Some slices

In Fairfield, you had two choices for Pizza: Mike’s and Luigi’s.

Mike has a small shop. It butts out of a parking lot on the Post Road. It shares space in a commercial building with a trading card store and a watch repairman. It is very small – four tables lined up against each wall. At the end of the corridor created by those tables is a counter. In the 30 years that span my visits to Mike’s, the walls have never grown out of their wood paneling. To this day, the decor still consists of an RC Cola sign and a ficus plant. The ficus plant is about to die.

Mike made great pizza. He had a lot to learn about customers.

There was only one door. It served as the vent for the oven at the opposite end of the building. Diners were caught in the cross wind. You could drink extra RC to slake the thirst from the dry air. You’d have to buy that, Mike didn’t do any refills.

When you come in, you don’t notice all of that decor because you immediately notice that Mike is already glaring at you. Like, as if you are just another one of those kids come over from the trading card shop, just want to loiter good for nothing in my shop again. Are you going to order, or what?” is what I think he means to say.

I will order.

It would be wrong to skip past the virtue of Mike’s pizza. The sausage, in my opinion, stands out. And that crust: it must be made with a lot of egg, because it is very thick yet also very crisp. Couple that with loads of mozarella and you have a great slice. I would say that each slice probably ships 500 calories across your tongue — to eat a pie would sate most for two days or more.

Mike had these wide forearms. If it wasn’t for the kudzu-like black hair adorning them, you might miss them. I suppose the effect is like kudzu-in-winter: they remain under several layers of flour.

Here I am, consuming pounds of cheese, slowly drying out while sipping on a twelve ounce can of RC.

I want to tell Mike that I relish his pizza from my youth. I wonder how I can let him know that a visit to Mike’s was the respite against the harrowing days of middle school. I want to tell Mike that I ate my best pies ever, here, with my Dad.

“You know, it is great you have had this place all these years…” I begin to say.
What I am trying to get across to him is that he has done more than just make pizza. He has been one of the good people. His store has always been here, in a community that seems to set aside most everything with the first scent of relative mediocrity. Fairfield is not loyal.

Those eyes reveal exhaustion.

“Yeah,” says Mike, “great to who?” He turns around. “This guy thinks his five dollars gets him a shoulder to cry on,” he says to the assistant in the back, also covered with more of the same flour. “What do you want? Another RC?”

Every year Mike went on a summer vacation for two or three weeks. The sign would say “Closed,” as if that was normal for a restaurant. I suppose Mike could have hired an employee to make the pies while he was gone, but Mike didn’t work that way. Mike had a sisyphian-burden.

Luigi was the opposite. There were waiters at Luigi’s. There was air conditioning. You could get mints and toothpicks after you paid your bill at Luigi’s. You could get refills. A waiter would bring them.

Luigi always made Perfectly Normal Pizza. It had a thin crust and the cheese was a little greasy. You could get pasta or salad or things like antipasto, too. There were forty tables at least in his store. The oven was in the back. We never went there. Why?

Today, Mike is still breaking his back making pizza. I have never met Luigi. His store has its own parking lot now, and I think he opened a second restaurant in Black Rock. I think Luigi probably made so much money that he never even has to come to work.

Today (March 10), the first daffodil bloom appeared in our yard.


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