PORT SAINT JOE—A pizza joint. The house salads were big enough to feed the Russian Army. The pizzas were cooked in wood-fired ovens. The beer was cold. We had been on the beach all day and were sporting fashionable sunburns.
I can’t think of many things I enjoy more than pizza. Except for, maybe, getting a refund on my taxes. But pizza is definitely near the top of the list.
Most guys my age feel this way about pizza. I once read an article that said each generation has its own favorite foods. The baby boomers, for instance, have cheeseburgers. The Greatest Generation’s favorite food is steak. Millennials like lukewarm kombucha tea with burnt sage droppings.
But when I was a boy, everyone’s favorite food was pizza. At least this is what most children said.
I remember when our school had a magician visit the gymnasium. It was a combination magic-show-pizza-party. And it was great.
The magician’s name was Magic Bob. I’ll never forget this guy. He was middle-aged, overweight, with a walrus mustache, and a ruffled polyester tux.
The gymnasium was a madhouse. Kids sat cross-legged on the floor. Teachers passed huge pizza boxes around like the loaves and fishes. We ate ourselves silly. Children had tomato sauce all over their clothes. Everyone was high on pepperoni and childhood.
And Magic Bob was doing his act.
There was a portion of Magic Bob’s show when he needed a “volunteer.” The whole school raised hands and screamed. I raised my hand, too.
Time slowed down. The world stopped. And it happened. Magic Bob chose me.
I could not believe it. It was the only time in my life that I had been chosen for something that didn’t involve manual labor. Keep in mind, I was not a popular child. My parents named me “Sean,” which, when translated from the original Gaelic, literally means “Picked last for football.”
But Magic Bob picked me. This slightly overweight and middle-aged man who smelled like a chain-smoking Billy goat will never know what it meant to me.
When I joined him on stage, Magic Bob hugged me. I thought he was the greatest. And all of a sudden, I became nervous. Magic Bob was speaking into the microphone making friendly banter.
“So Sean,” his first question went, “what’s your favorite food, buddy?”
I was trying to play it cool, but I completely choked. My mind went blank.
I stuttered. “Huh?”
“I said, what’s your favorite food?”
He whispered, “C’mon kid, everyone’s watching.”
What happened next is something I have regretted for a very long time. I was so nervous that I answered: “I think it’s red.”
WHAT!? “I THINK IT’S RED?” WHAT WAS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH? Red isn’t a food. Besides, red isn’t even my favorite color. What a toadstool! I might as well have told Magic Bob that my mother sewed name tags into my underpants. Which she didn’t.
He placed a hand on my shoulder as if to say, “Ouch, kid.”
To be honest, I don’t remember much after that, except that Magic Bob asked me to help him saw the sixth-grade teacher, Miss Drake, in half. And this was great because Miss Drake was widely regarded as Satanic.
The show ended, everyone applauded, the curtain closed. And I remember when Magic Bob hugged me backstage and said, “You wanna know something? I knew that I was gonna pick you before the show even started. You’re a neat kid.”
And this meant so much to me. I don’t know why. I know that he was just some average middle-aged guy. But on that day, he might as well have been Elvis Presley himself. His words meant everything. I guess it doesn’t take much to make someone feel important.
I often wonder what became of Magic Bob. I mean, nobody can maintain that level of international fame forever. Did Magic Bob retire? Did Magic Bob ever end up doing what all retirees eventually aspire to do and buy a four-seater golf cart? I hope he did.
But getting back to pizza. When the waiter finally placed the huge pizza in front of us, my wife and I almost started singing. We ate so much that we nearly fell asleep at the table.
When we finished our meal, something was weird. Our waiter never brought the bill. We waited for several minutes, but nothing.
I finally had to hunt him down and ask about it.
He said, “No sir, I didn’t forget your bill, there is no bill, someone paid for your pizza.”
“What? You’re joking.”
“I never joke.”
“Who paid for it?”
He shrugged. “Some lady just told me she wanted to buy dinner for you and your wife, so she just… You know… Did.”
He handed me a piece of paper. It was a handwritten note, written by a nice person. No name signed. It read: “Please enjoy your meal, on me.”
The waiter said, “I guess good people really do exist.”
I am writing to whoever bought our pizza, wherever you are. Thank you. Not just for the food. But for picking me.
And if you are reading this, Magic Bob, I thoroughly enjoyed sawing Miss Drake in half.