Clark taught me to make pizza. He was the shift manager at the local pizza shop I worked at the summer before my senior year of high school. The pizza parlor was nice enough, big enough to house a children’s birthday party but it only had one arcade machine. The floor usually needed mopping and the bathrooms usually needed cleaning. Neither of which was my job.
I worked on the pizza line, creating pies using the legal limit of pepperoni (eight for a medium, twelve for a large) so the owner wouldn’t explode. Clark always snuck a few extra.
I had just passed my driver’s test. I drove a Geo Tracker with no air conditioning. It did have a CD player though. Growing up in a conservative Christian home I was never allowed to listen to rock-n-roll. I was too afraid to play it in front of my parents.
Clark grew up in the 70's and 80's. He had the psychedelic stare where he would look at the wall and not move. Too much LSD the previous decades I suppose. Clark was a shift manager so he was in charge of the satellite radio. This usually meant Classic Rewind, the classic rock station.
Clark could name every song, Pink Floyd to Black Sabbath. He knew it all. Somehow listening to these old rockers made sprinkling cheese and burning my fingers a little more bearable. The only time he seemed annoyed with me was when I asked if the song playing was Bon Jovi.
"Bruce, are you kidding me? This is Led Zeppelin" he scoffed.
I was ashamed.
Saturday nights were the busy ones. The owner would work a shift from time to time, mostly to prove that he was still in charge, not because he wanted to help. He was running the dough machine and an order rang up for a large and a medium pepperoni and mushroom. He ran the dough through the machine and I cut it to size, a medium ten-inch pizza.
“What the fuck are you doing? Are you fucking stupid? Did you hear me say cut that into a large?”
“There wasn't enough dough for a large! It barely fit a medium!” I retorted.
“Don't you fucking talk back to me. You listen to me you little piece of shit. I said to cut it to a large.”
“Knock it off Ed, It's not a big deal Jesus, just run some more dough,” Clark said as he came to my defense.
He gave me a wink and turned on the radio.
I took a week off from the restaurant for high school football training camp. It wasn't uncommon for Clark and me not to share a shift for a week or two, the schedules were random and often made by someone who just smoked their third bowl.
Going on the fourth week without sharing a shift with Clark, I was getting bored with the country music station and asked where he had been, usually, he works the late shift.
“Clark’s dead” Rusty the shift manager said bluntly.
“What?” I said, absolutely shocked.
“He hung himself three weeks ago.”
Rusty went back to work, shaking his head like I was insane. I stared at the dough hook as it spun the soggy mass of flour around in circles again and again slowly getting fed up with the honky-tonk blasting through the place.
I grabbed the remote that Rusty kept near the cash register and changed the station to Classic Rewind. No one said a thing.