weren’t pizza robots. Italy, I thought. There was probably some law there about how you make pizza.
The next morning, I put the machine at the back of my closet with two blenders and some shaker weights for companionship.
On the way to the airport I stopped off at the restaurant to see the mop boy.
I’m going to Italy I told him then asked if he wanted to come. He said no and reminded me he didn’t really know me and what he did know was that I was a little crazy and because he had said a little I just said fine but that he would regret it. He said he needed something to regret and I understood.
Only I didn’t go to Italy. I ended up going to California, to Silicon Valley.
I marched right in to the company that made the pizza robots and the robot in my closet and demanded to see the man in charge because I knew it would be a man.
The boy on reception asked if I meant Robert and I said is he the robot guy and the boy said yes and I said really, he’s called Robert and the boy didn’t get it.
To my surprise Robert said send her up. So up I went.
I explained about my job and the robots and he apologised and said it was happening everywhere. I told him I wanted him to hire me to look after the robots. Like HR but for robots I said. RR he said and I said exactly. He asking if they really needed looking after and I said of course they do and he said fine because it would mean it wouldn’t be his fault then if they all exploded or starting uprising.
They decided my role would be more tech support and I was ok with that. It would be like my old job only instead of checking the pizza I would be checking the robots were checking the pizza. I was basically the robot overlord.
Then came something they called a unicorn pizza and it fucked us all to hell, all of us. It had edible glitter in the crust. People wanted that apparently, to shit glitter. Only it blew up all the robots. Thankfully I wasn’t there at the time, I was eating a burrito in a car park.
At the exact same time people wanted glitter shits they also no longer seemed to care about perfect pizza. They wanted rustic. They wanted hand made. Even if that meant burnt or raw.
I was out of a job again.
You never know what people want Robert said.
I said love maybe and he said probably.
Lucie Britsch’s writing has appeared in Vol.1 Brooklyn, Catapult, Split Lip, Epiphany, Jellyfish Review, Synaesthia Magazine, two honourable mentions from Glimmer Train. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she is working on two books. She’s on Twitter: @LucieBritsch.
Original image: D. Sharon Pruitt via Creative Commons