Punchies Pizza

Below is an excerpt from the upcoming novel PUNCHIES PIZZA by Justin Andrew Johnson. Audio provided by Patrick Stephenson.

Hello, my name is Jim, and I’m 31 years old. The year was 2009 and I was a pizza guy, as though there was a king of all the pizza realms, as though there was one wicked old guy that made the best pie in your neighborhood, or a neighborhood very far away that would take such a pilgrimage of worth and deliciousness to arrive to. Sink the teeth into something of fresh dough and cheese. I won’t try and convince you of wonderful things like eating pie, but many years ago when I was a pizza guy, I would be sure of one thing: I didn’t grocery shop for an entire 8 months, (with slight exceptions for survival ‘day off’ provisions) because I thought outside of the flat pie, I ate broccoli miniature calzones with fresh spinach, garlic, and stringy mozzarella, folded over in cute and delicious gourmet hot pockets. I figured out how to use those ingredients and survive off the pizza kitchen. I knew my past would thrust me into the future. That’s how I got the job in the first place. 2009, I got out of College, without realizing the overall wacko money industry crash that had been brewing whilst my pals and I were studying music and drinking beers in alleyways and making show posters with copy machines and printer/fax combo ink jets. The after college job market was one to navigate, I substitute taught middle and high school classes in Taunton, Massachusetts, driving fast up route 24 to route 195 to take the back way into town through the Blue Hills parkway. Mellowing out to the crows sitting on the wire outside of Dunkin Donuts. Those 24-hour Dunkies really help save the lives of substitute teachers all over.

Years before that I was a lifeguard, five beautiful sunshine days down the Cape, and one day a week I worked at Punchies Pizza and Submarine counter. Punchies Pizza and Submarine Sandwiches hired me because Jed worked the grill, and he got me the job driving hot Punchies Pies all over the suburbs. Jed liked me, and the partners of Punchies really loved the strip club. I think one of the partners was even dating a dancer and would take her to fancy casinos and stuff. No, wait…he was dating a dancer that would get flown to Vegas to perform and then take the red eye home back to New England. These guys were cool though, and they taught me a lot about loving myself and having a good time. I wasn’t eating much at that time in my life to see how skinny I could be — a real lean lifeguard down the cape with a mean tan, and my shirtless Polaroid portrait was on display hanging above the prep room at Punchies. That’s how I knew I was accepted, because the polaroid was up with the others – of dancers and weird Joe and Mike-type of nights out. I knew there were all sorts of blessings and curses that went along with pizza wizardry. The lunch rush; Jed would be screaming at the grill with hands deep into a bunch of Italian submarine sandwiches and the partners would be thrashing about the phone, and then when those bubbly pies came out of the oven Chris would stack them up with their delivery address on those little slips that smell so nice of carbon pink paper, and the yellow copy too.

So in between doing dishes and putting away the mess, I was a pizza delivery guy. I hated having to start and stop my Volkswagen GTI named Butterclutch all the time, but it was a part of the duty. I loved playing very loud music while transporting Punchies deliveries. I had all the usual fantasies, like smoking weed and delivering the pizza to parties where people invite me in and smoke more weed and laugh and give me hugs and a big tip, and then finally I’d have to leave because instead of changing my life forever and staying at the party, I’d go back to Punchies and pick up the next order, so that I could keep my job. One lady would order a steak and cheese submarine every Tuesday at 12:30 pm; I would whip up her driveway and leave my car running with the door open, pouring out some shrilling guitar solo and the shrieking voice of Chuck Schuldiner. She never took me by the tomato stained tee shirt to drag me into her house and have her with my lips and eat that delivered sub sandwich from Punchies while I pick my things up off the floor and go away till next week.

When I would get back to the shop after the lunch rush Jed would be sitting or leaning against some kitchen equipment with his big, hard belly sticking out from the bottom of his shirt. “This one time, when I was delivering, a lady gave me a tip in all change, I looked at it, stretched out my arm and let the change fall onto her porch at her feet and I gave her these eyes” Jed looked at me like he was going to tickle me and also just staring at me right in the eyeballs. “I walked way with her standing there looking dumbfounded.” Jed was an encyclopedia of pop culture and hilarious antics, and he was known around town to either love you or drive you absolutely mad with all kinds of lawn jobs and peal outs in his Monte-Carlo mailbox killer. I admired his contentment with working the kitchen and living at his parents’ place. They had a big television in the basement and it was always fun to go over there, because he would naturally entertain and be giving his twin sisters a hard time. We kissed a few times, and I think there were just a handful of people that understood where Jed was coming from in is whole atmosphere of the human race. I understood that he was comfortable with staying and manning the wheel in the storm. Like a good employee (scary good), like you weren’t sure if he did something terrible because his beautiful soul would shine through. He wouldn’t let me smoke cigarettes around the raw meat with elbows deep in the eggs, ground beef, spices and meaty fingers making the meat balls.


What he was really doing was giving me shit for being so unhealthy and anorexic and smoking butts while making meatballs. The big picture: he would tell me to make sure to keep my body wonderful for the babes. We would work those big deep bowls with our hands, folding in the raw eggs and spices. I loved it. I loved making meatballs underneath the one hanging light casting a sort of shadow of light within the noir over the stainless steel kitchen worktable. And I knew how to stay busy by keeping the soda pop in the cooler well stocked.

I was back making deliveries, and always making mistakes. Chuck was slaying some guitar riffs and shrieking his voice over some double bass drum storms. While I was ripping past my turns to get a pie to a costumer, I saw his driveway going past in a blur, so I made a maneuver that synched up with my CD player cracking my ears, and tires made noise too. I was able to get into his driveway, like a rally racer pulling into the checker flag wave. I lifted the lid of his pizza pie to see the motion damage. “Oh crap” I told myself. All the toppings had slid over. Cheese, sauce and toppings all rushing to one side of the pie, leaving nothing but the wet, white dough. I walked up to his porch and made the exchange, then got back in my car. He started yelling at me from his porch, “Hey man, Hey this pie is all fucked up! Hey don’t leave, you need to figure this out man!” I stopped from pulling out, and politely shouted back to his porch, “You want me to bring it back, and cook you another one? We can call it in and I can drive back to Punchies, pick it up and bring it back. So that would be like another 45 min, or you could just shake the toppings over to the side, or just fold the whole pizza in half.” He started cursing at me and looking so mad. I felt shitty too, like I was out of control, a rebel with a sweaty pair of shorts, having a word battle with people over messy pizza delivery. It would wreck my days and I would have to change my CD to something more suited for apologetic dealings. The sun would be going down, I wouldn’t have any weed, and I smelled like sauce. However, my mentor was Jed, and I laughed as I imagined him dropping coins on the porches of those who made him feel small. Or maybe we were all just jerks, working the pies. This would stick in my mind for a while and I started driving slower in my Volkswagen GTI. A chicken Alfredo in white sauce, and a pasta meatballs in red sauce exploded in that car. I walked up to the door of the customer holding the aluminum dishes, sandy and wet with Alfredo and meat sauce, and gave them the eyes. “You should see my car, sorry I exploded your dinner. Would you like me to take it back, cook you another one, and drive back? I don’t mind. I was able to save most of the dish and the garlic bread is fine.”

“We’ll take it like this. No problem, and sorry your beach towel got sauce on it.” They gave me an $8.00 tip even though I wrecked their stuff. My attitude started to change over that summer.


Justin Andrew Johnson began in the swamps of Louisiana, but was raised in the New England of old grey buildings, plain beards, junkyards, puritans, and wry suburban want. He makes his current home in the Sierra Nevada range, studying oceans, watching forests burn, nursing birds, and taking lovers to the mountains. He is most pleased when you show him your rosy face and smiling smile.