Play Dough

But Why Didn’t They
Call it The Big Pizza?

The world would laugh if it’d even care about the little idiosyncrasies New Yorkers take at heart and seem to invest their entire being championing it. As if the fate of humankind lays squarely on the top of their shoulders. Case in point: pizza, local fast food extraordinaire.
Now, would it kill us to exercise restrain and abstain from such prosaic subject? But how could we if only yesterday, when we were hungry and broke, nothing else on the face of Earth would be more satisfying?  Fear not, for we approach the beast with utmost respect.
First off, there are no two ways of eating it. No solemnity lost either. Denizens of this great cesspool are proud of mastering the holy dough early on. And then there’re all the wrong ways to be ashamed doing it. Just ask the Mayor; once caught eating it with fork and knife, it was all downhill from then on.
Anathema, no less. Come on, the whole combo of flour, cheese, and tomato sauce may have been invented in the old country ages ago, but the slice and the ‘fold and eat with your hands’ maneuver have been both trade-marked on the streets of the five boroughs, just like steaming manholes and yellow cabs.
What? You have a problem with that? Many an argument has flared up or settled down over a steaming pie. For the growing crowd with only a pocketful of change, nothing beats a 4 AM slice by the curbside.
But alas, not even pizza can be that ‘New Yorker.’  As with other city-by-the-river staples, it’s been appropriated by the world many times over, grit, warts et al. No chance of pizza going the way of the sleazy Times Square just yet, though. But we digress.
We’re living in odd times, that’s for sure, even if equally lean. Most other local treats, like the Egg Cream and the Knish can’t compete any longer with a pie printed in space, or a slice lasting longer than a heat wave. Never mind old shoes like us, though: by the looks of it, millennials are all for it, thus the future is assured.
Big Apple? Who were they kidding? So, fine, it was supposed to evoke the original sin and all that, besides looking a bit more photogenic in tourism ads. But the likelihood of seeing someone eating apples on the streets of New York was never bigger than spotting a kangaroo at a subway stop, or a beret-wearing mime.
Although we’re sure those have also been spotted somewhere around (more)

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here. In any case, we thought about getting a quick survey on wonders of this thousand-year snack, that can proudly be a meal on its own right. Just don’t bring pineapples anywhere near one or we’ll scream.

Inevitably, as with many scrumptious foods we’ve been indulging for centuries, the old loaf of bread covered in cheese and herbs (predating even the ascension of tomatoes, around 700 A.C.E.) came from the ancient country. Many trace its earliest reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, written almost 800 years before that.
To some, it was a baker in Pompeii, Publius Paquius Proculus, who invented it some 2,000 years ago, and in fact, a relic of the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed his city and Herculaneum is a fossilized round dough that strongly resembles some of the culinary achievement of ‘The Original Ray.’
For the typical Napolitano, for instance, there’s nothing else but Marinara and, ok, once in a while, Margherita, and we’ll spare you from their common origins. We said hold the fruit before but apart from that, anything goes on that pulsating canvas: sausage, meatballs, broccoli, even, grasp, chicken.
They say that way back when Virgil’s hero, Aeneas was still kicking, pizza was good enough for breakfast. Back to our own times, it may be the only edible consumed by all Brooklynites. Or Dan from Maryland. Some even get hurt by it. And then there’s the vegetarian slash vegan slash gluten-free crowd, who wouldn’t touch the stuff. Again, we digest, er, digress.
But if Italy is the birth of pizza, NYC is its adoring adoptive parent and, given how it became ingrained in the fabric of the city, it’s doubtful that anywhere but here, people would go to such length (say, a few blocks) to have a slice on their way home. Delivery? Fuggedaboutit!

Now, just because it’s been invented when Rome had just been weaned by that she-wolf, doesn’t mean that pizza won’t last longer than most of us. Years in fact, if it’s up to U.S. Army Natick Soldier food scientist Michelle Richardson, who’s lead a team working on ways to build a better dough.
The idea was to supply combatants with a three-year-old slice that would taste as fresh as what one’d  get at Percy’s, on Bleecker off MacDougal. Or almost. It’ll take a lot of tweaking to prevent it from getting moldy and preserve its moist texture and flavor. Maybe they should study McDonald’s.
Rather than eating cold pizza, NASA offered a $125K grant to anyone who’d develop a better slice. Plus, it plans to send a 3D printer to actually print a better Domino right up at the sky above us. Astronauts at the International Space Station have already stocked the Oregano just in case.
It may take a while to, er, fine-print the resulting dough and cheese and tomato combo, and again, at 300 miles above the Earth, moisture is a bitch. But they’ll get there. After all, if there’s a group of people who graciously dodges daily indignities just to be at the cutting edge of science is the rocket scientists themselves: astronauts.

Talking about indignities, we’d be remiss without mentioning the bravery, heroism, and promptness displayed day and night by the anonymous legion of pizza delivery people, anywhere but in particular, where no one ever sleeps. Some day, these intrepid bikers will have monuments erected on their honor. And full-benefit packages.
The dark side of such sunny appraisal is, of course, all the delivery people shot on the line of duty. Brian Douglas Wells, arguably the most notorious among them, wasn’t even actually delivering pizza, but you may say, supplementing his meager income, when he got killed in 2003. Police say he was part of an elaborated but poorly executed bank robbery slash stunt that went terribly awry.
Justice decided that his companions, all now convicted for the botched attempt, convinced old sport Wells to hang a fake bomb around his neck. Perhaps to add drama to a plan that they may have thought lacked some of it, that is, if you don’t consider the lethal, high-powered guns involved. They weren’t waiting for the movie either.
All and all, it was a risky and complex plan to execute too and none of our heroes were not up to the task. On top of this, his old pals neglected to tell him that the bomb was real. Actually, even the police didn’t believe it until it was too late. A stray shot was all that it took on that hot August afternoon in Eire, PA, for old Doug to be no more.
A much easier payout awaited Lounes Issaad of Gaithersburg, MD, who hit the million dollar jackpot. After seven years delivering pizza, he’s definitely earned it. Even if taxes and long-lost friends and family will inevitably show up to get their cut, you’ve got to admit it (and we can’t help it), it’s still a lot of dough.

(*) Originally published on Colltales on Feb. 27, 2014.

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