Grief and pizza
A daughter remembers.
A stock photo, because I have never photographed a piece of pizza.
I originally published a version of the following essay on Medium in June 2018. But as I'm currently in the process of moving my work off Medium, I decided to transfer it to the blog. (I may do so with one or two other essays as well.)
It also feels like an appropriate way to remember my father, who died four years ago today.
So, enjoy. And then go get yourself a slice.
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The pizza place on my corner has been closed for over a month.
No, you don’t understand. This is a huge problem.
I walked by the entrance one seemingly ordinary day and noticed that the doors were closed, the lights were off, and the chairs were stacked on the tables. There were two pieces of paper taped to the window: a hastily typed note from the management and an official document from the Buildings Department.
My face fell as I read both pages. (I’ve never been entirely certain how a face can fall, but I’m sure mine did.) Apparently there had been some construction work in the building’s lobby (a tiny hallway next to the pizza place—the word “lobby” seemed hyperbolic) and the work had endangered the stability of the whole building. The city government had issued an order that the premises be vacated until further notice.
I was crushed. No more 1 a.m. slices on the way home from a night out. No more self-care slices after a tough day. No more dinner slices in the event of an empty fridge.
No more texts to my father telling him about those slices.
But then, that part already happened.
My father died on February 24th. For almost a month, I couldn’t set foot in my corner pizza joint. Then one day, my desire for a slice was stronger than my impulse to weep.
Now its absence feels like an injustice. If I can’t have my father back, at least let me have his second-favorite pizza.
“My daughter, who just got her MFA degree this May and is now living in Manhattan again, is as much of a pizza lover as I am. She is on a quest to find the best New-York style pizza in New York City. I told her about Carlo’s Restaurant, across from Roosevelt High School, which was a favorite pizza place of mine many years ago. We went online and found that it was still there.”
In August 2013, my father sent me a short essay he had written for potential publication on the Roosevelt High School Class of 1959 webpage, and requested my editing services. My “survival job” at the time involved editing journal articles, so he knew I could polish his rough prose to a proper shine. He offered to pay me my going rate, but the essay was so short the fee would only have amounted to seven dollars.
I told him to keep the money and buy me some pizza.
“Yesterday, my daughter, my wife, and I drove to Yonkers and stopped at Carlo’s for lunch. The current owner is the son of the owner from our Roosevelt days! We ordered pizza, and as soon as I had my first bite, I was in pizza heaven. I swear the pie tasted the same as I remembered from 1959. Thin, crisp crust; just the right amount of oil dripping off a slice; lots of cheese and a sauce that tasted exactly the same as I remembered. Perfect New York pizza, the standard by which all other pizzas will be judged. Nirvana.”
We did many things together, my father and I: kite flying, bike riding, miniature golf, and even one memorable father/daughter gingerbread-house-making party. (Ours was the only house with a menorah in the window.) Long after those childhood pastimes had melted away, we continued to eat pizza together.
When he visited New York, we’d have a slice at my corner pizza place. While not quite as Nirvana-like as Carlo’s, it was true New York style, and it earned high marks on my father’s crust/oil/cheese/sauce test. So when he wasn’t here, I’d text to let him know I’d gone on my own—to make him envious, and to make him smile.
“I got a slice!” I’d write, followed by pizza emojis.
His emoji-adorned reply would read: “Why not two??”
“After lunch we drove through Colonial Heights to the house I lived in from 1953 to 1965. The whole area is still very beautiful and well maintained. Outside my old house was a woman doing yard work. We said hello and I introduced myself as the house’s former resident. Hers is only the second family to own the house since my parents sold it in 1967. We had a nice talk about the house and the neighborhood. It felt good to be back.”
My father authored numerous Letters to the Editor over the years, many of which I edited for him. They were always clever and timely, but the New York Times never consented to publish one.
The pizza essay seems to have met the same fate: I don't think it ever appeared in print, online or otherwise. I only rediscovered it while combing through my father’s computer in the days after he died.
I think he’d be pleased to know that I’ve shared it with you.
“I recommend Carlo’s Restaurant for anyone who longs for a perfect New York pizza! Have a slice and let me know about your experience.”
My experience is shattering. My experience is dearth. My experience is picking up a few pieces only to drop other ones.
I’m Jewish. Food helps.
Pizza helps most.
In the weeks since its closing, I’ve often glanced at my corner pizza joint—which now sports caution tape across its doors—to find people of all ages standing in front of those two notices, their faces falling all over the sidewalk. It comforts me to know that I’m not the only one who feels its absence.
The latest notice promises a speedy reopening. All my fingers are crossed.
While writing this article, I came upon the list of pizza places that my father and I had once decided we should try. The only one that’s been checked off is Carlo’s.
Maybe it’s time to venture away from my street corner.
* * *