No Mushrooms and Life
By the time Jeremiah emerged from his daily newspaper break, he had forgotten all about the call from Ms. Jefferson. His stomach was talking to him, and he opted to spend two-hours worth of his wage on pizza.
The girl answering the phone said, "Thanks for calling Joe's Pizza. Can you hold please?"
By the time Jeremiah's brain could react to the question to make an audible answer, the allotted time for answering was already up; he found himself spending the next five minutes trying to pick up dirty clothes while holding the phone to his ear.
The door opened, but Jeremiah didn't see it. He was too busy pulling a wad of gum that connected his underwear to the carpet to notice the scrawny, curly haired man go to the kitchen and pour a glass of milk that could almost pass for cottage cheese.
"Ah, yes," said Jeremiah. "I'd like to make a pickup order… a medium pepperoni with mushrooms—"
"Make that large with no mushrooms!"
As Jeremiah was jumping nearly out of his pants, Earl sprawled out importantly on Jeremiah's couch.
"Where did you come from?" gasped Jeremiah.
"The door, where else?" Earl's clothes were less maintained than those scattered across the floor, and his piercing brown eyes were offset by a face that was always only nearly half-shaven.
"No," fumbled Jeremiah into the phone, "I was talking to my friend." Sighing and gritting his teeth, he said, "Yes, make that large with no mushrooms."
Already Earl was flipping through channels like a scholar searching for a specific passage in an archaic tome. Without taking his eyes from the TV he called out, "Add breadsticks and some pop too."
Glaring at his friend, Jeremiah added the request through tight lips. "No thanks, that's it," he said before anything else could be added.
Hanging up, he said, "I don't suppose you're paying for any of this?"
Turning his head slowly away from the TV, Earl gave Jeremiah the look of a betrayed mobster. Sitting back, Earl said, "You know I'm down and out right now. Maybe I should leave you alone to your meal." Earl motioned as if to rise, but Jeremiah stopped him.
"No, no… stay for dinner."
Earl had already relaxed back into his spot and laughed at a commercial about flatulent squirrels selling breath mints.
Jeremiah took a seat at the far end of the couch next to the parakeet. There he sat for the next half hour while Earl zipped from one channel to the next. Jeremiah always assumed that Earl had never owned a TV-- Earl's obsessive pursuit of finding his favorite commercials was obviously a sign of poor education.
Finally, there was a knock at the door and Jeremiah's green parakeet Fifi began to chirp madly. As soon as Jeremiah turned to answer the door, Earl tossed a sock at the cage. Now Fifi flapped her wings wildly, squawking louder. Earl tried to hush it by tearing his eyes from the TV and staring the bird into submission, but the bird would not pause. Earl feigned a snapping dog, baring his unevenly colored teeth, and still the bird only got louder.
Jeremiah wandered back into the living room and leaned back into the couch; he was ready for another nap. Earl yanked the pizza from Jeremiah's hands like a mother taking groceries from her children. Earl said, "You know, you need to do a better job at training your pets. This bird-brain is completely undisciplined." The last few words came out a little muffled as he attempted to chew half a slice in one bite and open the pop at the same time.
Not daring to look directly at his friend, Jeremiah just nodded numbly. He grabbed a slice of pizza… and then quickly added a few more pieces to his plate. He sighed as Earl clicked across various talk shows and reality TV that Jeremiah enjoyed… and then slowed down on car commercials and infomercials selling Italian perfume.
Earl started his age-old speech about the conspiracy of automakers taking over the world. "We're all flies in the web," he said. "Big oil industry..." But now Jeremiah was already drifting off, staring out the window at the dimming sky. He wondered what he'd do this weekend. The thought immediately depressed him, as the weekend was always followed by Monday morning, Amy Fizzle and phone calls.
Jeremiah's stomach was dropping, and his appetite faded. What do I want to do with my life? He had asked that question of himself almost every single night for the past decade. And still, close to thirty, he didn't have an answer.
"You gunna eat that pizza?"
Jeremiah handed his plate to Earl. His head dropped back and he closed his eyes. He wanted to get out of here and do something but he didn't know what. Sighing, he considered taking a shower or a walk… or getting a beer.
"Me too," said Earl.
"What?" asked Jeremiah.
"I want a beer too."
"What are you talking about?"
Earl's brown eyes displayed wild skepticism in Jeremiah's sanity. "You just said you wanted a beer. I say it sounds like the perfect thing to finish off dinner." His eyebrows were raised in questioning anticipation.
"I didn't say anything," said Jeremiah.
Earl laughed like like he was in on some old joke they shared. He said, "You need a vacation, my friend."
For the first time ever, Earl said something worthwhile. Jeremiah said, "You're absolutely right."
Earl just nodded for a while, then asked if Jeremiah would mind fetching a beer from the fridge.
"I don't have any," said Jeremiah.
"Oh…" said Earl. "Don't you think you ought to get some?"
"Why don't you go get some?" asked Jeremiah, ready to take a shower and make plans for a vacation.
"Well…" said Earl, "you're the one with the great job right now. Besides… it's getting a bit late to use the buses."
For a moment Jeremiah considered handing his keys to Earl, but the thought was immediately banished by two billion years of evolution-refined circuitry in his skull. He said, "All right. I'll get you a beer. But I'm going to drop you off on the way back home."
"That's cool," said Earl, smiling hesitantly. "Of course, you won't need to drop me off anywhere."
"What do you mean?"
"Well… I'm staying with you for a while now."
Jeremiah's head was hit by a tidal wave, and he no longer needed a beer to give him the feeling of dizziness. Yet, he needed a beer more than ever.
To be continued...