The Pizza Connection

The Pizza Connection

I’m on the subway. 

It’s a few minutes after 5 in the morning. 

I’m catching a few snippets of conversation between a man and a woman sitting almost directly across from me. My guess is that they’re in their late twenties or early thirties. They are unusually attractive and well dressed for this time of morning. Between 4:30 and 6:00 AM is ordinarily reserved for the blue collar crowd of which I am a part. These two provide a pleasant diversion.

I have a good frontal view of him and a delicately beautiful profile of her. He looks confident and tolerably masculine; she is a wonderfully restrained and equally confident feminine. They look to be young professionals just hitting their stride.They are each dressed to a neat corporate stereotype and cloaked in camel fur coats. I don’t know how the camels feels about it but these two look marvelous.

They are not romantically involved. Sherlock that I am, I know this because they are sharing a 3 seat bench but the middle seat between them is empty; the unspoken distance. That said, they do appear to know each other. They both have beautifully clear, honey colored skin, thick shiny dark hair, slightly almond eyes; he with full beard and both with expressive hands. I’m thinking Queens by way of Central Asia.

I catch the word “pizza”.
It’s like magic. All at once, I’m all in.
If I hadn’t been listening before, they’ve got my full attention now.

~)(~

I can’t think of a time when I haven’t been happy to hear that word. Not simply because pizza is a gift and proof of a fundamentally jolly universe but also because of the near endless associations. 

After club hours at Mama Angelina’s Pizza in Philadelphia on Locust Street close to the NE corner of Broad Street. I haven’t been there in more than 30 years and I won’t be going back; it’s long gone, replaced by who cares what.

_

After violent, high decibel shows at The Ritz (formerly and subsequently Webster Hall) in New York City. 75 cent slices up and down 2nd Avenue to feed the hunger and calm the nerves.

_

A dozen pizzas delivered to a construction site where I was working at the southern tip of Manhattan. Not every good intention results in a successful conclusion and in this case the pies arrived only after the gang had all gone home for the night. All but myself and one other guy. An obsessive compulsive mental defective, he ate 3 full pies. I had 2 slices and just watched the carnage. He was taking a breather before the next onslaught, gulping air and swigging Diet Pepsi when I left him.

~)(~

Back on the subway, I’m building a story about these two good looking individuals. They are roughly the same age and with their apparent familiarity I would even hazard that they are related except for his next comment: 

 “When I was young…“

Uh oh. I don’t like the sound of this. We might have had the beginnings of a courtship; a budding romance. I like romance. These two early morning commuters, quite possibly from a neighborhood with a distinct cultural community may recognize in one another their common bonds and common interest. Their common commute has afforded a daily 30 minute window of relative privacy and intimacy as they thoughtlessly barrel headlong through tunnels to who knows what final destination. There’s a little magic in the air but he’s gonna blow it with a comment like:

“When I was young…“

He’s leading with a complaint and all but declaring that sooner or later he’s going to prove himself to be a stick in the mud. Given his relative youthfulness my money is on sooner.

In my mind I’m whispering to him to shut up and ask her about herself. He’s so self assured that his clumsiness is troubling. I feel like it exposes a paternalistic streak. Not that it’s any of my business of course but honestly, he’s ruining the latest fiction that I was so carefully constructing around them. I had all but put the child in the empty seat between them and now this?

When I was young? Are you kidding me?
You still are young sonny-boy so why don’t you just give it a rest.
And you may have noticed that she’s got eyes!!! I can see them from here!!! Just gaze into them adoringly; maybe ask her about her hopes and dreams for the future.
Let’s face facts young fella, it’s becoming obvious that you’re at your most eloquent when you’re not talking.

Obvious to me anyway. Who knows what she’s thinking. Women are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery and cloaked in lacy undergarments.

I think it’s fair to say that I dislike “When I was young…“ as a lead off to a story and not least because I know I’m guilty of using it. And not just me; everyone!! Inevitably these words are followed by a story whose details are sharply defined from the repetition of telling but whose colorful aspects are faded by their distant origins.

The story is going to be about how things used to be different; how things used to be better; how difficult it is to adapt to the changing landscape of the present; how slippery the future looks. What’s more; “When I was young…“  inevitably gives a tidied up view of the past. Cigarettes, candy and gasoline were cheap and good for you!!!

Dont get me started.

It is a given that only people over 50 should be starting a sentence with “When I was young…“ A half century is a real nice kickoff point for developing a tiresome, crotchety old age. If you are under 50 and using “When I was young…“ as a conversation starter you need to get on antidepressants and focus more on your listening skills.

For those of us that are well over 50 the flip side of “When I was young…“  is the obvious acknowledgment that we are not so young anymore. It’s not good being not young. This side of not young doesn’t look as good as it did when I was young and frankly it didn’t look that good to begin with. So I am secure in my person; so I am more or less in charge of my own destiny; big whoopee!

“When I was young…“
The horizon was a beckoning mystery.
The girl in the tight top was a provocative mystery. 
Young, Loud and Snotty was a fully formed ideology.

“When I was young…” is the beginning of a story no one wants to hear but everyone wants to amplify with their own story about when they were young.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that things aren’t more difficult now. I’m not saying that the world isn’t more complicated; that it isn’t more fractured; that relationships aren’t fraught with greater risks or that the arrow of time isn’t heading in the direction of chaos. 

What I am saying is that even though I am no longer young and even though I am no longer immortal and even though I am no longer the center, even of my own universe,  with a bit of age and a bit of luck and a little reminder from a chance encounter one does recall that where you look for offense you will find offense and where you look for meaning you may not find satisfaction but in the end, you will gladly settle for pizza.

Road Noise

Road Noise

Having left my home in Brooklyn, I am motoring north along Manhattan’s FDR Drive on my way upstate to Cherry Valley, NY. It’s a four hour journey from a restless city to a sleepy town that I may also one day call home. 

Home

At this point there are so many places I’ve called home that the word has lost any suggestion of  permanence that I may originally have attached to it. I now think that each has simply been a pause, a series of way stations between the first and the final. 

And while the great beyond may linger vast and empty on either end, in between there’s a lot of driving to be done and today is a driving day. 

In search of sound I toggle through the radio’s preset buttons with the foreknowledge that I haven’t preset any of them. It’s quite possible that they are random defaults from the dealership set back in 2013 when the car was new. There are 18 preset stations, none of which are worth settling into. 

Empty-handed my ear and I move on.

Hitting the radio’s SEEK button on the back side of the steering wheel I continue searching for something that will appeal to the moment. 

The stop and go of traffic is mimicked in this push button review of radio offerings but in this case there’s no end in sight as I cycle ‘round and ‘round the dial losing the promise of, or finally, any hope of a place to stay awhile.

There is nothing on. 
And you know what? 
There never is. 

It may be that the problem is New York radio. I don’t fault the medium or the market but somehow with over 200 stations in about 17 different languages it manages the neat trick of too many options with too few choices.

Or it may be ……………
That the problem …..
Is me ……………………….

Maybe I just don’t like driving to the all too familiar offerings of music, news and talk. Each in its way interferes with the pure, meditative experience of driving. 

And yet hope springs eternal that the ideal should manifest. 

By all rights the radio should be able to provide an audible veil to quiet the volatile mind. 

It is just another of life’s clever little ironies that the right sound is able to create its own kind of silence. 

However, the closest I will get to that immersive trance of listening today is the mixed medley of sound as I change stations without pause.

Sound en masse.

The radio doesn’t have good listening but the radio is good listening.

I often do this and find it makes an interesting auditory collage though the constant button pressing is bothersome. 

It makes me wonder why there isn’t a SEEK BUT DON’T STOP function on the radio. I believe it is a solid entertainment option and frankly I think it’s sound advice too; words to live by. I need to talk to Dodge about this obvious shortcoming in my vehicle.

I settle for a short while on a station bangin’ out some old time gospel, not only because it has a certain authentic sound appeal but equally because it is pleasantly rhythmic in a way that embraces the beat of my tires as they pulse over the expansion joints in the roadway.

But there’s only so much of that crap you can listen to so I start moving around the radio dial again and that is when I find a fellow saying “uh” every three seconds in a flat monotone, very much like a muffled mechanical process.

This would be the very same “uh” that acts as a placeholder in a sentence before the next clear thought gains traction.

Nothing else; no background of any kind that I could discern. Just “uh” followed by 3 seconds of dead silence. 

“I wonder where this is going” I think to myself. 

More compelling than the gospel music, it alternates with the dull percussion of the expansion joints  in a catchy syncopated rhythm.  

Both calming and disquieting; what could it mean? How had it come to be broadcast and how would it end? 

I’m hooked. 

The “uh”s continue across upper Manhattan; they continue across the George Washington Bridge; they continue through Fort Lee, NJ and onto Route 4. I listen through Teaneck and Paramus; Ho-Ho-Kus, Ramsey and Mahwah.

It was around Teaneck that I slowly become conscious of a heartbeat between the “uh”s. Had it been there the whole time and I’d simply missed it from road noise or was this an entirely new element? 

An “uh” following every heartbeat.
A heartbeat following every “uh”.

As if pausing…….to what…. reflect? 

Shall I commit to one more?

Why? 

To what end?

After about 40 minutes of listening I start losing the signal around mile 33 as I pass the Sloatsburg Service Area. It seems like the heartbeat is the first to fail. 

The “uh”s have become intermittent, arhythmic, the final echoes of a heart monitor, until finally it too is gone and I am left listening to the ssshhhh of smooth static.

I allow the radio to broadcast white noise for the next few minutes.

By mile 38 I have completely lost the signal but I continue to listen up until Harriman at about mile 44; just in case. 

I don’t want to move on. I don’t want to miss something that seems on the verge, on the very edge, of happening. 

I don’t know how it ends. 
I don’t know what it means. 
I have no answers; no explanation.
I have no guesses; educated or otherwise. 

I am left with nothing on the radio.
Which is how I started out. 

There was nothing. 
Then there was something.
Then there was nothing. 

The Last Drop

I got to work early today. Like every work day for the last 30 years. I gave a moment to the sunrise; like every day. Same sun, same sky, same time, same same. All that familiarity but with a nod to the obvious; with an infinity of variables, including me, no two sunrises are exactly the same.

I went into a coffee shop in Philadelphia not long ago; The Last Drop. Flurries were falling lightly and melting on contact; the last snow of the season. Each crystal unrepeatable and every crystal on its way to becoming an anonymous speck of water.

The barista at The Last Drop is a solid first tier hipster. Tall and at home in his geeky glasses with the dark rectangular frames, a thrift shop vest and a nerdy look we used to call mebst.

I order a cappuccino, same as every time I go in there. I love cappuccino. The flavor and textures of course but equally I love all the choreographed motions; the tamping, the jamming, the swirling, the pouring; the reassuring repetitive motion of it all.

The hipster barista steams the milk and swirls it in the little frothing pitcher before making the final pour. He does this stuttering little flourish at the end of the pour that creates a sepia image of a flowering plant embedded in the cappuccino foam; his signature.

My wife and I were at a party the other night. We’re too young to be hippies and too old to be hipsters. The party was a celebration of life, as all parties are but the more so as it came in the wake of two deaths; the husband of an elderly woman and the husband of a young woman.

Afterwards my wife and I were talking about life and death and how each one is different and utterly unique even as it shares in its description all of the same elements.

A snowflake or a fingerprint; a signature, a sunrise or the image at the top of my cappuccino; each is an individual composed of that peculiar unknowable moment that is infinitely repeatable and eternally unfamiliar.