Pizza Planet

Nick Alimonos
Xenobiologists still debate the reasons, but there is no denying that of the myriad forms of organic sustenance found throughout the galaxy, none is better loved than pizza. Perhaps the basic composition speaks universally to all species, the way its elliptical shape imitates the pressure gravity exerts on heavenly bodies, or how its layers of cheese and sauce and crust exemplify plate tectonics, or the poetic expression of the laws of physics in how the dough is rolled and spread. Or it may be its capacity for adaptation to so many palettes. On Vectoid, for example, jumping krill is as standard as pepperoni. Through varying stages of evolution, sentient life discovers pizza in some form. On Okka, pizza is cooked by magma geyser, while on the more technologically inclined Nert, the dough is stretched by cyborg and blasted by gamma waves.
Earthlings have long believed that pizza originated in Greece or Italy, but its history goes back much further, to the planet Alaysia (immigrants from that world claim the idea for pizza was seeded throughout the galaxy by their ancestors, but most historians dismiss the idea). 
Circa one million BCE, give or take a millennium, Alaysian culture was rooted in tradition. Despite its steam engine factories, Earthlings might call it a Renaissance Age; there were massive stone columned temples, skyscraping statues, and an Aristocracy buzzing about in gold lace and frills, with rare and precious stones imbued about their thorax. After the terrible Bright Ages (Alaysian pupils are very light sensitive), the burgeoning Aristocracy seized the planet’s economy: currency was traded mostly between estates; family businesses were crushed beneath mega-franchises; and jobs were scarce but for an ever increasing need for competitive landscaping. In less than a century, Alaysians of lesser incomes became little more than slaves.
Without the Opera or Literature to distract from sex, the slave class had little to do but propagate, and in short time they outnumbered the Aristocracy by ten to one. Revolution spread, calling for economic reform, but the high born would not surrender their water-spitting fountains or their topiary gardens depicting animals they’d never touch or their bougainvillea festooned gazebos with the matching swing set for the kids or their porcelain dioramas of a romanticized medieval age. Rather, the lords and dukes and high-titled called for tanks to roll over the homeless, for highly paid mercenaries—fearing a dock in their pay—to massacre rioters. But bloodshed costs money, and so the Aristocrats came up with a cheaper plan: to outlaw food. The poor would have nothing to eat but what they could scavenge, and who could live like that? No jibb-jabb rib roast? No cormander from the Great Brine? No kadoo-pheasant? As employees, the poor enjoyed leftovers from such dishes, and the Aristocrats could not imagine living any lower. But a chef by the name of Mario Squim-Squam (Mario, incidentally, is the most common name in the universe), who worked for three hundred years as a restaurant manager in New Jork, gathered the ingredients of tomato, bread, and cheese to make a new type of food, which he called squim-squam.
As its popularity spread among the base classes, production or consumption of squim-squam became punishable by ten years on the treadmill (a primitive torture device), so it quickly hit the black market to become the most lucrative commodity on the planet. The Aristocracy competed with food models of their own, like the hot dog, which contained meat of an Alaysian males’ best-friend, and the sandwich, which used sand as a primary ingredient (incidentally, the Earl from whom the name derives was of Earth’s earliest extra-solar immigrants). Although somewhat successful, none of these foods could break the Squim-Squam Union, and since sale of squim-squam was outlawed, the mega-food franchises lost quadrillions. Parliament was blamed.
With profits from squim-squam alone, those born into the slave class moved up to business class, and after another century, the fountains spat dust, the topiary gardens resembled plants again, and the gazebos became curtained with cobwebs. No one could buy the houses, for the Aristocracy was gone, so they went into foreclosure to be sold on televised auctions.
Pizza or Squim-Squam: greatest food in the universe

And that is how, a million or so years ago, pizza saved a planet from civil war. So the next time your pizza comes ten or fifteen minutes late, the next time you ask for pepperoni and get pepperoncini, show a little respect, OK?      

Thank You, Ralph Keyes

If you manage to find your name on my blog, Mr. Keyes, I would like you to know how much your book, The Writer’s Book of Hope, means to me. I often joke about the Writer’s Disease and its ailments, yet there are some serious psychological effects to being a struggling writer. You really hit it on the nose when you described, in your book, AFD Syndrome. For most of my life, I wondered whether I was the only one who felt this mix of anxiety, fear and despair. Since none of my family or friends write, at least with the intent to publish, none of them can relate to what I am going through. I often wondered whether I was the only one, whether I was simply too sensitive, too weak to handle rejection, too feeble emotionally to be a writer. Now I know that I am not alone. It’s like being diagnosed with a mental disorder, like OCD, then taking comfort in knowing others have gone through it. Your book is now my lifeline, my go-to guide for when despair rears its monstrous head. For decades, questions about writing and writers have plagued my mind, and you’ve provided the answers. You’ve demystified the world of agents and publishers for me, taken them down from that pedestal where they sat like gods with the power to destroy me with a few cruel criticisms. Intellectually, I’ve always known they were just people, but imagination is a powerful thing, especially when you write, and when so much of your life is invested in a response to a query letter, a letter from a person you’ve never even seen or heard, it’s hard not to succumb to dread. What if they hate my writing? What if they tell me I’m no good, that I’ll never make it? Now I know that editors and agents pass on novels that become classics, that they often choose what appeals to them (which is only natural) and that a rejection of my book is not a rejection of me as a writer. The other great thing you’ve done for me, Mr. Keyes, is to give me a good ass kicking. For years, I’ve worried that I can’t be a successful writer, because I have so little time, because I work in a restaurant and have bills and a family. But by the examples you’ve given, of writers who’ve managed to succeed despite life’s many hardships, you’ve allowed me no excuse for not writing.

And so, Mr. Ralph Keyes, if you’re out there, this is to say thank you. Though we’ve never met, I’ll think of you as my encourager, and I’ll be sure to add your name to the acknowledgments page of my next novel.

FLASH FICTION: The Protagonist

One textbook from my USF days was the 1992 edition of Flash Fiction, featuring 72 short stories under 1000 words. Although I didn’t give it much thought at the time, since I was only interested in writing novels, I have since found really short stories ideal for the attention-deficit, information-saturated internet age. And so let me introduce a new segment to the Writer’s Disease: FLASH FICTION, fiction under 1000 words, starting with The Protagonist.

The Protagonist
Nick Alimonos
John Carter Smith was running for his life. Nobody was chasing him, but there was an ever present, unnerving sense that someone, or something, was watching his every move.
He noticed it after coming home from an ordinary day. His tangle of keys clinked gently on the end table as the house alarm softly beeped. His fingers knew the numbers, and as he tapped away at the keypad, the lifeless living room dulled him with disappointment. The house was quiet with sleepers, so he would not smell the sweet saffron and cumin of his wife’s cooking or watch his daughters run toward him giddy with excitement. But that was not unusual, because John Carter Smith worked late filing taxes for big, nameless corporations. On schooldays, if he were lucky, he might find his wife stretched groggily across their suede blue sofa. She often waited for him, half-awake, half fantasizing about more fascinating people like Anderson Cooper. But tonight he’d dine on Multigrain Cheerios and flip through TV channels, alone.
It was during his rummaging through the fridge to find the last bottle of POM that he felt it. Anxiety welled up from his cerebral cortex and into his consciousness; invisible, incomprehensible eyes were studying him, waiting for him to do something important. He dropped in front of the kitchen table, startled, trying to convince himself of the power of stress. Despite his rising mortgage rate and maxed out Visa and American Express cards and a wife in need of a vacation to Europe he could never afford, he couldn’t let it drive him to insanity. After all, there was more to life than bills: there were tribes in the Amazon no one had yet discovered, and The Last Unicorn someone told him was worth the read, and that time he went skinny dipping with a red head from New Jersey. But an invisible dread was slowly overthrowing his reason and was not letting go. Was it a heart attack? A stroke brought on by the pipe in the grass leaking water from the pool? The phone sat across from him, waiting for a 911 call, but that wasn’t it—that wouldn’t change a thing. He’d just become another statistic, another boring newspaper commentary on the effects of the economic crisis. No. He’d have none of that. He had to get out of the house and quickly, if not to save himself, at least, his family. He rushed through the door, not bothering with his keys, and fled his life.
And that’s how he found himself, running through dim avenues, the intense humidity of the night sticking to his work clothes. Despite his best efforts, the carefully plotted trees lining the neighborhood began to dull into indistinct shades of green-gray. His muscles throbbed, his insides knotted with desperation. He should have done something years ago, decades ago—he should have made his life matter, but he wasted time, wasted their time. He could have been a hero, or a villain, or a tragic figure full of symbolism and meaning and consequence. Instead, he was just another set of blinking pixels, another cry for attention.
Just beyond the lurid street lamps, past the blinking stop light painting the world in ghastly crimson, he could see it. No matter which way he turned, it followed like the moon: the fourth wall. He had to be more interesting, he knew, or he’d simply disappear. And with a final, desperate stab at existence, he formulated a memory from childhood, remembering what it meant to stumble into the world, to wonder at every little thing, and he choked as hope started rising in his throat like a bubble. Yes, he could still do it— it was not too late for John Carter Smith! And then he– 

Dean Ristich & The Writer’s Market 1991

I went to my parent’s house last week to interview my father for his biography, and I ended up rummaging through the attic again to find a real treasure, the Writer’s Market 1991. It was from my first real stab at publication. I sent four query letters for my first novella, Dynotus Adventures, the story of a Greek demigod from an alternative Earth. It went something like this: After the gods of all the world’s pantheons duke it out for supremacy, only Zeus and Thor remain. In a titanic battle, the two gods kill each other off, and a child is born from Zeus and Amaterasu Omikami (of the Japanese Shinto religion). Their offspring, Zor, inherits Thor’s hammer and becomes the supreme god of the universe. As is the tradition of all Greek heroes, Zor has his way with a mortal woman, and she gives birth to Dynotus. Did I mention I was a weird 14 year old? Needless to say, this masterpiece of literature was never accepted by the four publishers I queried. But deep down, I knew my writing wasn’t quite ready for the world, so I set my dreams aside to further hone my skills. As for the Writer’s Market, it lay forgotten until last week. In back of the cover, I found this inscription:

“To my favorite author, whose imagination will never die and whose spirit will remain Forever Free.”

And that brought back memories of Dean Ristich. I am almost ashamed to admit that The Secret Life of Nick Alimonos makes no mention of him, but I can honestly say that without his encouragement, I would not have kept going all these years. Dean was a pizza cook at my father’s restaurant, and he was as different from my family as could be. He was calm, maintained the innocence of youth despite being in his thirties, and he valued imagination above all else. It was easy for him to become a father figure to me when my actual father was too busy with work. At the time, I was too young to comprehend labels like hippie, which is what many people considered him, but that was for the best, because I was able to judge him without any preconceived notions. Dean always took the time to listen to me, to read my stories, to entertain my crazy ideas. While my parent’s pursued money, he taught me how to appreciate the natural world, to truly wonder at all the plants and animals in the woods behind Country Pizza Inn. Much of his world-view made an indelible impression on me, and he ultimately inspired the character of Xandr’s mentor, QuasiI, from Ages of Aenya. Together we used to read my Masters of the Universe mini-comics, discussed endlessly how to make a time machine, and spent an entire summer building a raft out of a bed frame and three oil drums. In 1980, Thanksgiving Day, when I was five years old, he took me on the back of his dirt bike to the theater to watch The Empire Strikes Back.

One day, Dean had to go back home to Illinois. He was, after all, a drifter. Everything he owned was in his van. It was one of the most devastating things to happen to me. I remember telling him that he was my life-line; after all, I was a neglected child. But he had to go. We kept in touch for years over the telephone, and when I was 13 he sent me the Writer’s Market, because he believed in my writing potential when no one else did.

I owe much to Dean Ristich. If you’re out there, Dean, this post is for you.