Most of the briefs I’ve had for this challenge so far have shared a common theme. That is that they have asked me to describe unusual settings or situations.
Personally, as a writer, I find it easiest to write about strange situations. When things are happening that can be considered out of the ordinary it opens the door to a world of possibilities.
I have felt with a number of the stories I have written so far this year that I could have gone lots of different ways with them. So, this week’s brief was an interesting one because it asked me to do the complete opposite. It asked me to describe an every day situation for an Everyman.
The brief, submitted by Louise Harper on Facebook is as follows: ‘A day in the life of the man who ‘thumbs’ the pizza dough in the ‘handmade’ pizza factory.’
This man is no Bilbo Baggins or Arthur Dent, he’s not an average Joe thrust in to the path of adventure. At least, if he is, today is not the day that his adventure begins. Maybe one day Thijs and Sascha the Dachshund become a crime fighting duo to equal Tintin and Snowy, but right now Thijs has to go to work so he can cash his paycheck.
Of course, as always I’ve had a bit of fun with it, so what he thought was a typical day didn’t turn out to be so. I don’t think anyone would want to read a description of a man thumbing pizza dough for 8 hours, though, so I reckon I got away with it…
Oh, and if you’ve got a problem with the (rather excellent) pun in the title, take it up with Eileen because she came up with it.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Thijs Is The Life
Thijs van der Oetker considered himself to be a well read man, or rather others considered him to be well read, and he considered himself well listened. His job at the Toscana Bene Authentic Italian Pizza and Pasta factory (based in Groningen in the Netherlands) allowed for a lot of introspection.
His job was minimum wage, and truly he only did it for subsistence. He was not a man that craved possessions or wealth; he merely craved knowledge. As long as, at the end of the month, he had enough money to pay his rent, his bills, buy food for him and his dog and have a little kept aside for some more books, either paper copies or on tape, then he was a happy man indeed.
That was why, for 10 years now, he had been the man whose job it was to thumb the pizza dough out in to the shape of a pizza base. He could now do this with his eyes shut (literally), and his hands tied behind his back (metaphorically), and worked far more efficiently when he had a new audiobook of some sort playing through his headphones.
His friends and family did not understand why Thijs loved his job so much. Surely, they berated him, he must aspire to more? Had he no ambition, no dream they wondered aloud? Thijs always told them that his dream was to learn, and that he was doing just that.
The reaction was always the same. They merely shook their head and wandered off to talk to someone else at the party. A 30 year old with no desire for career progression was obviously a concept too difficult for them to deal with. Thijs on the other hand was of the opinion that if you enjoyed what you did then why aspire to move in to a position that you would inevitably find dull?
Of course, he didn’t ENJOY thumbing pizza bases in to circles, nobody did. After a couple of years he couldn’t even make a game out of it any more. They didn’t call it a menial job to fill space at the top of the job advert. What he enjoyed was getting to listen to someone talk about an interesting subject for 8 hours a day without anyone bothering him whilst he did it.
When the first ball of dough came along the conveyor in the morning he just tuned out and listened to whatever was coming in to his ears. To Thijs, this was bliss.
Over the last ten years he had consumed more books on more subjects than the average university professor would in their entire academic life. He had read, or rather listened to, books about music, physics, chemistry, biology, history, psychology, philosophy and almost all of the classic novels.
He could probably speak about 6 languages fluently, if only he had someone to speak them to, and when no new tome inspired him he would switch for a while to classical music. He was intimately familiar with the works of the Viennese masters, could hum the whole of Tchaikovsky’s back catalogue, and you would struggle to find a more knowledgeable expert on the likes of Mendelssohn and Debussy.
To put it succinctly, he was a useful person to have on your side if you wanted to win a pub quiz. Not that he was generally allowed to enter them any more. Every pub within a 20 mile radius of Groningen had essentially banned him from participating in their quiz nights. He knew too much, they protested. It wasn’t fun for every other team to consistently come second, they reasoned. He was welcome to drink there as long as he kept his mouth shut, they compromised.
Thijs was happy with this arrangement, and to be honest had even encouraged it on a couple of occasions. He did not learn in order to benefit himself financially, at least not in that way, and he definitely did not do it in order for his friends to scam a few Euros from an unsuspecting bar owner. He learned for himself. He learned because it made him happy.
Thijs was not a man prone to suspicion. In the last ten years he had encountered many books that debunked the idea of suspicion as merely a hangover from the days when it was entirely possible that our neighbour, flora or fauna, might have a go at killing us for little apparent reason.
However, this morning Thijs awoke with an ominous feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt as though today was going to be an auspicious day for some reason, although for the life of him he could not work out why.
As usual he rose at 7.30 and fed his Dachshund, Sascha. His shift didn’t start until 9am, and the factory was a leisurely 20 minute walk away on the other side of town.
Thijs always took his time over breakfast, watching an episode of some TV show or other as he munched and his cornflakes and sipped at his orange juice – currently he was watching a series of short documentaries about whales. Finally he had a quick shower and give Sascha a tummy rub before walking out of the door.
Just a typical start to a typical morning for Thijs, who rather atypically immediately upon leaving the house was soaked to the skin by a passing bus driving through a puddle.
Thijs was in a good mood up until this point and he was determined not to let something like that bother him. After all, it was a beautiful summer’s day, and the puddle was only left over from a summer shower the night before. He would dry off by the time he made it to work.
The rest of the journey in was typically uneventful, which suited Thijs fine. And, sure enough, by the time he walked through the employees’ door in the factory he was bone dry again.
He hung his jacket up in his locker and got out his protective clothing. He set up his MP3 player and layered the uniform on top. Smock, overalls and then apron. He made sure to press play before putting his gloves on.
Today’s opus was The End of History by Frances Fukuyama. Thijs wasn’t sure he agreed with Fukuyama on many of his points, but he generally proved to be quite interesting to listen to, which was what mattered most to him generally.
As the voice in his ears began discussing the downfall of the Soviet Union and the implications for the proliferation of western democracy he walked to his station.
He greeted his colleagues Tomasz, Hilda and Lena as he went by them in the corridors. They all smiled and waved back at him as he went past,but he noticed something different about them today. They all had a glint in their eye, as if they all secretly knew something that Thijs didn’t.
Hilda was the last one he passed, and he got the same reaction from her as. He had from the other two, so he stopped her to ask what was going on. When questioned she, utilising her best poker face, replied that she had no idea what he was talking about. It was just a normal day. It was all she could do not to wink at him as he walked off.
By the time he reached his spot on the production floor he had largely forgotten about it, dismissing it as one of the silly jokes that the three were renowned for.
The first ball of dough of the day made its way down the conveyor belt just as the voice in his ear was expanding on Fukuyama’s theory of western democracy being the only remaining possibility for democratising nations.
He cracked his knuckles and spread the dough out in its container, tutting his disapproval of the American’s theories in light of recent developments in Islamic democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring.
He went on doing his job, as he did every day, for an hour. At about 10am, had he been able to hear anything other than Fukuyama’s words spoken in his ear, he would have noticed that silence had spread suddenly through what was usually a very loud factory floor.
As it was, he just carried on thumbing pizza base after pizza base, paying no attention to what was going on around him. As such he failed to notice that, when thumbing a certain, seemingly insignificant pizza base in to shape, 250 of his fellow employees stood behind him held their breath.
As he completed the routine that he did nearly five hundred times a day he prepared himself for the next ball of dough. But the dough did not come. This had never happened before. In ten years Thijs had never had to wait for the dough to come. He was lost for words. He decided he had best alert his manager, so he pressed pause on his MP3 player and turned around.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when his 250 colleagues all began whooping and cheering and letting off streamers. They were all wearing party hats. Thijs could only stare in bewilderment as a banner was unfurled; it read ‘Congratulations on Thumbing 1,000,000 Pizzas!’ and had a crudely drawn pizza on it.
The factory owner, Mr. Wyk walked up to Thijs and clasped his hand on his shoulder. “One million pizzas, boy!” he said. “That’s a hell of a lot of dough. Congratulations.”
“Thank you sir,” Thijs replied, still gobsmacked. “I don’t know what to say…”
“We’ve got a special guest for you, too,” the owner went on, and Sascha the Dachshund was brought through the crowd on a little pillow. He was wearing a tiny party hat, and wagging his tail very enthusiastically.
“Sascha!” Thijs shouted in excitement. “But Mr. Wyk, animals aren’t allowed on the production floor!”
Mr. Wyk smiled. “I think that, on this occasion, we can make an exception.”
The factory was closed for the rest of the day as all of the employees were given the time off to attend a party thrown by Mr. Wyk in Thijs’ honour. He never did get to finish the End of History that day, but for Thijs went to sleep that night with Sascha curled up at the foot of the bed knowing that for him it wasn’t the end of anything, but rather the beginning of another ten years and one million pizzas of what he hoped would be a happy and contented life.