John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist who coined the phrase “conventional wisdom,” observed that we celebrate monumental events by devouring dead cow in a public arena, aka a restaurant. Got a raise? Wayward child surprised you with a coupla “A”s on his report card? Able to swing that fraudulently filled out loan to buy that new Chevy Impala? Head to the restaurant and order steak, telling the waiter in no uncertain terms that it should be seared but still bleeding.
Perhaps, this is where I got off track. Our family, instead of steak, went out for pizza. Pizza was the first thing in life that I had come to love.
The only place acceptable for our family ritual was a hole-in-the-wall called Pellicci’s, in Stamford, Connecticut.
You walk(ed) through a narrow hallway as you entered, and on the right, a three-by-eight opening allowed you to view the kitchen. Sensing an audience, the chef would toss pizza in the air, and while it was air-borne would whistle, as if the wind was disturbed by a boomerang. There is no combination of letters to recreate that sound as a word. Let me just Donald Trump you with this: Believe me–it was beautiful.
The pizza was not one to die for; it was to LIVE for. The Mary Poppins of pizza: perfect in every way. When I left Connecticut as a boy, I was correct in my assumption that I would never have a pizza so erotically pleasing to my every fiber, that I was so eager to conquer and consume. Pellicci’s was the standard, by which all others fell disastrously short.
Four decades later, I had business in Old Greenwich, a few miles from Stamford, and in the same coffin by my bed that concealed Gideon’s Bible, there was other printed matter, no less sinful but utterly engaging: a list of restaurants endorsed by the hotel.
Pellicci’s. After forty years, it was still in business. How could I resist?
It was early afternoon when I arrived, having last seen it when I was seven or eight.
It was closed!
But a janitor was inside moping the floor, and I pried open the door. He leaned his mop against the wall. He was a bit portly, too old to be doing this job, and wore a bandanna around his head. Health code stuff, I figured.
“We’re not open yet.”
But I implored, I begged. I used all the charms that later in life had proved to be so ineffectual with women.
He let me in. The place had changed. No longer a hole-in-the-wall, it was an elegant restaurant, had expanded to take over the entire building.
He was my witness. I had to tell him what transpired when I was a boy.
“There used to be a window here, showing the kitchen. Can you believe it, when I walked by, the guy making the pizza would toss it skyward, and whistle as the pizza made its ascent and descent.”
He looked at me with a bemused smile. “Can you believe it? I was that guy.”
He whistled. It was really him.
My first love, the love of pizza, had returned.
“I don’t make the pizza anymore, but I’ll make one for you.”
I came to regret the years of infidelity. Eating what those whores had offered me: Domino’s. Shakey’s. Pizza Hut. There were others, but I swear, they meant nothing to me. I knew I needed to eat, but there was no love in the transaction.
Father forgive me, for I have sinned.
Father Pellicci forgave me, and offered me a to-go box.