You can carry around a secret for years, and it’s like a heavy backpack—weighing you down, always there, a constant burden. But when you finally decide to share that secret, your burden is immediately lifted. Others bear the weight of the knowledge, freeing you from the lonely prison of shadowy lies.
I have decided to come clean about a shameful episode in my past, and although the timing might not be great for those involved, I have been carrying this secret around for too long. I need to take it off my back, and this is the only way.
I had an affair with Herman Cain.
You’re probably as surprised to hear that as I was to see our harmless flirtation explode into a full-blown, passion-fueled frenzy of wild abandon, grated parmesan cheese and bodily fluids. I’m not proud of this dark period of my life, nor am I trying to gain any kind of financial reward from this story. Although Herman remains close to my heart, I need to step forward, or rather, take my place in line, and tell my story so that he can be stopped from preying on other young, starry-eyed pizza cooks who fall under the sway of his boundless charm.
That’s where Hermes and I first met, in the kitchen of a Godfather’s Pizza restaurant in Toad Suck, Arkansas. I should tell you here that Hermes is a pet name I gave him after our relationship reached the crisp golden brown stage. Not because he’s the messenger of the gods, but because he was hung like a third-grader.
Anyhoo, the year was 1988. I had just moved to Arkansas from Moscow, Idaho. My college career at the University of Idaho came to an abrupt end when the regional arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service staged a raid on the Mexican restaurant where I washed dishes. They had gotten a tip that one of the waitresses, an illegal alien from Chihuahua, had married another employee, a U.S. citizen, for $500, in a sham ceremony to get a green card. Hey, what could I tell you? I needed the money to buy a waterbed.
Long story short, I slipped out of town and worked my way south, until I landed in Toad Suck, where a new Godfather’s had opened. They were hiring. I quickly parlayed my journeyman dishwashing skills into a position in the kitchen, and that’s where I was working on the day Herman Cain came into my life.
The post-lunch stoner rush was in full swing, and I was sliding a jumbo all-meat combo into the oven with the long-handled paddle when a booming voice behind me said, “Why you need that paddle? Reach in there and lay it down with your bare hands, like a man. Like a REAL man.” I whipped my head around, and there he was, Herman Cain, freshly-minted CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, standing at the dough board, rocking back and forth on his heels, rattling the change in his pockets, a wide grin splitting that handsome face.
I pulled the pizza back out of the oven. “You mean, like with oven mitts?”
Herman scowled. “Oh, no, son, I mean bare hands. No protection. Nothing to come between you and that delicious…heat.” He licked his lips.
I looked back at the oven, which was glowing red like a demonic specter from hell. I set down the paddle and wiped my hands on my black apron. “Uh, well, okay…” I began to reach my hands into the oven, getting a mental picture of having to relearn the guitar with two hooks.
“Hang on there, kid, I’m only fucking with you!” Herman grabbed me and pulled me back from the oven. He held his hands on my shoulders, laughing crazily while I used the tail of my apron to mop the tears and sweat from my face. He sat me on a stool and asked my name.
“Wire,” I told him. “Bob Wire.”
For some reason he thought that was pretty funny, and he howled with laughter. Then he asked how long I’d been working at Godfather’s, where I saw myself in five years, stuff like that. I chatted with him, feeling more relaxed as his friendly banter put me at ease. I was starting to fall under his spell.
“I think your all-meat jumbo might be ready for action,” he said, tilting his head toward the oven. I had forgotten about the pizza! I jumped up from my stool and grabbed the long paddle. I slid the thirty-inch pie out of the oven with a flourish, and in the same smooth motion, deposited it on the flour-dusted cutting board. Herman was ready with the slicer, and he expertly slashed the pie into eight uniform triangles. He started to pull a slice free, and I warned him that it was still way too hot.
“That’s all right,” he said. He lifted the limp, gooey slice to his mouth, and kept his eyes riveted to mine as he quickly gobbled the steaming pizza, the molten cheese raising small welts along his lips. He devoured it right down to the crust, and held it out to me. “You know what this is?”
He smiled with the oily charm of the devil at the crossroads. “Pizza bone. Pretty big one, too. You like pizza bones, kid? I’m about to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”
That was how our friendship began, and somewhere along the line our employer/employee, mentor/manatee relationship became something else. We spent many clandestine nights together in the plush bedroom of his tricked out corporate RV, sharing a forbidden love so fiery, so frenzied, that at times he would yell out, “Hot and fresh! Hot and fresh!”
My meteoric rise to the position of assistant night manager trainee had the other Godfather’s employees asking me, half-jokingly, who I’d had to sleep with to get that job. I just smiled like the Cheshire cat, my dark secret buried within, already beginning to gain heft.
Hermes’ life and mine diverged, of course, as he raced up the corporate ladder to become the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. I received a few postcards at first, trite missives sent from wherever he’d parked his fancy RV as he toured the Godfather’s restaurants across the U.S. But eventually the postcards stopped coming, and I became nothing but a distant memory to him, just another discarded pizza bone.
But I’m not bitter. I’ve managed to make a comfortable life for myself, and it’s even better now that I’ve shared my story. I see that Herman is running for president. I imagine running a chain of pizza joints might make a man think he’s got what it takes to lead a complicated, troubled nation with many seemingly insurmountable problems, but I know better. Deep down, Hermes will always be that cocky businessman standing in my pizza kitchen, ready to tear off a slice, but not equipped to bake the big pie.