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Surveying his next culinary masterpiece, Vinny meticulously sprinkled cheese over the sauce. “This pizza will be glorious!” he thought to himself. His 3-cheese pepperoni pizza was almost complete. Slowly but surely, he evenly coated the red circle of dough and tomato sauce with cheese. “Now for the pepperoni.” With incredible care he placed the first pepperoni near the edge of the crust. He slowed his breathing, concentrating intensely on placing the second pepperoni exactly 3 inches from the first. Vinny’s entire world became the pizza, not knowing the passing of time or the number of orders piling up. Vinny was having the time of his life. “Oh glorious pizza, you are my everything. You are my passion, and nothing could ever distract me from the beautiful task of-“
“COME ON, WE GOT ORDERS HERE! STOP DAYDREAMING AND EARN YOUR PAYCHECK VINCENT!” Vinny’s boss came charging into the kitchen, trying to squeeze past the other employees. The bright lights in the unbearably hot kitchen made his bald head shine with a brilliant quality. Vinny’s boss, Mike, was your typical New York pizza shop owner. Mike seemed to always wear the same white shirt every day, and it never ceased to smell of grease. He huffed and puffed as he speed walked towards Vinny. “We have 5 more orders Vincent! You can’t spend 2 hours on every pizza! COME ON!” he snarled in his thick New York accent. Vinny grabbed the other pepperoni’s and hastily placed them on the pizza. Every pepperoni placed incorrectly on the pizza bit away at his mood. “Oh my God, that one is too close to that one…” Vinny thought as he forced himself to haphazardly put them on the pizza. “Sorry sir, I was just making sure that the pizza would be perfect.” Mike rolled his eyes and began his usual rant. “Vin, I think you’re a great guy, I really do, but ya gotta understand that sometimes you just gotta…” Mike’s speech became nothing but noise to Vinny. It distracted him, and he had heard the speech so many times that his ears immediately tuned it out. “…so keep that in mind Vin. Work hard and maybe someday you’ll become the owner! Hahaha!” Mike always ended his speeches with a hearty laugh and a rough pat on the back. Vin braced as Mikes large hand hit his back, nearly knocking him over. He left to go take more orders in the dining room. “Finally free, at least for now.” Vinny thought as he put his now ruined pizza into the oven.
“Hey Vin, you okay?” John shuffled over to Vinny’s station while mixing some dough. John was Vinny’s childhood friend and fellow pizza enthusiast. His long hair was tied up in a tail, much to the boss’s annoyance. His young face and bright attitude contrasted that of Vinny’s. Vinny had aged much faster, his hair turned a dark brown and refused to grow past his neck. He had taken to growing a short beard to cover up a scar he had received in a fight with a cousin years ago. “Yeah Jahn. You know how it is. Sometimes I just get so lost in it, man. Pizza. It’s my life. I love pizza.”
“Are you really still calling me Jahn? I got my nametag fixed dude, it’s not funny anymore.”
“It’s still funny dude, and I’ll never stop. Hey, how did your date with uhhhh…Michelle, how did that go?”
“Bummer man. Dinner was awful. I mean, the food was good but the conversation was as cold as ice. Like, no ice breakers could break this ice.”
Vinny continued to make pizza after pizza as their conversation moved from one strange topic to the next. It was one of the few joys in Vinny’s life, besides making pizza. Closing time wasn’t for another 4 hours, but to every employee it seemed like years. Mike’s Pizza was just like every pizza place in the city of New York, but what tourist can resist an authentic slice of New York? What distinguished Mike’s from all others was Vinny’s pizza. To customers, the source of the significantly delicious pizza was unknown. The kitchen doors open, pizza comes out. The people that visited wondered how such a pizza, so perfectly crafted, down to the space between the pepperonis, the cheese, sauce, dough, and the amazing balance between all components. Whoever this man must be, he must certainly be a genius. But as soon as the pizza was consumed, they left without another thought of the mysterious chef.
“Hey Jahn. What do you want to do later?” Vinny inquired. He had fallen back into his normal routine of pizza making, but at a much quicker pace as to not annoy the boss again. “I don’t know man, maybe…nah we did that yesterday. Hey, how long until we close? I have some sauce on my hands and I don’t want to get my phone dirty.” Vinny looked at John with annoyance and pointed to the large clock over the door to the dining room. “Oh, right. Sorry man.” Vinny chuckled with delight at his friends’ forgetfulness. “I was thinking we could maybe rent a movie, have you ever seen a film called The Room? It’s got this guy named Tommy Wi-“
“OH HELP! FIRE! PASTA ON FIRE!” Carl shrieked and ran for the extinguisher, bumping and shoving everyone in his way. With fire extinguisher in hand he rushed back to the (somehow) flaming pot of linguini pasta and drowned the flame with foam. “Phew! That was a close one!” Carl let out a sigh of relief rested himself against the stove. Vinny angrily cleaned his hands and threw down his towel. “Vin, it’s not worth it, just don’t say anything.”
“Not this time Jahn, I’m tired of his crap.”
Vinny strode over to Carl and stood directly in front of him, his face now a mask of anger. “What the hell are you doing! You know how to cook pasta, I showed you man. So why the hell, HOW the hell did you set it on fire!” Carl scanned the room as if the answer were scrawled on some random object. “Uhhhh, I don’t know Veen, one minute I was cooking and then it was on fire!” Vinny didn’t know how to respond to such an utterly stupid answer. So, he just merely shook his head and walked away. He felt a hot wash of shame come over his face as he walked back to his unfinished pizza. “I can’t believe that man is related to me.” Vinny thought as began to pick up where he had left off. Carl was one of Vinny’s many cousins, but was somehow the least apt at cooking of anyone in the family. He was young and had the rare ability (much to Vinny’s annoyance) the ability to grow out his hair, but he always cut it short. His wardrobe consisted of white tank-tops and jeans. No colors, no personality. He had no ambition, no skills or talents, and seemed to mess up just about everything he touched. Even after Vinny had tutored him in the ways of the family’s “pepperoni secret” style of cooking, he could not create even a decent pizza. Carl, to Vinny, was a hopeless cause. His Italian ancestors would have looked upon him with shame.
“So uh, that movie, The Room? Are we gonna watch it?”
“Yeah Jahn, you gotta see it. It’s amazing.”
Vinny took off his apron and hung it on the rack by the back of the kitchen and went out the back door. “Ah keys, keys, where are my-there you are my friend.” Vinny unlocked his car and opened the door and got in. He had to wait for John, who was undoubtedly being held back by the boss for a regular old conversation. A hearty laugh was heard from the back door, and it opened to reveal John faking a smile and secretly trying to rub his shoulder from the rough pat on the back. “See you guys tomorrow! Hahaha!” Mike waved at them and closed the door. John rushed over and quickly got into the car. “Man, he really hits hard. How am I gonna be able to watch this movie when my shoulder has been dislocated!” John said with a hint of sarcasm. “Quit whining and buckle up, we gotta go before-“
“Hey Veeny! Wait for me!” Carl came barreling out the back door and sprinted for Vinny’s car.
The two groaned in misery as he approached the car. They quickly cut off their symphony of sadness as he entered the car. “Hey Veeny! What are we doing tonight! How about some bowling!” Carl always suggested that they go bowling, even though he was terrible at it. “Sorry Carl, we’re watching a movie tonight.” Vinny replied. Vinny put the car in drive and prepared for the soul-crushing experience of Carl’s endless questions and conversations.
After a relatively joyful night of laughing at the hilariously bad acting of Tommy Wiseau (and very little interruptions from Carl) the three went their separate ways. John went to his apartment upstairs and Carl went to his below Vinny. It was late and Vinny decided to check his e-mail before calling it a night. “Spam, spam, spam, old subscription, spam.” Vinny rested his chin on his hand as he went through his collection of unread junk. Until he noticed an e-mail simply titled “Pepperoni Secret” in between a weight-loss offer and John’s e-mail regarding a strange mushroom he found growing out of the wall. Curious, he thought. Only Vinny’s family knew of the “Pepperoni Secrets” so how could some random person know this? He opened the e-mail and began to read.
“Dear Mystery Chef,
I recently dined at Mike’s Pizza and was amazed by the high quality of the pizza. I would like to meet you in person, this Tuesday during lunch. What I do is tour the country searching for chefs with talent and potential, and you sir have quite the talent for making pizza! I hastily await your response and look forward to our meeting.”
Vinny leaned back in his chair and rain his fingers through his hair. “Oh my God. This could be it. No more Mike. No more back breaking pats on the back. Vinny Luciano, famous pizza artisan.” He smiled at the thought and shut down his computer. “I can’t wait to tell John.”
“That’s awesome man! You’re gonna get your own pizza place and everything!” John said with delight. Vinny had told the other employees about his big opportunity to finally get out of pizza purgatory. Even the boss was excited for Vinny, much to everyone’s surprise. “HEY VINNY, CONGRATULATIONS!” Mike yelled. “I always knew you were the best of us!” He let out a hearty laugh and gave Vinny a hard pat on the back. “Thanks boss. Do you mind if I take John with me?”
“Do what you want Vin, just remember where you and your friend came from! Mike’s Pizza! Haha!’
“Don’t worry boss, I’ll never forget.”
All day, Vinny was met with praises and congrats from the other staff. The only one to not approach Vinny was Carl. “Hey Jahn, you know I’m still gonna call you Jahn when we’re famous.”
“Oh yeah man. Think of all the novelty buttons that say “Jahn” on them that we’re going to sell.”
“Hey Jahn? I gotta have an apprentice. Would you be disappointed if you I told you it wasn’t you?”
John looked at Vinny with a puzzled look and raised an eyebrow. “Not really. I’m not family so you can’t tell me your pepperoni secr-oh Vinny no man. Don’t do that. You can’t do that man.” he said in disbelief. Vinny looked over at Carl, who was drearily stirring a pot of angel hair pasta. “I gotta have someone to pass my talents too when I’m gone, and no one could be better than Carl. He’s practically a blank slate. It’s gonna be difficult, but he’s my cousin. I can’t leave him here. He wouldn’t last a week.” Suddenly, he heard Mike yell and run through the door. “Vinny, HE’S HERE!”
Vinny walked out into the dining for the first time while the shop was open. It was packed, as he had imagined. A man in a nice suit with a briefcase was standing in the middle, waiting for him. Behind him, John came out and stood. Vinny turned back and yelled for Carl. “CARL! Come on out! I need you for a second.” Carl dragged his feet across the tile and leaned against the open door. “Yeah Vin? Want to rub your talent in my face one last time before we leave?” He looked down and scratched his head in defeat. “No Carl, you’re coming with us. As my student.” Carl’s head shot up and gave a look of pure confusion and joy. “Really!” Vinny nodded his head. “Oh Veeny thank you so much I promise not to fail you I will work hard to become as great as you and help you wit-“
“Okay calm down bud. Great to know that you’re on board.”
The three approached the fancily dressed man. He smelled of cologne and pomade, and his black hair was slicked back with a greasy film. “It is great to finally meet the pizza maestro of Mike’s Pizza! Come, we have much talking to do on the way to your new office!” He walked for the door but turned around to notice that all three were following. “I’m sorry, they cannot come. Just you.” He said with a worried expression. Vinny looked at his friends and then back to the man. “Uh, these are my guys. They help me, and they’re my friends. I can’t leave without my assistants.”
“Yes, you can. You won’t need them anymore. Let’s go.” The man replied. He opened the door and motion for him to leave. “No. I’m not leaving without my guys.” Vinny said with solidarity. The man was now obviously perturbed with Vinny’s refusal. “Listen here boy. If you don’t take this you will never leave this restaurant. You’ll stay here forever until you die, in the same position you were today.”
The man clenched his fist and walked towards Vinny and his friends and pointed a single finger at him.
“I WILL HAVE YOUR PEPPERONI SECRETS VINNY! I ALWAYS GET WHAT I WANT!” He yelled. The entire store went silent and all eyes fell upon him. The man noticed the amount of attention he was getting and knew it was time to leave. “Fine. I will get you to sign, someday, somehow you will. I WILL!” He stormed out of the restaurant and hopped back into his limousine. It sped off with a screech and cloud of smoke. Vinny looked at his friends and smiled. “Now, I know what you’re all thinking. Why?” John looked at Vinny and decided now would be the perfect time to use his favorite The Room quote. “Two’s great, but three’s a crowd!” Vinny laughed and turned back for the kitchen. Carl ran beside him. “Yeah, I understand Veen. That office probably didn’t have mushroom.”