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The Pizza Man: Student Journalism Part 5

[This is a story by Georgetown senior Lyndsey Weiner, and it's very funny. I've trimmed a lot of it, so consider this just a couple of slices from the pie. Also, I've changed the name of the principle character.] [Um, also of the principal character.]

The Pizza Man

By Lyndsey Weiner

John Melrose is serious about pizza. It's a third of his diet. Nothing comes between him and his pizza.
Armand's pizza is on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Veazey Street in Tenleytown, DC. One of eleven locations, this Armand's has indoor and outdoor seating. Outside, tables with checkered tablecloths sit under a circus-tent awning. Under the awning is a life-size statue of a fat man wearing an apron. He used to hold a menu but now his hand is broken at the fingertips. It's 7:30 on a chilly Wednesday in April. Almost all of the tables are occupied.

John Melrose is wearing khaki shorts, a white t-shirt and a nylon blue and red pullover, which says INDIANS on the front. He is overweight but not fat. He has brown hair and is clean shaven. He wears tortoiseshell glasses with silver decorations on either side of each eye. He has brown eyes; his handshake is weak. He doesn't wear a wedding ring.

Melrose won't reveal his age, "Thirties," he says, "let's go with 35, wait; change that to 27, just kidding." He looks forty.

Melrose orders a Diet Coke. When it comes he takes the lemon out and puts it on the red and white tablecloth. His favorite is Vanilla Coke but they don't have it at Armand's.

It's 7:45 and Wisconsin Avenue is noisy. The outside tables are beginning to empty. Waiters in black clear dishes and push in chairs.

"Meatzza, that looks hardcore," Melrose says, reading the menu. He's a regular at Armand's. He orders the Meatzza with mushrooms, deep dish.

"I order one pizza a week and eat it for three days," he says, "I eat pizza for brunch; eleven or noon I have pizza, but never eight or nine. Pizza three times a day can be too much, but you should eat it when it's best, even if that means two meals a day."

He used to order pizza once every other week, but since starting his job in Virginia, he says, he orders it once a week. As the meal goes on it becomes clear that the once-a-week figure is a gross underestimate.

Melrose's favorite delivery pizza is Papa John's, one of a string of pizza places between the Tenleytown Metro and his house. Twice a day he walks by Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Pizza Boli's, Armand's and Noble Roman.

Six months ago, Melrose was a dissatisfied pizza delivery customer. Now he is an activist.
Melrose started wearing a digital watch in order to keep track of delivery times. "It's 8:10 and you ordered your pizza at 7:45 and you're thinking, where's my pizza, well, that's where digital watches come in," he says, "when I hang up the phone the clock is running so I can tell the guy, listen, I've been clockin' you pal."

Melrose pauses to watch a class of middle school kids pour off a tour bus in matching t-shirts. "NY to DC," the shirts say, with an American flag under the words. The kids run into Armand's and fill up a room of indoor tables. Lucky we ordered before they got here, he says.

"I used to like Pizza Hut," Melrose says, "but no Dominoes, ever. It's crap and I had a bad experience with them. I like Papa John's enough so as long as I know five minutes after the time they told me I'd call them, 'you know where my man is?'

"Sometimes I'd get the deals," he says, "chicken fingers, just wonderful. I usually got one large pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms, great and tasty combination, or sometimes chicken alfredo pizza, or ham and onions, was it onions? It was good. I kinda got into that for a while, very standard, classic."

It's been 20 minutes since Melrose ordered. "We should have looked at our watches to know the exact time," he says.

"I moved here last August," he says. He gestures to his building, "first I got the lay of the land, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Noble Roman, I never did try that. I'm never going to order from Dominoes even though it's right by the Metro. Papa John's and Pizza Hut both stunk in terms of delivery but the pizza is good. When I'm feelin' I've got some extra cash I walk here [to Armand's]. Little Caesars? I've had to eat that stuff. Pizza Boli? It's okay. Pizza Movers? It's okay. I like thick crust pan pizza not thin, once I didn't specify deep dish and I ate the whole thing in one night, nothing to it, where's the beef?"

"Pizza Hut pizza is wet when you reheat it. I use the microwave. You can fire up the oven but I'm too lazy. 4-5 beep! Especially for brunch. Why not eat it in its best state? Not all clumpy. Pizza Hut can have soggy leftovers but they do have a good meat one, a deep dish.

"This is my fourth day in a row of Armand's. On Friday I tried to get Papa John's but it didn't work out. By Saturday I wanted a hearty pizza lunch so I got the old Chicago Combo from here. That's eight slices. I had two of eight for lunch, two for dinner, with a nice salad, two on Monday and two on Tuesday.

"I like to let it sit with the lid closed for a few hours till it cools. I used to wrap it in foil but I bought a Tupperware set. Now I slam it in the fridge and slam it on a plate and I'm good to go. Sometimes I run out of Tupperware, I have three sets in the fridge right now, with one slice of pizza in each container. It's a veritable cornucopia of Tupperware in my fridge."

Melrose pulls out his phone, a compact model, not a flip phone. He reads from his phonebook: "Armand's, Banana Republic, Comcast, Dell, Dentist, I should scroll down to the Ps, Papa John's, Pizza Boli, Pizza Hut, when you're working you can save time."

The pizzas arrive and Melrose asks the waiter for silverware. The surface of his Meatzza is brown; no sauce or cheese is visible. He takes a bite, "the sausage is very spicy," he says, "I'm not a virtual Mexican you know." He takes big bites. When he brings the fork to his mouth the sleeve of his jacket slides down his arm, revealing a huge digital watch.

After one piece he says that he's trying to cut back on pizza. "I started thinking about my cardio condition." Pizza, sports and Vanilla Coke are a great combination, he says....

....Melrose decided to order his pizzas online. He expected five or ten extra minutes for processing but an hour passed with no pizza. He called Papa John's and they couldn't help him, so he called the national comment line and left a message. Half an hour and no pizza later Melrose called Papa John's back:

Melrose: Where is my pizza?
Papa John's (preformed by Melrose in a weird accent): We're making the pizza.
Melrose: Why didn't you make it already?
PJ (accent gets more pronounced): Order displaced.
Melrose (screaming): What are you going to do to make me whole?
PJ: We can't do anything because you ordered online.
Melrose (calls corporate and leaves another message): Hi, I'm not sure if you got my last message, but (screaming) where is my pizza?

A week later: Melrose gets a coupon in the mail for chicken fingers and a large two topping pizza for $15.99 and a magnet with which to adhere the flyer to the fridge....

[And so on....]

In his email to corporate Melrose wrote that he would never eat Papa John's pizza again. "But before I sent it I changed it to 'I'll never order Papa John's pizza again' to give myself a little wiggle room," he says. "I'm a man of principle. I don't want to go back on my word."

--- by Lyndsey Weiner

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 16, 2005; 10:20 AM ET
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It's principal, not principle in this case.

Posted by: wish to remain anonymous so high anxiety won't attack me personally | May 16, 2005 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, wish-to-remain-anon -- that "principle" thing was driving me nuts.

Posted by: Tom fan | May 16, 2005 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Both previous commentors...Umm, sorry, wrong, pease see comment below from the American Heritage Dictionary...

"Principal and principle are often confused but have no meanings in common. Principle is only a noun and usually refers to a rule or standard. Principal is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it has specialized meanings in law and finance, but in general usage it refers to a person who holds a high position or plays an important role: a meeting among all the principals in the transaction. As an adjective it has the sense of "chief" or "leading": The coach's principal concern is the quarterback's health."

Posted by: RH | May 16, 2005 12:47 PM | Report abuse

. . .which means "principle character" is wrong, and "principal character" is correct -- just as my friend wish-to-remain-anon said.

Posted by: Tom fan | May 16, 2005 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Dear wishing to remain anonymous,
You do me wrong, you do.
Since we're all shrouded in anonymity here, how could I possibly attack you personally?!?
That really hurts!
Just when I thought it was safe to get back in the blog, I get hurt again. I just can't take it!!! Even a blogmeister like Joel should be able to make a teeny tiny mistake and not get shamed about it!!!
What's wrong with you people?!
That does it.
I'm really gone this time.

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 16, 2005 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Never mind my stupid mistake, what about her story?? You should read it. It's the principal of the thing.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 16, 2005 2:57 PM | Report abuse

"We have met the enemy, and it is us."

-- Pogo

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2005 2:59 PM | Report abuse

The guy in this story is the principal reason I have made a principle of not eating pizza. The stuff is just too darned addictive.

Posted by: Addict | May 16, 2005 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Nice story. Melrose sounds to pizza what Ignatius was to hot dogs in "A Cofederacy of Dunces"...hard to go wrong w/a rich character.

Posted by: Black Olives N. Shrooms | May 16, 2005 3:26 PM | Report abuse

This could have been an interesting story but there's way too much superfluous detail that bogs it down and made me bored.

Posted by: Glenn | May 16, 2005 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I like the story, I like pizza, it's all good, but this bothered me:

"His handshake is weak. He doesn't wear a wedding ring"

In the "show it, don't tell it" style, is this the author's way of saying the pizza eater is gay?

It just slowed me down, and distracted me from the meat (and cheese) of the story.

Posted by: Me again | May 16, 2005 3:49 PM | Report abuse

What do you take me for?!
Of course, I read the story! I read everything, including the provocative reference to me!
Since you insist, the kid has a remarkable knack for character development through the assortment of odd, offbeat details she chose to convey. The spare, linear language is deceptive because just when you think there's not going to be much to it, the story is quite rich and draws the reader to a place right there at the checkered tables in Armand's. The wildest achievement is Melrose, who is one of those characters we sometimes happen upon in life and literature and an inordinate amount of time passes before we realize we're dealing with someone who's crazy! A character who controls his environment by limiting it to the stalking of meals that consist of variations on pizza. When does he find time to hold down a job? Maybe in the next chapter he gets fired!

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 16, 2005 4:12 PM | Report abuse

The no-wedding-ring reference doesn't imply that Melrose is gay, but rather additional evidence to support that this is an eccentric individual who is probably accustom to flying solo

Posted by: Black Olives | May 16, 2005 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Ah, I think I'm starting to get it: High Anxiety's anxious state isn't for real; it's just part of his/her blog persona. (Well, duh, I hear you say.) I'm rather relieved. I'd been a bit worried about H.A. In actual fact, he/she has probably been sitting there this whole time smiling peacefully while punching out all those exclamation marks. Perhaps I'll switch my allegiance and become an H.A. fan.

Posted by: Tom fan | May 16, 2005 4:46 PM | Report abuse

See Anon-y-mouse? Tom fan likes me just the way I am, too!!! Imagine that!
Also about the story, I really felt sorry for the Pizza Man. Deeply ensconced in pizza-myopia as he is, he probably thinks his Pizza Life is really huge and it's pitiably, quite small. Made me want to cry, especially the screaming on the phone to customer service about his pizza ETA. It should cause us to wonder if we have places in our own lives where we're kind of small and crazy about things. Like me feeling really fragile about public blogging and stuff.

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 16, 2005 4:53 PM | Report abuse

This is truly beautiful.

Posted by: Dreamer | May 16, 2005 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to read the story unedited.

Posted by: Ryan | May 17, 2005 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I don't think there are too many details at all. These details are priceless:

"'Lucky we ordered before they got here,' he says."

"'I used to wrap it in foil but I bought a Tupperware set.'"

"When he brings the fork to his mouth the sleeve of his jacket slides down his arm, revealing a huge digital watch."

"In his email to corporate Melrose wrote that he would never eat Papa John's pizza again. 'But before I sent it I changed it to "I'll never order Papa John's pizza again" to give myself a little wiggle room,' he says."

I love it . . .

Posted by: Achenfan | May 17, 2005 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Enjoyed the story a lot. Held my attention. It was a bit "pitchy" in the middle (just a joke, for Idol fans). Nice writing, good use of details. It has a good rhythm to it. Now about the specific topic, let me say this: One kid of mine only wants Dominos, the other only wants Pizza Hut, while I like Papa Johns (and no one wants the anchovies that I like to have on there). It's pitiful. Sometimes we spend $40 on pizza. But we do have leftovers for days, so we manage to redeem it somehow. And leftover pizza is the best.

Posted by: Karen | May 18, 2005 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Is this student a fan of Bob Greene? This piece is written very much in his style.

Posted by: Not Bob | May 18, 2005 4:18 PM | Report abuse

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