Monthly Archives: June 2013

Best pizza ever

There’s no dearth of pizza places in Arlington, and they all have their supporters and detractors. Ask “Who has the best pizza?” on our local email list and you’ll spark a thread as lively as the most heated political debate.

Before I moved to Arlington I lived in Waltham where I was a regular at a joint called Anna’s Pizza. Anna’s made Sicilian pizza, the large square kind with a thicker crust than your typical round pizza. And they were bigger, too. One Sicilian pizza could easily be dinner and lunch for two people. When my roommate and I decided to move to Arlington, we were afraid of what giving up Anna’s would mean in terms of our ability to feed ourselves, but luckily we discovered Nicola Pizza. It turned out that the two pizza places were related somehow (I’ve long since forgotten how). Nicola also made Sicilian pizza, and it was every bit as good as Anna’s. That made the transition to our new town much easier.

nicola

Then along came Andrew whose favorite pizza, Sicilian or otherwise, is Margherita. Margheritas have big chunks of tomatoes (which I abhor) and lots of garlic (which I adore).The taste of the garlic and the cheese almost make up for the icky-ness of the tomatoes, but to this day, whenever we share a Margherita pizza all my tomatoes end up on his plate. Because I love Andrew, we eat a lot of them.

Andrew and Nicola Pizza and I have been together happily for more than twenty years.  Andrew and I are going strong with no end in sight. Nicola, however, ceased operations on June 23. We knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to say good-bye. After over forty years slaving over a hot oven, Nick and his wife, Mary, decided to close shop.

Over time, I expect we’ll find a reasonable substitute. I don’t think Nicola was the only place in town that made Sicilian pizzas, but then we never had to explore further than our own neighborhood once we found them. With a Celiac in the family now, it probably makes sense to try to embrace a place that will also make gluten-free pizza. There are a few, including one that is highly touted by members of the Arlington email list. Sadly, I’ve been singularly unimpressed by their pizza the few times we’ve tried it.

Even if we find pizza of equivalent quality to Nicola’s Sicilian, nothing will replace the people themselves, most notably, Mary. Anyone who has ever been served by Mary remembers her. She called all of us “honey” or “dahlin’,” but without any real affection. I often wondered if her contempt for her customers was real, or if she really was just being funny. It’s impossible to know, but I sometimes observed her muttering under her breath after a customer had left, occasionally drawing me into her monologue with a raised eyebrow or a chin jerk in the direction of the departed. I would never have dreamed of disagreeing with her. She stood between me and the best pizza in the world. And my family and I will miss them all.

mary and nick

Short fiction; untitled

I wrote this in 2002, as an assignment for a writing class for a scene in which setting was of primary importance. I’ve always loved it, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

***

The sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower and the slight breeze from the open windows made it difficult to concentrate at the computer. Abandoning further attempts at productivity, Amelia rolled her chair away from the desk and went downstairs. She picked up her book and a rag to wipe the pollen off the rocking chair and went out the door. As she ran the rag lightly over the seat of the chair she grimaced, noting that the green paint was already starting to fade from the arms. She draped the rag over the rail of the porch and dragged the rocker to the far corner so she could be closer to the wisteria. Scott had planted the vine three years ago as little more than a shoot, and although it had already grown up the side and across the top of the farmer’s porch, the cascading blooms were concentrated near the few feet closest to the roots.

It was still early in May but the clematis vine, which Scott faithfully trimmed back every fall, had already woven itself thoroughly through the balustrade, providing the illusion of privacy.

Amelia opened her book and started to read. The sun made her eyes water and shading them with her hand didn’t help. Her attention wandered. She was distracted by several large bumblebees who were working in the wisteria. It wasn’t so much the noise they made, which was considerable, but a childlike anxiety that they would turn on her. She couldn’t remember whether or not bumblebees actually did sting people, but she was prepared to err on the side of caution. She glanced up at the ceiling. Scott had said there was a hole in the soffit that he’d seen hornets going in and out of, or maybe wasps, she hadn’t been paying attention. Whichever it was, she knew for sure that they were dangerous. Scott was going to spray something in the hole to kill them, but she didn’t know if he’d ever done that.

She contemplated moving her chair closer to the door, away from the bees and hornets, but a glance in that direction reminded her that she’d never watered the plant with the little purple flowers that was hanging from a hook in the ceiling near the stairs. She pushed herself angrily up from the chair, setting it rocking, and walked the length of the porch to the watering can that Scott insisted on keeping handy so he could minister to the garden whenever the spirit moved him. As Amelia reached down for the handle she saw her face reflected in the water. She watched as a tear made its way down the side of her nose and fell in, causing small ripples where previously all had been still. She watered the plant, despairing of ever learning what it was called now that Scott was gone.

The chair continued to rock after she’d gone in the door and back up to her computer.

Power-watching television

There is something very satisfying about power-watching a television series. For the uninitiated, power-watching is watching multiple episodes of the same show, back-to-back in a single sitting. When we started watching The Sopranos, there were four or five seasons available on disc from Netflix. Most of them had three episodes, but once in a while there would be four. That fourth episode was like the last piece of pizza in the box; you’re already stuffed, but one piece isn’t going to be enough for lunch the next day so you might as well go ahead and eat it. When the four-episode disk was over, we were so full we almost didn’t mind waiting a few days for the next one to arrive. Almost.

We’ve power-watched a number of series over the years including The Wire, Weeds, Big Love, In Treatment, Slings and Arrows, and Tell Me You Love Me. Some, like Prison Break, start strong, but begin to lose their appeal after a couple of seasons. I find it difficult, however, to stop watching a show I’ve power-watched for a season or more, particularly since Netflix introduced streaming.

Back in the day, we’d finish a disc, pop it in the mail, and wait for the next one to arrive. That enforced cooling-off period gave us time to reassess our addiction and, if necessary, take corrective action by moving the next disc in the series further down the queue in Netflix. If we did this more than a few times, we knew we were cooling on the series and on our way to breaking the habit. With streaming, each time you look at your “instant queue,” you see a list of all the episodes for the entire series. It is way too easy to say, “Let’s try one more. Just one more. I promise this will be the last one.” And yet, it never is. When the US Postal Service no longer intervened to slow our pace, I realized we, okay, I, had a problem.

In truth, this isn’t really a new problem, merely a variation on one I’ve always had—with books. I can count on one hand the number of books that I’ve abandoned before finishing them. I don’t know why I can’t toss them aside half-read. It’s not as if I’m afraid that as soon as I close the book for good, the one-dimensional characters will expand like an inverse pop-up book, or the plodding plot will suddenly break into a gallop. Honestly? It’s that I worry that it’s not the author’s fault, but mine; I’m not clever enough to appreciate their work.

I don’t have the same insecurity when it comes to judging television series. For instance, Netflix has a new original series called Hemlock Grove that I added to our instant queue. It’s horrible. According to Tim Surette of tv.com, “I’ve had acid flashbacks that made more sense than Hemlock Grove.” So why, then, have I watched half a dozen episodes? Because the whole season is listed on my instant queue and I keep thinking it might get better.

A simple intervention might set me straight. If someone were to delete Hemlock Grove from the queue, I’d probably fuss and fume for a bit, but then I’d move on—to a different series. Any suggestions?

A cure for smelly shoes?

My endodontist’s office is on Mass Ave, next door to a big old house that’s been divided into multiple apartments and across the street from a small strip mall with a realtor, a dry cleaner and a veterinarian. With the window blinds up, I am on display to anyone who drives by or looks up as they pass on the sidewalk. Much as I like company and eschew privacy, in this particular situation I would like less of the former and more of the latter. The upside to the arrangement is that if they can see me, I can see them, and the voyeur in me appreciates the quid pro quo.

On my last visit, to assess yet another tooth gone bad, I noticed a pair of sneakers in the upstairs window of an apartment in the house next door. They were arranged toe to heel on the sill. Even with the screen, they seemed precariously balanced, as if at any moment they could plummet to the ground, three stories below. I pointed them out to the assistant who was busy laying a lead apron on top of me. She followed my finger and said, “Goodness, why would they do that?” To air them out, although it is not something I’ve ever seen done around here.

Once, when I was young and carefree, I stayed at a fancy hotel in London while on a business trip. I entertained a gentleman caller one evening and when it was time for him to leave, I saw him retrieve his shoes from the roof outside the window. In truth, gentleman is a bit of a misnomer in this case. He was neither of good family, breeding, or social position nor was he sensitive, civilized, or educated—all dictionary definitions for gentleman. He was, however, in this particular instance, a well-mannered man. A scrapper from Notting Hill (before gentrification) by way of St. Vincent, he had never had occasion to be in a nice hotel, much less a posh one like the St. James’s on Park Place. He was clearly impressed and determined to treat it with respect. I didn’t see him remove his shoes or put them outside the window so I can’t say whether or not they needed airing out, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.

In more recent history, my mother-in-law took us to Paris for vacation, and we visited family friends at their apartment in St. Maur des Fosses. The friends, a Japanese woman and her French husband, live in a fifth floor walk-up with their youngest son. The apartment is quite small; their bed is a loft platform reached by a ladder with no railing, and the son’s room is barely big enough for a twin-size futon. In order to accommodate visitors, most often her parents from Japan, they purchased the apartment next door, which can be accessed through a door in their kitchen. While touring the empty apartment, I noticed several pairs of shoes lined up on the windowsill of an open window, with no screen to prevent them from taking flight.

My next visit to the endodontist is coming up soon. I am curious to see if the sneakers will still be there. And now I am even more curious about who owns them. Are they from another country; England, France, Japan, or St. Vincent? Or is the owner more pedestrian, a local teenager with stinky feet? Perhaps musing about that will distract me from my root canal. In any case, if you’re in the neighborhood during my appointment, please keep your eyes on your feet until you’ve passed by. Maybe, if you think you need to, it will remind you to put your shoes in the window when you get home. I’ve heard it helps.