Literary Journalism

The plight of an aspiring funnyman

By Kyle Walton

Ryan Clay works nights. Five a week to be exact, 8-10 hours each depending on the amount of orders after 11 p.m. He’s good at his job, at least better than the two GMs who held it before him, an emotionally unstable and largely incompetent woman, and a heroin junkie who found himself in trouble with the law after being accused of making off with $30,000 of store money. Clay was promoted from lead delivery driver after that fiasco. So far, other than a “bogus DUI conviction where [he] wasn’t even high,” Clay has managed to avoid any enormous scandals.

One night, at the pizza shop, the doorbell rang, an overly drawn-out, “ding-ding-ding-DONG-ding, ding DONG, DING,” which indicated a customer had just entered. Clay whipped around to face him before joyously exclaiming, “Welcome to Domino’s!”

Later, he sat in the filing office jotting something down in a tattered yellow spiral notebook, the kind you’d find at Dollar Tree in the clearance bin.

“What do you think of this?” he said. He cleared his throat and held the blue and red scribbles in his right hand. I wondered as he read his sketch scripts, how it was that such a man found himself as the nightly manager of a franchise pizza shop. Surely, he had more potential in other areas that interested him. “We’re doing a news report,” Clay said. “I’m sitting there behind the desk in a suit and tie, but like, no pants because they’re supposed to be under the desk, but I

wasn’t informed that you could see my legs under the desk on camera, so the camera guy tells me. I act all embarrassed but then I just get really mad at the camera guy for rolling without telling me that. There’s this ridiculous fight where I just start throwing [stuff] at him, but the whole time I’m not wearing pants.”

An obnoxious buzzer rang. Clay threw on his apron, hurriedly tied its strings in a loose knot behind his back, and approached the cooking line. He glanced up at the order screen. He suddenly looked irritated.

He hurried into the walk-in refrigerator and emerged with a semi-frozen bag of pre-packed alfredo sauce. After snipping the edge of the bag with a pair of scissors, he wrung its contents into a plastic bottle.

“I was never supposed to be here, man,” he said. “I don’t want to be here. I don’t know what happened.” He screwed a plastic lid onto the bottle and rushed back to the front of the shop.

“I went to KU on an engineering scholarship, but it wasn’t for me, it made me miserable you know? Like, why should I care? Now I’m here,” Clay said, “Drugs happened, weed, coke, addies, you name it, alcohol especially.”

An hour passed before he began to run through his closing tasks. He scraped away at dried sauce and burnt cheese, recorded inventory on his clipboard, counted up the till and sent the computer

system through its daily shut-down. After mopping the floor, he exited through the shop’s back door and locked up. It was just past 1 a.m.

“You want to come to my place for a bit?” he asked as he jumped in his dented-up Pontiac Grand Prix and turned the key, once, twice, three times before it fired up. He lit a cigarette and slammed the door. “Follow me, I’m not far.”

We pulled onto a pitch-black side street and immediately started up a steep, winding hill. Our vehicles were surrounded by dense forest. We pulled onto a gravel lot near a small, one-floor home. A few broken-down cars, some pieces of plywood, some weathered tarps, and even a porcelain bathroom sink and bathtub filled with twigs and leaves, ornamented the yard.

Clay emerged from his car, his cigarette butt still planted between his thin lips and his yellow notebook in his right hand. He flicked his cigarette onto his sidewalk and stomped it out. “Come on in, man,” he said. “The only one here is our dog Rota. Don’t worry, she’s a total sweetheart.”

I entered the dimly lit home and immediately noticed the kitchen. It was nothing but a concrete floor, a shelf full of liquor, a strange mannequin dressed in what appeared to be World War II era military gear, and to my surprise, a dirt bike. The refrigerator next to the door had been layered in Krylon paint, allowing its surface to double as a chalkboard. Someone had been hard at work there, as it was decorated with a frightening, red-eyed, grim reaper illustration. The kitchen appliances were joined together by a yellow counter-top.

A brown and white Pitbull, having heard the door open, ran out. “Rota! How are you! It’s so good to see you.” Clay said. He patted, hugged, and kissed the densely muscled animal. “See, I told you she’s a sweetheart.”

I followed him down the hall and into his bedroom. Clothing and Domino’s boxes littered the floor.

He walked to his closest and slid open the doors. Inside it stood a wooden bookshelf so tall it nearly reached the ceiling, and it was as wide as the closet itself. It was completely filled with spiral notebooks, not all of them yellow, but most of them tattered. He slid tonight’s notebook into the shelf alongside the others.

“They’re all full of my stuff. Some of them stand-up routines, but most of them scripts for my sketch show, Ryan’s Realm.”

I was astounded to realize that at 27, having dropped out of school years ago, that Clay had been splitting his energy between managing a Domino’s and toiling away on countless comedic aspirations.

“Hopefully, as soon as I get all the equipment, I can start filming something,” Clay said, “I just hope I’ll have the time.”