After years of unsuccessful searching, Big John finally found a job that truly fit his unique qualifications.
Big John, who lived upstairs in apartment 3-G, was not lazy. Being unemployed for months at a time does not happen without effort. Repeatedly losing jobs may seem like child’s play to some, and I’m sure that among those with high qualifications and big downside risks, the ax falls sharply. But for people like Big John, who had no education to speak of and whose strongest suit was sitting around in his boxer shorts, it was surprisingly difficult to get fired. The types of jobs John’s qualifications brought - fast food, stock boy, custodial - were the exact positions that could, if one was not careful, develop into lifelong occupations. They were nearly impossible to lose. John learned this lesson the hard way, getting stuck at a Pizza Hut for nearly nine months.
As I said, he was not lazy. His downfall was that he was too smart for dumb work, yet too unfocused to be reliable. At moment’s notice, John would hitchhike to Columbus because it might be fun. Columbus, Ohio. You can do this while at Pizza Hut. Heinz frowns on such behavior. When the time came for Big John and pepperoni to part ways, he found that breaking up was, indeed, hard to do. Thanks, Neil Sedaka.
Big John was fond of only one aspect of a democratic society, and that was the unemployment benefits program. In reality, he was a Socialist at heart. He soon realized, while standing in his red Pizza Hut apron, that in order to meet his goal in life, to be paid to do nothing by the ruling powers, Big John would have to be fired.
And that’s how I got the free pizza.
He loved his fellow man much more than most of them deserved. And they loved him as well. I tell you this about him to emphasize why it was hard for John to get fired. Everybody liked him. All of the plans and schemes we concocted for his firing were rejected because they ended up hurting someone. Punch his boss? He couldn’t do it. Mistreat a customer? He couldn’t do it. Work at Pizza Hut the rest of his life? He couldn’t do it. What he could do, he explained, was collect unemployment, sit in his underwear and listen to his stereo.
If he could only get fired.
It is amazing how much energy and work can go into not working. The plan was this: I would come into Pizza Hut to pick up my take out pizza. John would wait on me, at some point offend me, and we would pretend to have a screaming match. It would end with me demanding for John’s dismissal.
Later, we would go home to his place and eat pizza.
It worked like a charm.
I ranted and raved. He threw a pitcher of beer at me. He was fired, immediately. I got lots of coupons for free pizza, which the two of us used over the course of the next month while he applied for unemployment. With his first unemployment check, he bought me a shirt to replace the one he had doused in Budweiser.
It was while munching on free grub that Big John heard his career calling. It came, as most moments of clarity, during The Price is Right. As Bob Barker was describing the fabulous Showcase Number One, as Janice Pennington, one of Barker’s Beauties, was rubbing a bottle of $2.68 Wesson Oil, I walked into the kitchen for a beer. From the living room, I heard Big John let out a squeal.
There was a man on the TV screen, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a drink in his hand. He was asking Big John and everyone else in the viewing audience a simple question. “Are you tired of your dead end job?” Big John shook his head yes. “Would you like to get rich quick?” Big John shook his head yes. “Would you like to work from home, in your living room, in your underwear?” That’s when John squealed. “He’s talking to me!” I heard him say.
The good news was that, because he was so nice to total strangers on the phone, Big John made many, many people give him their home addresses so that his company, Florida Adventures, could send them an informational brochure about their retirement estate in the Tampa Bay area. The bad news was that, according to the nice woman at the Unemployment office, John could only work fourteen hours a week before he would be disqualified from receiving a check from the government.
It was a quandary.
He had finally found his calling.
And now, because of government red tape, he was limited.
“What kind of country is this?” He asked. “When a man can’t sit in his living room, in his underwear, and ply his trade for fear of losing the free money he has cheated that government into giving him?”
We pondered that while munching another slice.