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"The Plight of the Pizza-Maker" by Ben Katz '20

"The Plight of the Pizza-Maker" by Ben Katz '20

You know me. Even if you think you don’t know me, you know me. You’ve seen me on TV, eliminating all competition without breaking a sweat. You’ve seen statues of me, erected across the globe in honor of my glorious achievements. You’ve seen my mansion, covered in so much gold that looking at it too long could make you go blind. This was my legacy, and I believed it would stay a shining star for all to behold.

However… my time of glory was not to last. I was defeated in battle, conquered by my own blind arrogance and inability to even imagine a loss. My greatest enemy took all my possessions away from me in triumph. My statues: demolished. My mansion: torn down. My legacy: all but lost. At first, I was devastated. How could I possibly return from such a state of ruin. But as the years went by, I honed my skills, I became a true master of my craft, and I swore to retake my power and force my enemy to bow before my majesty.

I am Ben Katz. I am a master pizza chef. I will defeat Beelzebub, and I will take back my throne as the greatest pizza maker on Earth. Just you wait and see.

“Wake up,” says Montag. “We’ve got a big day ahead of us.”

I open my eyes to a disgusting, cockroach-infested hotel room. Montag, crouched down next to me, becomes satisfied that I am awake and begins cooking breakfast. I smell gasoline and see that he has left his flamethrower leaning on my pillow, spilling its vile fluids onto my hair. Disgusted, I roll over and begin getting dressed.

“So,” Montag asks, “are you feeling ready for the competition today?”

I roll my eyes. “I don’t understand how I couldn’t be,” I reply dryly. “I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. Ever since I saw Beelzebub on television as a child, I knew that I had to defeat him in a cookoff.”

“But how does winning really change anything?” Montag asks. “Where do we go from here?” (Bradbury 80).

“Don’t worry, Montag,” I reassure him. “Once we defeat Beelzebub once and for all, the sky’s the limit for the two of us.”

“I sure hope so,” Montag says with uncertainty. “Now let’s go to the competition and take back your throne so that we can finally put this whole thing behind us.”

The competition is about to begin. Montag and I step onto the stage, blinded by the floodlights centered directly onto us. I look around, basking in the glory of being surrounded by over a million people packed into a stadium made specifically for events of this caliber. As I begin an interview with Anderson Cooper about the social, political, and economic impacts of this competition’s outcome, I glance over my shoulder and see him.

Beelzebub enters the ring, shrouded head to toe in wriggling, agonized insects. He reeks of feces and seems to make the stadium freezing cold in an instant, a black hole sucking all life from the stadium’s inhabitants. Not far behind him lurks the Mysterious Stranger, cloaked in secrecy and indifference for those around him. As billions of people watch their TVs in anticipation of this historic event, they are simultaneously repulsed and disgusted by the sight of the two demonic figures. As soon as I see them, I know now more than ever that I must win.

“I will never let you win, demon,” I shout to Beelzebub.

Beelzebub smiles maliciously and says, “Do you honestly believe that you, a filthy, puny little human, can defeat the second in command to Satan himself? You are a silly little boy” (Golding 222 iBook).

“Don’t you count on winning, bub,” I reply. “I have a few tricks up my sleeves this time.”

“Good luck, human,” Beelzebub rasps. “You’ll need it, once I finish you off like I should have done all those years ago.”

The competition is ready to begin. The judge makes sure that we have suited up in our armor and didn’t bring any illegal items. Once he is satisfied, the judge takes his podium.

“Are you ready?” asks the judge.

“Yes,” both Beelzebub and I say simultaneously.

“On your marks, get set…” the judge pauses, “GO!”

I instantly begin twirling the dough into a perfect circle, one so perfect that it was thought scientifically impossible to create. Beelzebub, unimpressed, begins making his dough into a square, sending the crowd into a frenzy of amazement and excitement. Once my dough has been perfectly sculpted into a work of art worthy of the Louvre, I pass it off to Montag to begin the topping placement just as Beelzebub finishes his dough.

This is where it gets intense. Both Montag and I begin rapidly slicing and dicing, creating the perfect topping for the greatest pizza flavor ever conceived by man: pineapple pizza. I look over, seeing Beelzebub making his signature dish: fly pizza. While both of these pizzas are equally delicious in their own right, we both know that only one of us can win, which is where the best part of the competition comes in: the tampering.

Montag, prepared as always, pulls out his flamethrower and begins dousing our pizza in white-hot flames to toast it to a nice, golden brown. However, when the Mysterious Stranger takes out his Easy Bake Oven™, I pull out a remote and hit the button. Immediately, a laser comes barreling through the stratosphere and incinerates his Easy Bake Oven™.

“That was a naughty trick, Mr. Katz,” he says disapprovingly.

“Hah!” I cry. “Now you can’t bake your pizza without your Easy Bake Oven™, and we will never let you get our fire to bake it!”

“Fire?” the Mysterious Stranger says thoughtfully. “Oh, that is easy; I will furnish it” (Twain 3 PDF). He proceeds to conjure fire out of thin air, instantly toasting his pizza to the perfect shade of brown crustiness. However, Montag finishes just as the Mysterious Stranger does, with our pizza looking so appetizing the crowd gasps in admiration and ravenous spectators have to be held back by bodyguards.

Beelzebub sees our masterpiece and grows furious with envy and spite. “Sons of Chaos,” he cries in a low, demonic voice, “I summon thee. Destroy these mortals and banish them to the deepest corner of hell!”

Portals from the Underworld open up all around us, expelling demons and other monstrosities alike from their endless darkness. Flying overhead, they begin to dive into the stadium to end our lives and deliver us from this mortal coil. But as they look around, they begin to notice other, more appetizing humans that are more fatty and delicious than my ripped, muscular body. The demons flock the stands and begin to devour everyone in sight. As much as I would like to help the innocent crowds of screaming civilians, I have a more important task: finishing this pizza. As I shower my beautiful creation with herbs and spices from across the galaxy, Beelzebub grows more and more frantic as he sees how my masterpiece far surpasses his.

The Mysterious Stranger, sensing his parter’s panic, decides to take matters into his own hands. He effortlessly glides up to Montag, whispers a few words into his ear, and floats back. Montag begins to widen his eyes and falls to the floor, convulsing and screaming. He is having the most profound existential crisis ever experienced and is unable to help me any longer. It is just me against Beelzebub and the Mysterious Stranger.

The demons are done clearing out the audience and fixate their eyes onto me. They screech and flap their wings, hurtling towards me at supersonic speed with the intent of ending my life once and for all.

I know what I must do. In slow motion, I  jump and roll across the stage and end up right next to Beelzebub. Before he realizes what is going to happen, I whip out my bug spray and douse him from head to toe. With a scream loud enough that the entire stadium collapses around us, he dissolves into a writhing mass of insects and disappears into the shadow realm. The demons also disappear, likely due to being linked with Beelzebub and relying on him to stay alive. The Mysterious Stranger, suddenly afraid for the first time in his life, evaporates into thin air to avoid becoming another casualty.

I have done it. The competition has been won. It only cost millions of lives and billions of dollars worth of property damage, but I have won the pizza cook-off once and for all. My throne retaken, I step out of the rubble of the destroyed stadium and into my newly arrived limo. I drive off to view the progress on the mansion that the U.S. government has just built me in honor of my victory. Then I am driven home, sink into my bed, and sleep. I now know that my life has reached its peak and that I can finally rest easy. I can now sit, live out the rest of my days in quiet simplicity, and die a happy man.

My journey to this conclusion was one full of struggle and defeat. However, I emerged stronger and better than before; truly, I am a changed man. A lighthouse beacon in a storm of doubt and fear, my goal had always kept me moving forward and pushing myself to achieve great things. Finally, after so long, I can say that I deserve to be remembered. But my life has also been changed for the worse as a result of my victory. While I have the freedom to sit and ponder with all the peace and tranquility I want, I don’t have a goal pushing me forward. My life is now without purpose. I am empty. If I have learned one thing from my journey, it is that one must always move forward. Achieve great things. Keep doing good. Only when you do this can you live a life worth remembering. Sadly, although I have fulfilled my purpose, I am left without meaning for my future. Unless…

I will become the greatest spaghetti chef in the history of the universe. Only THEN may I rest. I will move forward. I will live a life worth remembering. I will make the best plate of spaghetti ever conceived. For, as a wise man once said, “The Spaghetti Man comes when the Pizza Man dies.”

"The Hooverville Blues" by Jackson Ranger '19

"Stand by Me" by Robby Huang '18

"Stand by Me" by Robby Huang '18   

      People love to treat their favorite plants like vulnerable children; it seems as though only under such meticulous care, the plants can flourish. This was my presumption until I met an unknown friend standing by my window who protested against such an assumption.
      On a burning hot afternoon, I first met him. I was weeding the garden by my window, with the pleasure of picking the inferior species out of the graceful roses surrounded by a concrete flowerbed. Suddenly, a green shoot growing in the zigzag crack of the flowerbed caught my attention. The tiny shoot had been pushing aside the stubborn concrete with a delicate body. Somehow, my hand paused right before it stained the innocent leaves. He looked different, like a floating green flame. With respect, I decided to leave it to die gradually in the concrete.
      A month later, we met again. He waved at me through the moist window in a mild rain. I was shocked for a second, just like people usually are when they do not recognize an old friend after being apart for a long time. He already showed a masculine appearance: the two pieces of leaves grew into a sturdy skeleton and the tender skin became coarse covered by bushy hairs. With surprise and excitement, I rushed out to greet him. He grew so tall that it was not easy to distinguish him from the rose bushes without flowers. I carefully studied him: the roots extended deep into the crack, which was pushed much wider than last time, and crept along the rough concrete until it dipped into a depression full of rain.
      I went back to my room and could not help glancing at my admirable friend. How many times in our lives do we retreat since no one has faith in ourselves? Do we bow down our heads because where we come from? Do we choose to hide in the crack instead of searching for a spot of light?
      Standing by my window, my friend always kindles the flame in my mind.

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