by: Dominick Mayer
Until my 8th birthday, I had an all-consuming phobia of pizza. It wasn’t like I believed that a giant man made of red sauce and Canadian bacon was standing in the corner of my room all Paranormal Activity and what not, either. I was scared of pizza because of the Little Caesars mascot. You know the one. The tiny Roman man with the tuft of chest hair, the tunic and the bushy eyebrows (because if there’s one thing that makes me crave greasy-ass pizza, it’s vague ethnic intolerance). However, it wasn’t because of him per se. It wasn’t because of his endless “Pizza Pizza” missives, or because everything scared me as a child, including the cover of the Goosebumps novel The Haunted Mask and the trailer for the movie Surf Ninjas. Paradoxically, those unusually trained ninjas and their wacky friend Rob Schneider were imaginary friends of mine when I was four. But I digress.
My dad, in what I’m sure he meant as an affectionate gesture, picked up a finger puppet of Little Caesar one night along with dinner. For the next month, we would play a parlor game in which he would jump out from corners, attempting to jovially spook me, finger puppet in tow. However, since to this very day I cannot handle being unexpectedly startled, I became terrified that any room I entered in my grandmother’s house bore the risk of dastardly Roman deception. As an extension of this, soon that tiny man and the pizza he shilled became indelibly entwined, to such a point where the mere mention of a tasty Italian dish caused me to flip the hell out. For years after that, I refused to dine on anything that wasn’t the nugget part of a chicken. That ended abruptly on my 8th birthday, when my mom made the shrewd decision to order pizza to my friend birthday party. So now, I faced a pivotal choice: Would I lose face before my peers, allowing the little bastards to spread tales of my saltomaphobia far and wide, or would the tiny, nose-led visage of that frightening man own me?
It wouldn’t. I ate the damn pizza and got some comic books.
Thing is, as time goes on, as I’ve now officially completed two more of those eight-year cycles, those firsts don’t seem as spectacular, even if they are. Compared to the overwhelming anxiety that can only come in a box from the Nancy’s Pizza in Bolingbrook, Illinois, each of the subsequent firsts was a little less pivotal, if no less panic-inducing and sometimes life-altering. From the first time reading at mass, to the first crush, to the first time I pissed all over the side of my house in broad daylight and made the neighbors nearly fight my parents for about an hour. The first movie I saw without permission, which happened to be the Michael Jai White vehicle Spawn, and by the way, pro tip: Never watch Spawn as an adult. You’ll have a bad time. The first time I thought I got my heart broken, and the second first time, and about seven more of them subsequently. The first time I graduated from a school, and had to face the terrifying proposition of meeting new people by something other than location. The first time I attempted to record hip-hop, and about two years after that, the first time I actually started seriously listening to hip-hop. The first time I knew somebody that died. The first time I had a younger sibling.
The whole merry lot of it seems inconsequential until I start making lists, because I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and that’s how I make things make sense. My point is that I fear that the exhilarating buzz of those firsts will wear off. Sure , there’ll be more, and God only knows they’ll probably turn out a bit more pivotal than anything related to the movie Surf Ninjas, but never again will those firsts possess the simultaneous beauty of being fully defining and blissfully light all at once. Now I get grownup firsts, like paying off my student loans and buying more than one suit and the first time I realize that the cable news cycle has made me start to resent every old white dude currently living. They’re not fun firsts. And sure, I’ll get married and maybe reproduce, but I’m already seeing people closer and closer to me do it first, and I now get to wait for the first time that a family member awkwardly insinuates that I’m verging on dying alone. I’ve already had the first punk show where I sat on the balcony because my body doesn’t ease into a circle pit like it did even a year ago. I sold off my shelf of CDs, all that lawn-mowing scratch funding my attempts to engage in the sordid, savage and thoroughly depressing practice of “formal networking.”
But hell. I made it through all the firsts relatively unscathed thus far. If I’m so inclined, I may even have some Little Caesar’s before tonight is through. And that tiny Roman man now knows that I am not a man to be trifled with. That’s how adulthood works. I think.