Merton's Pizza
G David Schwartz
Merton's dream was about to be fulfilled. The good Lord willing, and a little bit of luck, Merton would have what he had been nagging me about for the last twelve hours. Merton was about to be satisfied.
Why did I face the moment with such trepidation? Merton and I had been together for nearly a year, but had grown very close in that short time. He was like a big, furry pet. I do not know why it surprised me that he had never had a pepperoni pizza. After all, he had never had vegetable soup before I introduced him to it. Nor had he had steak, or lobster, or turkey sandwiches. Merton's tastes were extremely unassuming.
Merton's interests peak most, and his abilities to comprehend succeeded best, around issues of food. Realizing this fact early, I developed lessons around the edible and the non-edible substances in the apartment. He had a particular fascination with causations, so I picked up a book on clams and crabs and the like. His fascination disappeared rapidly, however, when one day he solved his curiosity about what was, and what was not edible about a shellfish. Shells were not edible. Meat was edible, and tasty, not at all like the foodstuffs to which Merton was accustomed. It was as simple as that!
So yesterday he saw on television— another item which living with me had introduced him to— a pizza commercial. Although my tastes were oriented toward the Discovery Channel and other science shows, with an occasional dramatic production on PBS, Merton let me know in no uncertain terms that he found these programs annoying. He preferred cartoons. He liked the loudness, the swirling of colors, the nonsensical plots. He paid particularly close attention to the commercials. He liked the repetition. He liked the way they filled him with desires, which his brain would not otherwise invent on its own.
When nothing else would soothe him, I promised we would have a pizza sent in. His joy was unbound. He jumped up and down, as best a creature of his sort was able, and insisted we order the pizza immediately. "We cannot," I explained, "It is the middle of the night and the pizza shops are closed." I am not sure Merton understood the concept 'closed,' but he got the idea that he was not going to have pizza that evening. He was disappointed, but seemed to understand that he must delay his impending gratification until the morrow. He spent a restless night, however, and in the morning was begging for pizza. I explained that the pizza parlors were not yet open, but he was not convinced. He made me understand that he wanted a description of pizza which better fit his image than I had given yesterday (or did he simply forget the object of his demands?). Inasmuch as I understood that I would be unable to experiment on him unless and until he was satisfied, I described pizza and listed a few of the ingredients, which may be added for taste. He was especially excited when I pronounced the word 'pepperoni.' He made me pronounce the word again and again, savoring the flavor of the word. Pepperoni! I explained that I could not adequately described the tart, tangy taste of the treat, being a scientist and not a novelist. He made me describe how pepperoni looked. No sooner had I finished than he made me describe its appearance a second, a third, a forth time. My description did not change a bit, pepperoni being such a simple thing, but the words seemed to fulfill a inner desire in Merton, and he became more and more excited with each repetition he forced me to tell.
"Pepperoni is a short, round, almost brown, deliciously edible meat." Each time I used the word 'edible' his eyes lit and he attempted to say the word himself. "Edible," I encouraged him, "You can say it." But he would become frustrated and gesture for me to repeat my description. I did so, innumerable times. "Pepperoni is a short, round, almost brown, deliciously edible meat."
I thought noon would never arrive. Merton oozed to the cabinet and slunk back with the telephone directory.
"All right, all right. I'll call."
I placed an order for a medium-sized pepperoni pizza. "Edible," Merton said. It was his first word. I nearly dropped the phone. The voice on the other end was telling me how long it would be before the pizza arrived, but I was trying to get Merton to repeat the word he had just said. But Merton would do nothing but stand by the window and wobble in a circular motion on his six legs, and allow each tongue to lick his lips. "'Edible', Merton. Say 'edible.'"
But he would not.
At last, the delivery truck arrived. Juan, the short, chain-smoking kid who lived in the neighborhood, waddled up to the front door. He did not even have time to ring the bell. Merton threw open the door, licked his lips, shouted, "Pepperoni. Edible," and devoured Juan. "Oh, Merton," I cried, "This is not right. This is just not right." There was not even a pool of blood to indicate where Juan had stood a brief moment before. Merton, meanwhile, had kicked the pizza box into the bushes as he turned on the stoop and burped in my face.
"Oh, Merton," I moaned.
"'stuzz mee," he said.
G David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, the online interfaith committee. Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue. Currently a volunteer at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Schwartz continues to write. His new book, Midrash and Working Out Of The Book is now in stores or can be ordered. Check out his book on Midrash.