Photo by Wendy
Pizza had been on my mind that summer.
Who could forget the ever-present sensation of melting? Our skin like sweating cheese, like crusts toasted to a golden brown. We stank, all of us — the garlic you had for lunch, everyone could smell it in the subway car, hiding behind a juicy fragrance. Even nature had blossomed in hues of sauce and seasoning: oregano flakes hung from branches in the park; red clouds floated above the East River; yellow-orange sunbeams bounced off the sizzling surfaces of skyscrapers.
Let me zoom in on my particular slice of the Manhattan pie (thin crust, thick skin): Union Square. Its toppings were both alluring and pungent — like an artisanal slice of fig and goat cheese pizza, sprinkled with anchovies. I spent my days working at the front desk of my NYU dorm as a summer RA, which allowed me to live in a room scot-free. Ah, a city-dweller’s dream! The only cost was my time at the desk: 25 hours a week. Of those 25 hours, ten to eighty percent of my time was spent pondering what I should eat after my shift, depending on how much I had eaten prior to assuming my position on the swirling office chair.
After one particularly monotonous Sunday shift, I had decided to venture to the fabled “best pizza in New York”: Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn. Accolades had traveled to me from all corners of the internet. Yelp users wrote reviews practically screaming, “Jaime! Come try a slice after your shift!” Even beyond cyberspace, I had heard “Grimaldi’s” roll off the tongue of many a trusted friend. And I really did trust the tastebuds of my friends, for it is almost certain that our friendships began not with the exchange of words, but with the mutual hum of chewing, as we hovered, wordlessly, over the food table at a party.
So I mounted my bike. Well, I mounted my friend Alice’s bike, for whom I was bike-sitting, and plopped my tote and The Sun Also Rises into the wire basket. Yes, this must have been the readership Hemingway imagined — a young woman devouring a pizza as she read his honest scenes of bullfighting, love and masculinity!
No matter; this was my journey. I, a strong-willed woman of twenty, pedaled vigorously to the Brooklyn Bridge, weaving through traffic and running red lights. My hair blew in the wind — wind that I conjured while riding through the static June air. Baby hairs stuck to my skin and sweat seeped from where my helmet met my forehead. I was earning my slice.
Once I reached the bridge, I plowed through frozen families posing for their memories. Strollers straddled pedestrian-bike lane boundaries; couples walked arm-in-arm on my designated path. Some alien fury invaded my friendly demeanor and I barked at them — no, spoke sternly — “Excuse me. Excuse me. This is a bike lane.” I wanted to show them what New York was all about.
After conquering the mountain that is the Brooklyn Bridge, I wandered the unfamiliar Brooklyn streets — so wide! so empty! — until I finally arrived.
The line was out the door. Pizza devotees like me huddled in groups and lined the restaurant’s exterior. I didn’t know if I had the will to wait, much less the will to wait alone.
While contemplating the line, I noticed another pizza shop next door. It was less crowded, but of the same lineage: “Juliana’s”, named after Patsy Grimaldi’s mother. My friend Florie had told me a similar tale of Grimaldi’s-defeat-then-eat-next-door, and she praised their pies.
As I walked towards the restaurant, I noticed a large sign on the storefront: “NO SLICES”. Just pies. I considered my options — too much pizza or no pizza at all — and stepped into the restaurant. My eyes skimmed the menu and I decided to order a Margherita pie to go, with leftovers in mind.
“What’s the name for the order?” the server asked.
My name would not be David.
“Sometimes people order under someone else’s name.”
Nope, not me. This was a one-pie-one-person kind of deal. After about 15 minutes, I got my pie and sat down at an outdoor table. I slyly removed one slice from the bag and took a giant bite. The thin crust folded between my lips; the cheese stretched and molded to my teeth while the sauce dissolved on my tongue. As I moved on to the second, then third slice (biking the bridge had merited such consumption), I began to wonder what the families around me thought of this young woman eating a whole pizza alone.
This summer, I had found myself most often alone, on a bike, riding along the East River or the Hudson. I’d find an empty bench or a patch of grass and lay down beneath the sun. It was a simple, lazy summer — some might call it meditative, therapeutic. As I took another bite of pizza, I thought about what it would be like to share this experience with friends, family, or even new acquaintances. I called my dad to tell him about my pizza adventure. He was driving, he loved me, and we’d meet up for dinner next week.
With each bite I became more and more conscious of my solitude. So I stopped. I left about half the pie in the bag, as if to tell my neighbors I had someone at home. I got back on my bike and circled back to the bridge.
Miles later, the heat became too heavy and I needed water. I saw a gas station on Lafayette Street — it seemed alien in the city, though familiar to me, a native of New Jersey, where highways and gas stations abound. I got off my bike and went into the gas station store. I browsed the fridge for an ice cold bottle, but it seemed that the fridge had just been restocked, and all of the bottles were lukewarm.
“What are you looking for?” the man behind the counter asked.
“Just some cold water.” I said, flatly.
The clerk came over and dug to the back of the refrigerator to retrieve a cold bottle.
“Two dollars,” he said, and I handed him the bills.
I paused before turning from the counter.
“Do you want some pizza? I was just in Brooklyn and I have about a half a pie left.”
He reached out his hand and accepted the crumpled, grease-stained bag. I don’t remember if he smiled or not. I don’t remember if he said thank you. But he nodded, and I nodded, and I knew I could bike away knowing that, at the very least, I hadn’t been on this journey alone.
Jaime Mishkin is a writer & student living in Manhattan. Her stories have appeared in Her Journal, Scraps of Paper, and School Assignments.