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.

Emo for Dave Groom

I waken to the sound of distant church bells peeling across dew sparkled meadows.
I tap my phone to quiet its alarm.

Monday
April 2nd
4:30 am

Shower.

Go down stairs to fetch work clothes from the dryer.

Coming back up stairs, I note the particular lightness of my own footsteps. I think to myself, I am unusually quiet this morning. No ….., I am unusually aware of my own quiet this morning. The softness of my footstep. The lightness of my breath. For a moment I seem foreign to myself. An object observed and observing; a satellite running a self diagnostic routine.

In the kitchen, I put on water for coffee.

I cut an everything bagel, put it in the toaster and brush my hand across the counter, sweeping seeds and crumbs into the sink.

I check my phone for today’s forecast to decide on how many layers to wear and I see that it is raining outside. I see the rain as an icon on my phone without even bothering to confirm it with a glance out the window.

I pack my lunch.

With paper cup coffee in hand I turn out the lights and head out the front door to work. It is 5:05 and still dark.

Everything about this morning is just about identical to every other morning. Every action, every motion, every consideration, as if preordained.

However

As I leave the house and lock the door, I turn around and it’s snowing.

It’s warm; almost 40 degrees but it’s snowing and for no discernible reason I feel upset. It is similar, I imagine, to a surprise meeting of an old sweetheart and the discovery that forgotten ties can still bind.

My expectations have been overturned and I am confronted by this scene which is not only unexpected but also, in its way, both melancholy and beautiful. Somehow I am better able to see it because I wasn’t expecting to see it.

I have my hat in hand but I don’t put it on; I want my head unprotected and immersed in the storm; all awake to the slow motion rioting of fat snowflakes gently falling through the sphere of a street light’s influence. It is a predawn panorama of snow and spring flowers, budding trees, parked cars and dark sleeping row homes.

There is no other sound but the ambient noise of the city. The muffling effect of the snow spreads in every direction. The light kiss of each flake as it lands on my cheeks and neck feels personal. I can hear the light crackle of the flakes as they land on last fall’s dried leaves; the ones that refused to let go, still clinging to their native branch.

Mingled with the snow is a very slight ozone perfume, the kind that comes with spring showers. The struggle of winter is all but over.

I walk to the subway with my head tipped skyward, intent on watching the snow as it passes through each consecutive orb of lamp light. The falling and swirling from a rising breeze lays an acid lace over all.

I am at the entry tunnel to my subway station and I dutifully enter …but no, it’s too abrupt. I’m not of a mind this morning to surrender so easily. I turn back into the storm. Outside again, I look over the wall that forms the trench of the Prospect Expressway. The breeze has diminished and the listless flakes are falling down, expending themselves on the pavement. A truck speeds by and the snow is drawn to the passing vacuum. Flakes race and swirl in a momentary attempt to give chase; evidence to the thickness of air. And I am left in the wake to wonder as the snow resumes its steady downfall.

I can hear my train arriving and once again I turn towards the station entry, fully aware that as I  cross this latest boundary another end is at hand. The subway takes me under the East River. Somewhere in this tunnel is a line; the border between Brooklyn and Manhattan; between then and now.

I step off the train, the doors close and the train rolls on without me. As I exit Whitehall Station I meet with my own forecast.

It’s almost dawn and rain is falling like a sad goodbye.