Last week I ate pizza with my friend Ross Noyes. Ross is a punk kid from Boston, and when I had first met him many years ago, I thought his last name was like, "Noise" or "Noize" or something and it was an unfortunate remnant of his teenage punk band. But it turns out his real actual last name is just a homophone. Who knew?
One time Ross walked into the diner while I was working, on a moderately busy evening. I made eye contact with him, but didn't say anything because I had armloads of food and was bringing them to a table. When he shouted, "APPARENTLY I'M FUCKIN' INVISIBLE ALLOVASUDDEN!" a few seconds later, I thought he was talking to me and quickly rushed over to quiet him down. "Hey man, sorry, I see you there, I'm just busy." I blurted out.
He looked surprised and was like, "what? You thought I was talking to you? Come outside for a second, lemme show you something."
We walked out front and he showed me his bike. One side of the handlebars was flush with the frame, like a two dimensional drawing, and the wheels were totally fucked. I looked at him shocked and he said, "I just got dragged under a truck for two blocks."
I took him inside, gave him coffee and a whiskey, and asked how the hell he was still walking. He looked me in the eyes and said, "Cause I'm fuckin' Wolverine. I don't get hurt." When I saw him the next day, he was walking with a cane. Ross is a person who, while I don't necessarily think he's got everything figured out, I never worry about him making it in the world, because he seems like he can really take care of himself and he seems like he's at peace with who he is.
A little while ago I started therapy for the first time in my life. It's been really helpful in learning and growing as a person, and in unpacking a lot of the baggage I've accrued in the time I've been alive. When I first started seeing the doc, there was a voice inside me telling me that it was a bourgeois extravagance, like it was weakness on my part that led to my needing therapy in the first place. I knew that was bullshit but I also couldn't shut the voice up. And oftentimes, it would come back to me and it would say, "look at Ross. He deals with his shit. Why can't you just deal with your shit?"
One day I was waiting at the halal truck near my doctor's office for a chicken on pita, and Ross walked by. We noticed each other and the first thing out of his mouth was a surprised and amicable, "what the hell are you doing in this neighborhood?"
For a split second I was frozen. Here was this guy standing in front of me who, in a lot of ways, seems to embody many of the of the more admirable qualities of American masculinity--strength, self-reliance, confidence--without replicating most of the bad ones. For a moment, I felt a sense of self-imposed shame about my need for help. But I knew that at heart, Ross wouldn't think any less of me for seeking out assistance, and more importantly, I knew that if he did, it was his problem, not mine. So with some trepidation that I'm sure went unnoticed, I said to him, "I'm just getting lunch on the way to see the shrink."
Without a second thought, Ross looked at me and said, "I wish I was in therapy. Good for you." And suddenly all these illusions I was harboring about both of us were shattered. It's always interesting, and oftentimes potentially disastrous, when the image you've created for someone comes face to face with their actual humanity. This is why so many people are disappointed when they meet celebrities, for instance. But we don't just create personas for strangers, we create them for everyone in our lives. Our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors, our family. And people create them about us too. There's nothing wrong with it. I will never understand the entirety of another human being, so I have to surmise and imply what I can't know. But it's always heartening to realize that maybe you've oversimplified someone. That maybe there's a lot more to them than you let yourself believe.
I was a few minutes early meeting Ross last week, and so I had plenty of time to stand around in front of It's a Pizza
and ponder their hideous facade. I thought for sure I was looking at some heartless business endeavor, malevolent tumor of capitalism blighting the face of a city street. When Ross arrived, I nodded towards the awning and he said, "I am not looking forward to this."
Inside the place was decorated horribly. There was fake brick on the walls, and an array of weird mirrors hanging "artistically." The chalkboard pricelist had those fake painted food pictures at the bottom that look like they're out of a terrifying comic book. But it was bustling as hell in there, it smelled good, and there was a pretty authentic looking (and sounding) pizza man behind the counter taking orders and yelling at customers.
When our slice came out of the oven it looked pretty good. And it was good! The sauce was a little too sweet, and tasted more like the sauce on a chicken parm than on a slice, but there was just the right amount of it. The cheese was good quality and the dough was cooked to perfection. The crust, while skimpy, was absolutely delicious. Ross said, "If this place was in a different city, like Athens or Duluth or something, you'd be like, 'this pizza place fuckin' rules!' and there'd be only punks working here."
And suddenly, eating this good slice, and looking back at the guy behind the counter, who by all signs looked to be some moderately shlubby New York native and not the "business savvy" Wall Street shark I assumed would own the places based on the exterior, everything took on a different connotation. The aesthetic qualities I found distasteful about the place at first suddenly seemed charming, like when someone makes a benign and well-intentioned bad decision. The fact that the place looked like it would totally suck and it didn't made it seem almost better than if it had looked cool. Because that would've been unremarkable. "This pizza place that looks like a pizza place is a pizza place and they sell pretty good pizza." But because the place looked like a miserable outpost of the Capitalist Death Culture, but turned out to be a decent pizza shop, there was something triumphant about the whole experience.
I also noticed on the sign out front
that they offer a 99¢ slice "happy hour" from 4-6pm. If the slice they serve then is the same as the one I ate, then this is clearly the best slice of pizza you can get for a dollar anywhere in the city.
It's a Pizza - $2.25
20 John St (Nassau & Broadway)
New York, NY 10038