This is a story about my friends, who rallied around me in North Carolina when things got real for me. It takes place over the past few years, and although I will surely have to talk about the occasional antics that go down in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, New Orleans, Maryland, Upstate New York and Chicago, this adventure has it’s heart in Charlotte. That being said, the tale begins in Columbia, MD.
We were all at Ray’s house in the late hours of the night. It was mid-June and the air was full of electricity, the atmosphere was just finally cooling down and everything smelled muggy and green. The light from the porch-bulb floated hazily up the pebble stone driveway as we stumbled towards the house, shouting at eachother with our ears ringing. We were covered in dirty dry, tired sweat and loving it. Everyone was gasping for air between fits of laughter telling stories about things that happened as little as 10 minutes earlier.
We were just getting back from Merriwhether Post Pavilion, a magical little spot that’s dug into the middle of the woods and lit up like a small mountain town. My best friends and I had just seen Phish set the place on fire.
During the second set I dipped my finger into the bag enough to get my face settled into a weightless grin, and with every muscle in my body relaxed I was my own biggest fan. It was like right after blast-off on a roller coaster; nothing in the world could’ve taken my happiness from me. I invented a whole new dance move. It’s called the Surfer– just watch Michael J. Fox on top of the van in Teenwolf and you’ll get it.
By the time we were leaving the show I had come down just enough to let the weed and beer keep me rolling. Ray, our designated driver, was letting us all crash at his parents’ house only a few blocks away. The banter in the car on the ride home was loud to the point of getting tiring, so by the time we rolled in to Ray’s driveway everything died down. A random silence fell over the car for a second, then Ray turned on the radio just as Jackson Browne belted his best high pitched whine–“Oh won’t you stayy”— and we all started dying laughing again. These were truly good times. I had just graduated from college after coming inches from failing out, twice.
Earlier that day Ray and I went to Wegman’s for groceries and Ray grabbed a couple frozen pizzas for after the show. I stopped him, insisting that we get the raw dough and I make the dang pizza from scratch. During the last 3 years of college I had been working as a cook at a bar on campus and I was known to make some of the best pizza in town. The bar was called West End Station.
“You want to make a pizza?” asked Ray. Ray loves pizza just a little bit more than everyone else.
“I don’t know bro, are you sure,” he said with some concern.
“Trust me bro. I’ll kill it. I got really good at West End.”
“Alright. If you say so.”
I took the frozen pizzas out of the cart and put them back in the fridge and we went to get the dough, sauce, cheese, toppings, beer and everything else. We met up with the rest of the guys at the house and got changed.
By 3:00, Eminence Front was blasting out of Tannen’s trunk on the lot and the sub-woofers were knocking over quarter-full solo cups of warm Bud Light. The sun came down hard on our coolers and tent that day. We stumbled back and forth between our spot and the edge of the woods for hours. At the tent, we sat in camp chairs and talked trash about every show on the whole tour before this one.
We made our way in around 7. Half of our tickets said LAWN and the others were in the Mezzanine somewhere, but did we never did make it to those seats. We seized the 5th or 6th row and our row got crazier as the night went on. Afterwards, there was more drinking and firework-shooting in the parking lot before the ride home. I may not be able to recall everything from that night, but I can tell you we played The Ocean loud as balls with all windows fully down on the way out of the lot.
After our arrival to Ray’s house, shortly after I tripped on the door frame and fell into the living room, I remembered that I was supposed to actually make the pizza.
I put all of the toppings out on the counter and just kind of stared at them in the plastic for a little while.
Eventually, I got everything out of the packages. I flattened the dough and put everything on top, and soon the guys and I were all yelling at Ross who stood by the fridge, chugging milk.
I returned my focus to the pizza, only to find myself yelling at Ross again minutes later. He was no longer Ross though—this was the Body. When Ross gets wasted he turns into the Body.
I slid the pizza into the oven and went back to yelling at the body as he finished two gallons of milk, and God bless him, he didn’t even throw up. Nobody knows how he did it. Ross would have thrown up for sure.
35 minutes later, after a ton of cursing and loud oven-rack shaking, I pulled out of the oven a flat oval of red, white and brown charcoal filled with raw dough. It takes years to build a reputation and about a half hour to destroy it—I think Jimmy Buffett said that. The crowd could only stare at it until I goaded someone to try it, after trying it myself. After a few minutes, the results were in.
“Wha….t the fuuuck. This is the worst pizza I’ve ever had.”
“NOONAN! What is this!”
The other four wouldn’t even try it.
“Guys. I’m sorry. I’m not used to this kind of oven.” I was pissed.
“Kind of oven? It’s a pizza bro. You throw it in, you take it out,” said Tannen.
“No dude, this is not pizza,” Ray said. “This is not a pizza.” That was tough because Ray’s famous catch phrase was “A Pizza’s a Pizza.”
Ray had to order a pizza. To this day I have not been forgiven for my trespasses that night in June. But the next morning, all was temporarily forgotten. The boys had a much larger agenda for me.