A Conversation with Toby

I’ve been pumped all day. I had a great class this morning, hung out at the gym for a while and then headed back to the Cottage in South Knox. I was going to rest up a little bit, shower, get dressed and then head into town to see one of my favorite bands, Mutoid Man. I’ve been pumped about it all day.

All day.

I pulled on one of my new t-shirts and started scrolling through Instagram and saw Mutoid Man posted a concert photo talking about how tonight they were playing in Durham, NC.

I nearly posted “Don’t you mean Knoxville?” but decided to dig my ticket out first. There in black and white: Mutoid Man opening for BORIS at the Concourse in Knoxville on Sunday, November 5.

That’s tomorrow.

So Heavy Metal Concert Night quickly turned into Heavy Metal Laundry Night at the Cottage. I thought I’d make the most of things and I drove over to Milano Pizza and Mediterranean. The restaurant is on the edge of a shopping center that also includes a laundromat, a nail salon, a smoke shop and a Chinese takeout joint. Their corner of the building was dark and there was a small group of weirdos hanging out near the bus stop. This place was shady and potentially threatening.

I was way into it.

Inside, the place was hot. A fan on the counter. I’m pretty confident they had zero orders they were working on despite it being a Saturday night with a UT football game about to start. The gentleman working there took my order. I wanted a large double-mushroom pizza. He repeated “large” and “double-mushroom” before sneaking to the side door to the kitchen to call out my order.

“Double mushroom!” he called out. “Doub..Doub…DOUBLE MUSHROOM!”

He closed the door and came over to take my payment. $9 for a large pizza, so I was pretty happy so far. He froze before taking my card and went back to the door. He cracked it open, looked at me and said “Double mushrooms? You want…Mushrooms under the cheese? Or on top of the cheese?”

Honestly, nobody has ever asked me that. I assumed highly trained pizza chefs were qualified to make that call on their own and I’ve never been disappointed. I don’t know that I’ve ever even noticed. I said “On top…” partially because I wanted to see the mushrooms but mostly because “I don’t give a shit…” would’ve been inappropriate. And this guy was nice too nice to be mean to.

“15 minutes,” he said.

“Cool.”

So I went to the smoke shop because I don’t know why. I successfully burned through about 90 seconds in there. I had 810 more seconds before my pizza would be ready so I just went back to my car.

With 30 seconds to spare, I started to climb out of my car but immediately regretted that decision when I saw a man walking down the sidewalk. He’d just been talking to another guy at the corner and you could just tell by the way he was looking around that he was dying to find someone else to speak to. He looked right at me when I opened my door. I’d been busted.

He mumbled something at me so I pretended to not hear him. But then he exclaimed “It’s a small world, man!”

You’re right. It totally is, I admitted. He stopped.

Let me just tell you, man. I just met — JUST met — a family member from Blount county. And the hell of it is…He’s black! Black! Blew my fucking mind! Now listen, man…You have a good night, alright?

I reached for the door. You, too, man.

He stopped again and reached his fist out hoping for a bump. Said fist was also holding a bag of chips. Hey, man. My name is Toby.

Toby, my name is Firefly. It was great meeting you and I completed the fist bump.

Yeah, man, great to meet you. Now hey, I used to run with Collective Soul if you can believe that!

Collective Soul, yeah? Wow! I was wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt.

Yeah, man! We’ll see ya! and he turned and left.

A little boy was seated behind the counter in the restaurant. No sign of the man who took my order. Two women were in the back, one was boxing up my pizza. When the boy saw me, he jumped up and sprinted to the back screaming Someone is here! Someone is here, you fools!

An older woman wearing a hijab walked around the corner with my pizza. She smiled as she handed it to me and I thanked her. She then looked worried. “Double mushrooms?” she whispered almost like she was afraid she’d gotten it wrong.

I smiled again and said “Yep, double mushrooms!”

She smiled and gave me a thumbs up as I backed out of the restaurant. Toby was in the parking lot near the laundromat and I saw him violently throw his bag of chips up against the wall and storm off.

I have a feeling his mind had been blown for the second time in one night.

I love you, South Knoxville.

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