The following Paul Chambers “slice” was inspired by the #CDC7 — a list of seven words the Centers for Disease Control have, according to some reports, been told not to use. Those words include:
fetus, entitlement, diversity, transgender, vulnerable, evidence-based, and science-based
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A Paul Chambers slice by Rob Cline
I was the last to arrive at Passable Pizza. Frank Passable – owner, manager, and namesake of the restaurant where I was underemployed as a delivery driver – had sent out a text to all his employees that Sunday morning.
“Emgy stf mtg @ 1o:3)”
This cryptic message was followed by the eggplant emoji.
The text arrived just as my friend Mrs. Lopshire and I were leaving church.
“Looks like Frank is sitting on his phone,” I said, showing the text to Mrs. Lopshire.
“Oh, no dear,” she said. “I think he’s calling an emergency staff meeting for 10:30.” She checked her watch. “That’s about 20 minutes from now.”
I was chagrined that my octogenarian friend had deciphered the text with such ease, but I didn’t have time to focus on my apparent inability to live in the contemporary world. If Frank had a bee in his bonnet about something, it would behoove me to be on time.
After dropping Mrs. Lopshire at home, I kicked into what I called “Pizza Delivery Driver Mode” – a style of driving that included pushing through pinkish traffic lights and cutting through parking lots to string together a more direct route to the restaurant. Even so, I was a couple of minutes late.
“Ah, Paul Chambers has decided to join us,” Frank said as I stepped into the kitchen. The staff – about 20 in all – was gathered around the make table with the huge pizza oven looming over us. “Thank you for gracing us with your presence.”
“Thanks for inviting me, boss,” I said. “Happy to be here.”
He looked skeptical, which was fair, but he let it go. I mentally tallied a successful application of the 32nd Rule of Peaceful Pizza Delivery: “When talking to the boss, agreeableness is like cheese. You can’t lay it on too thick.”
I cast a quick look at my assembled coworkers, and it was clear that the meeting had come as a surprise to one and all. B.J., one of my fellow drivers, was dressed in sweats and a ratty t-shirt, which may have been gym wear, pajamas, or both. Jared’s oil-stained coveralls suggested he’d been tinkering with his car, probably as a result of a dirt track dustup at the local track. I was wearing a button down shirt and a bowtie – a gift from my girlfriend which Mrs. Lopshire had to tie for me.
For his part, Frank was wearing his standard attire – black pants, shiny with pizza grease and a little too tight, and a collared red polyester Passable Pizza polo. The restaurant’s name appeared on the left side in white block letters. Oddly, there appeared to be a bit of black tape coving the word “Pizza” on Frank’s shirt, like you see on television when they cover the logo of a company that doesn’t sponsor the show.
“So, I’ll bet you’re wondering why I called you all together,” Frank said. For a moment, I was sure the next line was: “One of you is a murderer.”
But what he said instead was no less shocking.
“An investor, who wants to remain anonymous, has approached me with a very generous offer to infuse some cash into our operation.”
“How much cash?” B.J. wanted to know.
“He doesn’t want everyone to know the actual number,” Frank said, “but let’s just say it’s enough that I could give you all a raise.”
Some folks perked up at this news, but I hadn’t missed his use of “could” rather than “would.” Frank wasn’t a trickle down kind of guy.
“Now, all we have to do to get the money,” he was saying, “is make a few changes to the way we talk about our product.”
“What kind of changes?” Gina asked. She popped her gum and rapidly tapped the heel of one of her motorcycle boots on the tile floor. Gina worked the counter and took delivery orders over the phone. Changes to the menu would have immediate effects on the frontline of the operation.
“Nothing major,” Frank said with a placating gesture. I always suspected he was a little afraid of Gina. “We just have to stop using seven words.”
“Say what now?” Steven, another delivery driver, asked.
“No, not ‘say what.’ Not say what,” Frank said. “For example, we’re going to stop saying ‘pepperoni.’”
A sound of disbelief blew through the kitchen.
“Bossman,” Gina said, “pepperoni is our top seller. We can’t stop selling it.”
Frank looked pained. “We’re not going to stop selling it. We’re going to stop saying it.”
Gina’s tapping heel picked up its tempo. “And what am I supposed to say instead?”
“Well,” Frank said, “our investor thought maybe ‘meat circle’ would work.”
“Good name for a band,” Gina replied. “Bad name for a topping.”
“Look, we can massage the names. Maybe Chambers’ girlfriend can come up with something. She’s always writing those newspaper stories and whatnot. Good with words, you know?”
“Not sure renaming toppings is her line,” I said. “Amanda’s more of a call a pepperoni a pepperoni kinda gal.”
“Whatever,” Frank said. “We can work on this later. Let me get through the list.” He took a deep breath. “Our investor also wants us to stop saying ‘cheese.’”
This was met with a chorus of “What!” and “Why?”
“He’s lactose intolerant,” Frank said with a shrug. Sensing he was losing control of the meeting, he blurted out three more verboten words. “Can’t identify olives or peppers as ‘green’ because he doesn’t believe in climate change. Can’t say ‘deep dish’ ’cause he thinks it sounds porny. Can’t say ‘anchovy,’ ’cause it reminds him he can’t swim.”
Truthfully, the delivery drivers might have been able to get behind a ban on “anchovy.” Chauffeuring a pie covered in anchovies could leave behind a stench that threatened to render one’s pizza wagon uninhabitable. The search for an effective air freshener was ongoing.
Also, anchovy aficionados were notoriously bad tippers.
But then Frank said something the drivers wouldn’t be able to get behind.
“Can’t say ‘delivery.’”
“Oh, come on,” several of us said at once.
“Look,” Frank said, a blush rising from the collar of his shirt and overtaking his face, “he says the word ‘delivery’ reminds him of women giving birth.” He tugged at his collar. “Reproduction stuff, especially, you know, vaginas” – he whispered the word as though some in the room might never have heard of vaginas – “make him uncomfortable.”
“I hear that,” Jared said, but only because he was gay.
Meanwhile, it looked like Gina might lead a walkout of the female staff, but Frank held his hand in the air. “Just one more word,” he shouted over the growing roar of frustration in the room.
We quieted down to hear the final word. And just as Frank opened his mouth, I remembered the tape on his shirt.
“He doesn’t want us to say ‘pizza,’ does he?” I asked.
I wanted to cross the room and tear the piece of tape right off Frank’s shirt. He seemed to sense this, placing his hand over his heart as thought he might start reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
“That’s right, Paul,” he said, a bit of defiance creeping into his voice. “We can’t say ‘pizza.’ That’s the deal.”
“You can’t be serious,” I said. “Why can’t we say the name of our product?”
“Listen,” Frank said, “this guy, he believes in pizza. He enjoys the benefits of pizza personally. He acknowledges that overall, pizza has been good for the people of America.”
“But he doesn’t want to promote anything from a foreign country.”
“Right,” I said. “And what does he propose we call what we sell?”
“He’s leaning toward ‘patriotic pie.’”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
“He’d also like us to include some language – maybe on the napkins or something – that says, ‘Our product is made in consideration with community standards and wishes.’”
“I’ll bet someone is wishing for a meat circle patriotic pie right now,” Gina said.
Nadine, who served as something of a den mother to those of us who drove patriotic pies around, piped up from the back.
“So, we can’t say pepperoni, cheese, green, deep dish, anchovy, delivery, or pizza. Is that right?”
Frank seemed relieved to hear this recitation, perhaps mistaking it for a show of support. “That’s exactly right, Nadine. Seven little words is a small price to pay for what our new friend is offering.”
And then there was a ding from the phone holstered to Frank’s belt. He dropped his hand from his heart to his holster and yanked out the phone.
He read the text. His eyes widened. He turned red. He turned pale. He holstered the phone.
“Deal’s off,” he said. He tugged the tape from his shirt. “Forget the whole thing.” His shoulders slumped as he turned to his cramped office.
“What happened?” I asked.
Frank shook his head sadly. “He wants to change the name from Passable Patriotic Pie to Tremendous Patriotic Pie.”
The loss of the alliteration seemed a shame, but I had to admit “tremendous” seemed better than “passable” for the name of a business. But I kept this thought to myself.
“Some things aren’t for sale,” Frank Passable said. “As long as I’m here, we’re Passable…” He paused, a wistful look in his eyes. But a look of resolve replaced it.
“We’re Passable Pizza.”