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My Life In Pizza

June 29, 2013

I get hit with nostalgia often–like on a weekly, if not daily basis. Certain smells can transport me back to a specific place and time from my past. I have an absurd relationship with déjà vu–it doesn’t have to be something hyper-specific for me to feel like I’m experiencing an event all over again. And sometimes I feel as though I can command it–drive down a certain block, think an unrelated thought, and I’m back to this moment in time that just makes me feel… good.

I know, this is getting just a little too verbose yet still somehow very vague. I don’t need to explain what nostalgia or déjà vu is, I’m sure most people already know, and probably experience it often themselves. And I know, we kind of live in a culture of romanticized nostalgia that can get far too out of hand for its own good and even borderline dangerous. But, it’s not as though I smell a scent of rosewood and it reminds me of when I was four years old, rummaging through old luggage trunks in my grandfather’s attic and experiencing flight as I lived vicariously through the pictures of all the places he traveled in his youth as a traveling salesman.

Ok, maybe that never happened. Maybe I never spent early afternoons rummaging through old trunks gazing at souvenirs from across the globe. Maybe I don’t actually know what “rosewood” is and had to look it up to make sure I wasn’t confusing it with that Cher movie. And maybe my grandfather never traveled, or owned fancy luggage, or even an attic. Maybe both my grandparents have lived with me and my mom my entire life in cramped apartments. Maybe my grandfather’s longest “trip” was from Yonkers to Connecticut, where my mom cursed at him because he kept counting down all of the exits. Maybe my grandfather was never a traveling salesman, but instead a bartender. None of that really matters, that example was just for effect anyway. And, for the record, I’d rather take away awful puns and parlor jokes overheard from bar patrons than some dusty old luggage, anyway (though a nice old-fashioned trunk would look amazing at the foot of my bed.)

The point is, there are times when déjà vu and nostalgia are just expected–of course if you smell the exact same scent as you smelled 15 years ago it might remind you of some time or place or person. But, for me, I’m often reminded of small clips from very specific moments of my youth by random things that are in no way related to that certain time. And it’s often different things that remind me of that same moment, too–and I can almost command them, if I really, really want to.

“And what is that moment in time?” you may ask. It’s this: a gray October afternoon, Halloween to be exact. I’m sitting at home in my kitty cat costume watching Caddyshack.

 

That’s it. That’s literally fucking it.

 

“Did she seriously ramble on for four paragraphs about nostalgia and déjà vu and other cryptic things just to tell us that occasionally she remembers watching Caddyshack in a cat costume when she was a kid?”

Well, yea. I guess I did.

But I suppose what I was trying to get at was this: there are certain moments in life that “define” us. There are things that make us aware of who we are and what our purpose in life may or may not be. Maybe we listen to that song, that one perfect song that has those brilliant lyrics that just capture the essence of our being so well it was like it was written about us. Maybe we pick up that novel and feel as if we’re reading our own autobiography, just told through the lens of someone else as a fictionalized character. Maybe we can name three or four or five things that “describe” us. Maybe safety pins and kerosene and porcelain dolls and India ink are your thing. Put those four objects on a table and it tells your life story better than any author could. Maybe rosewood, old pictures, dusty luggage and stuffy attics are what defines you, and that one nostalgic moment in your life shaped you and, no matter what you do or where you go in life, returning to that moment in your mind is your where”home” truly is.

This might all be getting a little too far-fetched, maybe even nonsensical to many. But I’m sure others have experienced an intrinsic connection with inanimate object that just made sense to them and their views of life. Maybe.

Smells, thoughts, feelings, emotions aside, there’s one thing I’d like to explain my life in.

That thing is pizza.pizza copy

Let’s return to that moment of my childhood mentioned before: It’s not that I just remember watching TV on Halloween, it’s the vague details I can recall from the rest of that day that will better help me explain. I was about four years old, wearing my kitty costume, watching Caddyshack to pass the time. I didn’t go trick-or-treating. I lived in an apartment building full of older women who weren’t too keen on opening the door for people they didn’t know. (My family was no exception, we were the awful “grinches” of Halloween who would pretend we weren’t home and wait until the kids knocking on the door inquiring about candy left before we could continue chewing away at our stash of mini-Snickers bars.) I doubt my mom would have enjoyed carting me around to get candy from strangers, either. Instead, we waited until we had to leave to pick my grandma up from work, and then we’d just buy candy at the nearby CVS on our way there. It might not be “free,” but it would come without the high price of social interaction we so militantly dreaded. Seeing my grandma after work was the real “treat” that I looked forward to. I missed her when she was gone and couldn’t wait until she returned to play with her and talk to her.

And there was also the high probability that she would come out of work with a very special gift for me: a perfect slice of pizza.

My grandma worked in a pizza parlor from before I was born until I was about five years old. You know the old saying, “like a kid in a candy shop”–fuck that noise, being a little kid in a pizza parlor is where it’s at. Occasionally I’d get to go to work with her and watch her create her art. I’m not saying that to be facetious, either, making the perfect pizza is an unrecognized and vastly under-appreciated art form. A flawless slice from a local, family-owned pizza shop is a piece of fine art, while every Dominos and Pizza Hut’s mass-produced grease-filled slabs of under-cooked dough, fake cheese and “tomato” sauce are the maligned commercial art. My favorite part was not only watching her skillfully make pie after pie, but also getting to steal handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese when no one was looking. My grandma made the best pizza around. She knew the ideal sauce-to-cheese ratio like the back of her hand, and could successfully reproduce the recipe over & over again. I always knew when the slice she’d bring home from work was hers compared to one of the other cook’s, and I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t one of her masterpieces. I’d settle for nothing less than the best.

I’m a harsh critic of pizza and a frequent searcher of the best slices around, but it doesn’t stop me from trying any and every kind. I get as kiddy as a child at the prospect of pizza and the phrase “pizza party” tickles me to no end. That said, I’m not of the belief that all free pizza is good pizza. In second grade I remember scoffing at the slices we ate at a pizza party we had in our classroom. “Grandma, I don’t know where they got that pizza from, but it tasted like… like… like ARTICHOKES! Not pizza!” (I loved artichokes dearly, don’t get me wrong, but pizza’s supposed to taste like pizza and nothing else!) I’ll order Dominos from time to time, but don’t call it “pizza,” call it “Dominos,” for it is most definitely a food item of its own category. And don’t even get me started on the tomato tortilla hybrid that they dare try to pass of as pizza at California Pizza Kitchen…

And I absolutely loathe anytime someone tries to inform me that Chicago deep-dish is better than a New York slice. Pizza is the perfect meal because it can be a sit-down dinner or an on-the-go snack. I don’t want to have to mentally prep to eat pizza, it should just be consumed.

I’m sure you’re dying to know, so I’ll walk you through my list of qualities a good slice of pizza needs:

  • An almost-paper, crispy wafer-ish type dough. Not burnt, but seasoned brown from years of wear from a good, old pizza oven.
  • The dough should also have some kind of flavor, not just a bread-y taste. And though it’s thin, it should still be durable.
  • A good heaping of tomato sauce. Not so much that it drips all over, but enough to properly coat the pizza and not make the dough soggy.
  • As crispy and non-soggy as the dough should be, it should also be able to be folded over without breaking or ripping in half.
  • CHEESE. Cheese-to-sauce ratio must be on par.
  • Grease. Most definitely NOT over-greased, but at least a little bit to get that nice, small drip.

I could go in-depth on toppings, too, but that will take far too long.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a few places that make some really delicious pizza.  But I feel like I’m forever searching for the one place that makes the perfect pizza. The one that will send me back in time… the taste that will transport me instantaneously back to Halloween of ’92, my old living room, plopped down right in front of that TV.

Funny, isn’t it? To seek out a taste to remind me of a time when I wasn’t even eating? Isn’t it weird what triggers things in our minds? Isn’t it weird how finicky nostalgia can be?

I mean, the more I think about it, I didn’t even dress up as a cat when I was four. I think my cat costume was from when I was two (though I would wear it just for fun after that as well). I dressed up as Cinderella when I was four. And, thinking of it again, the CVS on my street didn’t even open until I was about six or seven…

Strange how the mind can mix up facts.

But I do remember being dressed up as Cinderella and sitting in my grandma’s pizza parlor, waiting for her to finish her shift. I remember the crinoline under my dress itching my tiny thighs. I remember being bored and wanting to go out and play in the park across the street, instead of sitting in a pizza shop waiting. I remember seeing a booger on the table I was seated at and it scarring me for a while after, not really wanting to eat there or even eat pizza at all for quite some time. I remember venturing to the back of the store and smelling the awful back-alley stench and seeing the broken down space behind the ovens.

I remember those moments quite vividly, actually.

And I remember all the times my grandmother quit that job, and the awful experiences she had working there.

But she did make a damn good pizza.

So, if I had to lay the inanimate objects out on a table that are characteristically “me,” what would they be? A cat costume, Halloween trinkets, a slice of pizza… ? Do these things define me? Does that one single moment I return to time and time again say anything about my personality and the person I am and wish to become?

No, I think it just means I like nostalgic vibes, I dig Halloween and I really enjoy eating pizza. It’s probably why I’ve spent a good portion of my day writing this, and maybe it’s why the person who I’m in a committed relationship with has a birthday on Halloween, and why I’ll never turn down a slice of free pizza, no matter where it’s from. These maybe facets of my personality, but not my life as a whole. What, did you think that my constant quest for the perfect slice is actually a symbol of my search to find my ideal “self”? That maybe I know the qualities about myself that I need to tap into to be the best me I can be, but I’m still working on creating the masterpiece that is my life by trying over and over again to harness all those qualities and apply them in a positive way. That maybe no matter who I encounter and what I try, I’m still searching for my true, perfect self, but that one moment in time I can return to at any point is my safe haven, my “home” to go back to when I feel lost in my searching…

 

Then you’re reading too much into this. I just really like pizza.

 

“Did she really ramble on for fifteen paragraphs and 2242 words just to tell us that she likes pizza?”

Well, yea. I guess I did.

Current State

July 27, 2011

Life Not Poses

July 25, 2011