The first time I saw the pizza box, I was heading out of my apartment building in the morning, on my way to work. It was lying on the pavement next to the dumpster, open, baring its innermost contents to God and everyone. As I rushed past, I only had a moment to register what I saw, but that moment set into motion one of the most profound spiritual journeys of my young life.
I was a mess that day at work. Unable to concentrate on anything, my mind reeled with thoughts. Frantic thoughts. I could not stop thinking about the pizza box. “It’s just a piece of garbage lying in the alley,” I’d try to reason to myself. “No different than that smelly sofa down by the river, or that old tire in the living room.” But to no avail. I could not put the pizza box out of my mind.
I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why it fascinated me. What about it held so much intrigue? Everything and nothing. By lunchtime I was so consumed that I couldn’t eat, and the prospect of spending another four hours without being near the pizza box seemed impossibly daunting. I took the afternoon off. I told my boss that I had eaten some bad pizza. Its influence on my faculties was so overpowering that the only excuses I could think of revolved around pizza or boxes (My alternative excuse was that a large box had fallen on my grandmother).
I rushed home. The bus ride seemed to stretch for eons. When I finally arrived at my apartment block, I saw it. Exactly where it had been. Now that I was in its presence, I almost couldn’t bear to approach it. But approach it I did. My heartbeat thundering throughout me, I edged up to it. I don’t know how long I stood staring. Thirty seconds? Eternity? Forty-five minutes? My guess is somewhere in between those last two. All I know is that, when I eventually regained my wits, I understood with grim certainty why it had such a hold on me.
The pizza box was me.
I can’t convey exactly how I knew, but I knew. In some sick, cosmic way, this pizza box represented everything about my being. Flimsy. Greasy. Discarded. Empty inside, except for a few bits of cheese. It was at this moment, this profound, mystical, blazing crossroads, that my life as I knew it shuddered to a squealing halt, and I started on my path to true self-awareness.
I became obsessed with the pizza box. I quit my job at the furniture emporium. I ceased my courtship of the lass down the way. My plants wilted, my milk soured, my cat ate my fish, and my one really big fish ate my cat. I sat in the alley for hours at a time, my brain roiling with a million questions for the box. “What kind of pizza did you once contain?” “Pep and mush?” “Who delivered you here?” “Feta and olive?” “Why have you shown yourself to me?” “MEAT LOVER’S??” “BBQ CHICKEN SUPREME??” But the box proffered no answers. It simply left me to ponder, and work out they mystery for myself as it slowly deteriorated in the rain and the sun.
Then, one day, the pizza box was gone. The alley had been cleaned up, and there was no trace of the box. I was left a shell of a man. I had no job, my family had given up on me, my friends had abandoned me, I was evicted. I first cursed the box for doing this to me, as I wept in the burrow I’d fashioned for myself in a nearby hedge. But I soon realised that the box had done me an incredible service. It had jolted me out of the stale, perfunctory life I’d been leading. It forced me to re-evaluate everything, and to grasp life by the mangy, feral tail. I began putting my life back together, piece by piece, like so many toppings on a pizza. I made new friends, learned new life skills that made me a maverick to be reckoned with in the workforce. It all fell into place.
To this day, on the rare occasion that I order a pizza, I cannot bring myself to eat the last slice. It’s too painful. I can’t ever bear to gaze into that gaping hole of despair. No, I conquered my pizza box years ago, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But I urge you, dear reader, to find your pizza box, whatever it may be, to peer into it, into yourself, and see if you can stand what you see. I can’t guarantee you’ll come out better for it, like I did, but I can offer some sage words of advice along your journey. Just come find me. I live under various bridges selling jewellery I’ve made from the teeth that have fallen out of my face.
For more of Johnny Scott’s adventures with life, follow @hottyjohnscotty.
*Photo courtesy of Johnny Scott himself.