Friday, of course, was pizza night, but the standard paradigm was upended, as paradigms are wont to experience these days. I don’t buy into your normative pizza constructions, man. I don’t accept the thin-thick crust dichotomy. It’s how The Man sows division. Okay, well, what’s deep dish? An allegory for the depth of privilege available only to the 1%. Why isn’t pizza square? Who says it has to be round?
Well, Italians don’t. My first piece of Italian pizza was square, taken from a pan in a pizzeria outside the train station in Rome, where we giddy high school students disembarked, ordered slices and Limonata, and soaked up the glories of the Ancient City, the Mother to us all, in a way, and were unaware that our chaperone who was guiding us through Europe had failed to secure her purse and was not only relieved of a brick-thick wad of Traveller’s Checks but her passport as well. Bienvenuta a Roma. Anyway, that was square. The Rocky Rococo chain, a pizza franchise in the 80s whose mascot was a grinning man in a white coat with a big nose, sort of the Leon Redbone of pizza, sold rectangular slices. No one rioted.
Really, Leon Redbone. I don’t know how they got away with this.
But we have agreed by consensus that pizza is round, because that yields triangular slices for those New York barbarians who want to fold it and cram it down their grease-hole, or it produces squares for those who don’t want pie-cut, and like the tantalizing appetizer-quality of corner pieces. So relax. There is no cultural hegemony enforced by pizza, let alone - horrors - reinforced.
Daughter and friends, newly released from the school year, made pizzas from scratch. I put in a Gino’s deep dish for myself and my wife, wincing at the box’s proclamation: TWO POUNDS! Really, I’d be happy if you didn’t play up that fact, because I know I’m going to each half of this and I’m damned sure I could eat the whole thing. It was supposed to bake for 35 - 40 minutes. After 40 minutes the center was like a core sample of a glacier on Pluto. All told, it was in the oven for an hour and ten minutes, but it still rewarded me with a memory of Geno’s. The crust, while appalling and dry and crumbly, had the hints of corn meal I expected from Geno’s, and the sauce was good. It satisfied, but it reminded me that I only buy these twice a year because it takes that long to get over the disappointment.
In high school I took the bus to Chicago to visit a friend from summer debate camp. He lived in a suburb but was well-familiar with Chicago proper. He was into progressive rock as well, although he had a weakness for Tull and an inexplicable affection for Magma, a French group that sang in a made-up language and had albums devoted to impenetrable stories about war on other planets. He listened to Köhntarkösz and made me listen to Köhntarkösz. He met me at the bus downtown, and we had Orange Julius, which I’d never had before. Nectar. Then we drove to the suburbs, where his nice Italian mother was happy to see me for some reason, and the next day we drove into town and went to the Museum and ate at Geno’s, which he held forth as the acme of Pizza, the Zenith of ‘Za. It was incredible. Then the plaza to see the Chagal mural.
In retrospect it was amazing that my parents let me get on a bus to go to Chicago on summer break. I doubt my mother slept at all while I was away.
Seven years later I was passing through Chicago on my way back from a misguided road trip to New York - a trip so poorly planned I hit the toll roads without any cash, and was reduced to cashing traveler’s checks as I poked through the outskirts of Manhattan - and while he wasn’t home, he let me stay at the apartment where he lived with his wife, because they were out of town. Hadn’t seen him in half a decade, and now I’m a ghost in this place furnished and inhabited by someone I really didn’t know anymore. But someone I had known once. It was the last frayed end of the rope. I remember looking him up years later and giving him a call, and the conversation was perfunctory on his end. Some friendships end because there’s no good reason to continue, or you were pals in the larval state and turned into different bugs. But I still think of Rich when I buy the Geno’s Frozen at the store. And also Marsha, the girl in debate with whom he had a fling at the University of Iowa summer debate camp. Here’s the thing: I have no memory of her at debate camp, but obviously she was there. If you threw all of us in a room we would of course remember one another - but have nothing to say about those days beyond a tweet-length remark. I’m sure all the memories reside on some filaments in my brain, locked away in cold storage, inaccessible. I’m sure my brain thinks it’s doing me a favor because it burns the card catalogue every ten years.
Anyway. I took my wife to Geno’s once, because we went to Chicago before I went off to DC. Newly married, brief separation while she finished law school. I don’t know if we carved our names in the wall at Geno’s; there wasn’t much room left for graffiti of any sort. We stayed at the Palmer. We had a romantic goodbye at the train station, where I left for the nation’s capital. I kissed her as the engine spooled up and the man shouted ALL ABOARD.
I wish I’d brought that up when we were having Geno’s together, but it was just another Friday. Just pizza.
Just? Please. Pizza is my madeleine.
I wrote that before I was emailed this:
See? Even in the future, it's important.
Odds and ends for the above-the-fold feature. It's Tile Time, ladies and gentlemen.
Congoleum-Nairn would be a find sci-fi name for a planet or race of beings. On Earth, they made floor coverings, and the ads give us interesting views into how things looked around 1955.
The top part of the kitchen didn't get along well with the borrom.
Interesting, but the phrase "the circus has come to town" implies that the circus, at some point, leaves.
The only known film noir about the 50-foot woman?
That? Not who? It’s one of those “documentary” noirs. A voice-over tells us what the Authorities are doing to stop a public menace - in this case, it’s smallpox, of all things. That's the "that." A woman comes into the country with the pox, and she’s also smuggling jewels so we get some seedy criminals and bad husbands and loose women and various bit-part actors. About that, who cares. It’s the inadvertent documentary we’re here for today. She alights in New York:
Penn Station, with the lighting set on Portentious. A little inadvertent documentary before she sets off to Kill New York.
Some things never change. They just get covered with advertising.
Leaving the vermin and smoke of Penn Station, we head to the Flophouse District:
Good thing there's lots of restaurants in the neighborhood:
Anyway. The woman is carrying typhus, and causes a massive public health scare. The government wants to vaccinate everyone. Part of the public reacts as expected:
The more things change, etc. Anyway, it's not just about finding a woman who might spread a disease; she's mixed up with shady crooks, so we get to spend some time in the Underworld, such as it is. If Whit Bissell is one of your bad guys, it's not the baddest collection of lowlifes you'll find.
It doesn't venture out of the studio or backlot very much, but when it does, you have moments of old New York that could come from a master photographer of the era:
The ending takes place in the Gritty Streets of Manhattan, where the crowds and the black-beetle cars have converged to watch the police track the last people who had contact with the infected woman:
Here she is, not very well, out on a ledge, and - HEY. WAIT.
That's not New York.
That's LA. Sure enough: look at picture above this one, and you see COZY THEATER. 320 Broadway. Which makes this shabby scene below something of a surprise.
You're looking at one of the most famous buildings in movies. The view below shows the old Cozy building, which was cut down to three stories.