The waiter said, “No sir, I didn’t forget your bill, there is no bill, someone paid for your pizza.”

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?”

No answer.

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.

23 comments

  1. Sandi. - August 24, 2019 6:00 am

    Sean, I thought you were going to say that a much older Magic Bob paid for your pizza because he recognized you! What a nice surprise that a stranger treated you and Jamie to one of your favorite foods! Who doesn’t love good pizza?

    Reply
  2. Paula Ramsey Pickett - August 24, 2019 7:33 am

    I love your writings…but especially when writing about my home. You really have a great sense of who we are in PSJ…from the Port Theatre, our beaches and even our pizza. Thanks for picking us!

    Reply
  3. Karen - August 24, 2019 10:18 am

    This is one of my favorite stories you have ever told. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  4. Carolyn - August 24, 2019 11:36 am

    One of my favorites too. The sentence, “I guess it doesn’t take much to make someone feel important” is so true….it has been in my life.
    …..so Sean, I pick you!

    Reply
  5. Alice Durham - August 24, 2019 11:58 am

    If I could chose anyone in this world to sit in my porch swing with for a few hours, it would be you. Someone who was so kind and genuine and exactly what you had hoped he would be(especially when you come running at him like a lunatic) One pizza is a small price to pay for the kind of hope that gives folks. Thanks to you, Sean.

    Reply
  6. Joe Patterson - August 24, 2019 12:23 pm

    Thanks again

    Reply
  7. Connie Havard Ryland - August 24, 2019 1:00 pm

    Sweet story. There are good people left in the world. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  8. Elizabeth - August 24, 2019 1:23 pm

    Lukewarm kombucha tea with burnt sage droppings, hysterical!!! And I love a good cheeseburger!

    Great one!

    Reply
  9. Jay Southerland - August 24, 2019 1:29 pm

    Well, Sean, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your stories. I am 61 and from Perry, FL, a small town in the panhandle of Florida. Much of what you write about is very familiar to me. If it I wasn’t from Perry, I would enjoy your writings. I would call the, very human, real, if you will. Thank you for sharing and God bless.

    Reply
  10. Gloria Knight - August 24, 2019 1:55 pm

    I don’t think I’d survive the day if I didn’t have your columns to read. We moved to TN from GA last March to be near our grandchildren. So now I’m in the land of (gag) orange & Rocky Top– neither of which have I adopted, Even Bed Bath & Beyond sells orange stuff! Still rooting for Auburn, GA, & GA Tech teams. Loved when AU beat TN in the basketball tournament! All that to say, I need my dose of Sean each morning because you speak my kind of people words. In our lake community, most of our neighbors are from “above the cheese line”, as they call it. Thanks for giving me a taste of home every morning!

    Reply
  11. Deb Laslie - August 24, 2019 2:02 pm

    Your words are always inspiring…you make my mornings. And we’re selling lots of your books! Stop by to see us next time you’re in Cullman, AL — Deb Laslie ~ Deb’s Bookstore

    Reply
  12. Grace - August 24, 2019 2:25 pm

    Great one!! What a great guy Magic Bob was! Actually a therapist!! Thanks! Laughed out loud.

    Reply
  13. Marilyn - August 24, 2019 2:44 pm

    Great fun; I pick you too! Love my mornings with you!

    Reply
  14. Helen - August 24, 2019 2:50 pm

    What a good delicious pizza story but the key to your story is kindness from a stranger. The world is so full of arrogance these days but somewhere, and somehow there are others out there who still see humanity as a blessing to be among others. I hope Magic Bob read your story. Not sure about Miss Drake. (lol) She will probably still try to give you a bad grade. Have a great weekend and enjoy pizza and maybe another good person will treat you again.

    Reply
  15. Susan Kennedy - August 24, 2019 3:29 pm

    Now I want to go have pizza with you and your sweet wife. I’ll pick up the tab! 😉💕

    Reply
  16. Keith Bland - August 24, 2019 5:08 pm

    Love the story and most likely have eaten at the same place. I would have feared being picked by Magic Bob and never would have raised my hand. I heard you speak in Lynn Haven on behalf of the Live Like Drew Foundation and these are the same things that Drew did in his life…..more for others than for himself. He immediately came to my mind when you found out that someone paid for your meal. LLD!

    Reply
  17. Dianne Riedl - August 24, 2019 6:16 pm

    Jo Mamas, the best! I love you love our little area and thank you for supporting us!
    Dianne Riedl

    Reply
  18. Ala Red Clay Girl - August 24, 2019 7:39 pm

    Just goes to show how one little act of kindness can sometimes have a lifetime effect.

    Reply
  19. Linda Moon - August 24, 2019 7:48 pm

    The Gaelic definition of Sean may have fit you as a chubby kid who likely wasn’t chosen for football ’til last, if at all. My name means “Beautiful” in Spanish. I would’ve never been chosen to be the in the Beauty Pageants In High School, much less win one. You were predestined and fore-ordained to be chosen by Magic Bob. I bet you’ve heard that in your Fundamentalism. Us readers choose you every day and would buy you pizza if we ever run across you in a pizza joint!!

    Reply
  20. That's jack - August 25, 2019 3:16 am

    Pick me, Pick me! I like free pizza too!
    Other than that, In another life I was a Magician, and yes I picked the kids in advance, but you knew that didn’t you? You do that too, huh?
    Enjoyed the read, drop by the house if you get a chance, presently in NC.
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  21. Teri Henry - August 25, 2019 1:10 pm

    Once again you made me smile as I was drinking my morning coffee. Today I read your article allowed to my husband. He has the attention span of a gnat but I thought since it had a Magician named Bob he would listen. He is also a Bob of sorts (Robert) and unfortunately likes to refer to himself as dirty Bob after he has had few cocktails. But anyway – he smiled, listened and asked “who is that guy again”? I explained that you are a red headed southerner that has brought the daily “column” back to life. He said “no wonder is he’s so good, he’s a redhead”. This meant a great deal to me because I’m a redhead too.
    Here’s to redheads, pizza and Magic Bob.

    Reply
  22. Edna B. - August 25, 2019 5:59 pm

    I loved this story. It really doesn’t take very much to make some folks feel important. When my little dog Pogo rubs his face on me (his way of kissing) and then looks up at me, I feel very important–and happy! And, I love pizza and redheads. It sure is nice to know that there are still so many wonderful folks in this world. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  23. Shelton A. - August 26, 2019 2:39 am

    Sean, you are known as a good man. So, some good person bought you dinner. You may have made his or her name several times and was just returning the favor. Goodness is contagious sometimes. Shout out to Magic Bob!

    Reply

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