The pizza takeaway used to be a fire station when the town was alive and important. Since then, some sixty seventy years it has been a bakery and a restaurant and now a takeaway with the grease half an inch thick next to the fryer and the side walls panelled with horizontal boards of wood. The oven burned wood straight, ash and willow mainly, and unless the door was wide open and the fan on the room soon filled up with smoke and it clung to your clothes and the whole building smelt of wood smoke and sweat. Opposite was a bank and a paper shop where I bought my first pack of cigarettes the day after my eighteenth birthday but I wasn’t ID’d. When it rained heavily in the winter the drains would overflow and we would get brown water sloshing up onto our doorstep which would make mopping the place at the end of the day hell and all of the customers would be miserable and short.
It was owned by a Vietnamese man called Scott Lee who also owned the local Chinese restaurant and the separate Chinese takeaway and chip shop. He was short and stocky with fat fingers and small eyes and black thin hair that pointed straight up in the widows peak. He was smarter than he knew and knew a lot about a lot of things but man did he bullshit about a lot of things such as knowing a whole list of celebrities. He had been in Britain since he was eight when he, his sisters and his parents emigrated to Birmingham but he left there in the nineties ‘cause he got sick of the triad. He was active and loved cycling but was also a bit of a wimp and got really cold in the winter and so would sit around doing nothing in a coat and fleece and fingerless gloves that made him look like a Chinese scholar who should own a antiques store. When this happened he got the deputy chef to do all the work.
The deputy chef was called Adam and he was a year older than me. He was both a pot smoker and dealer and would often take hour long breaks to run to his car to tend to a client. He was good with numbers and was able to pick up tasks quite quickly but was not very bright otherwise, for example he thought that the Queen was still the head of the government. I try not to judge him too badly. He was my height with a very square head and thick black stubbly hair and bad acne and constantly washed his hands. He had also worked in the chip shop next door where, like here, he did little other than sit around on his phone and eating what he made.
There were often very few customers so I would usually just take a book and pass the time that way, reading roughly around fifty to sixty pages during my five hour shift. Consequently around a third of my books smell of smoke and many have little stains from tomato sauce of pizza grease. My favourite times were when people recognised the book I was reading and start a conversation about the book or the author and they would look at me all impressed because I know such trivial facts about the book or the author such as that Jack Kerouac was reported to have written On The Road while taking loads of Benzedrine but actually relied mostly on coffee, the Benny thing was just an urban myth. It impressed a lot of people.