He wrote an essay - presumably for his college writing course - that I found on the hard drive of his laptop. He submitted it for grading just a couple of weeks before his death. More irony. Anyway, here it is for your reading:
We usually set out in the early morning, around four. It’s an eight hour drive to the George Washington Bridge (the GWB, for short) which takes us into the Bronx. From there, you can get anywhere in the city, like Manhattan or Brooklyn. Once, we even drove an extra couple hours to reface the kitchen in a beach house on Long Island Sound.
But I digress. An eight hour drive puts us across the bridge around lunch time, depending on traffic. For lunch, we always get the same thing: classic New York pizza with a bottle of Coke to drink. It’s our little ritual: arriving, having spent hours in the truck doing nothing but catching faint radio signals here and there across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We’re usually tired and starving, but we always make the effort to find one of the good pizzerias scattered about the city. Fortunately, they’re everywhere! One of New York’s finest products is its pizza – uniquely Italian in heritage, yet wholly American in design. Nearly every neighborhood has its little pizzeria, and you can immediately tell if it’s good or not.
Every pizzeria is laid out in the same basic pattern. First, there’s the little front door in an unassuming building with a simple title over the top, something like “Frankie’s” or “Arturo’s.” As you walk in, you’ll see the pizza on the left. Pizzas are displayed in the glass below the counter, and a massive brick oven dominates the entire back of the work area. There’ll be three or four guys behind the counter (they always wear white t-shirts and long white aprons). The first guy is the one who does most of the talking; he takes the orders and relays it back to the pizza makers. One of the guys will be working the pizza dough, from kneading it to rolling it to doing the famous “pizza flip.” Another guy will be making the pizza, which includes spreading the sauce, cheese, and toppings. All of this can be seen easily, as if they take pride in their work. Everyone who works in the kitchen has an impressively thick “New York Accent”; you can hear this when they ask you what you’d like to get. After you order your pizza, you take it to a different counter which has the soda machine and condiments to put on top. Finally, you take your pizza and drink toward the back of the pizzeria, where the tables are. They’ll usually have newspapers like the New York Post to read while you eat. The walls will also be covered with pictures of Nazionale di calcio dell’Italia, or Italy National Football Team, and autographed posters of Yankees team members. (Italy also has a women’s football team, but I’ve only rarely seen pictures of them.) Pizzeria workers are usually second or third (and sometimes even first) generation Italians; and they’re very proud of their football team, which has won four titles in the World Cup, an Olympic football tournament, a European Championship, and two Central European International Cup. The workers usually also enjoy American football, but they’ll never tell you that.
The pizza itself has three core requirements to be considered perfect. First, it has to have a crust which is neither too thin nor too thick, and it has to have a good balance between crunch and chewiness. Second, the sauce has to be slightly tangy, but with very small hints of sweetness. Finally, the cheese has to be melted to the exact point where it’s not burned, but is still piping hot. Good pizza should be too hot to eat for a few seconds.
Dad and I always get the same thing at each place we go to: two slices each, with anchovies. We call them “two wit’ anchovies” using our accents that we had when living in Yonkers. We sprinkle garlic powder, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes over the top of each slice, and each have a 16 ounce bottle of Coke to wash it down. More recently, I switched to Mountain Dew, but sometimes I’d get a Coke for old time’s sake. We sit and eat our pizza, flip through the paper, and make comfortable small talk about nothing important. After we finish our lunch, we get up and pay the guy at the front and head out to do the day’s work.
In our average week-long trip, we’d get pizza a few times for lunch. I always looked forward to it as one of the highlights of our stay. Since I’ve entered college, however, I’ve stopped going with Dad. I’ve started to move on my own, and can’t help in the shop anymore. My brother Benjamin is now the one who goes and gets the pizza and spends time with Dad, and helps on the job. I think it’ll be good for him; he’ll spend a week on a jobsite, learning a trade and eating good food that exists nowhere else. As I think about my own trips, though, I realize something…the pizza is what sticks in my mind, but it stands for everything I cherish about my Dad and New York. During our trips, I was able to bond with Dad and experience my Italian heritage in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in Ohio. I don’t begrudge my brother this chance, but sometimes, I wish I could go back. I wish I could spend just one more week in New York, working alongside Dad, and getting the only pizza worth eating.