My brother Robert and I grew up on Manhattans East Side. Some afternoons, wed go to a delihed get a stack of Genoa salami on an untoasted plain bagelor to a diner for a hamburger. Usually, though, wed stop in at the Ultimate Pizza, a below-ground hole in the wall on 57th and 1st. If you look at the Ultimates Yelp page, youll see a photo of my mother on the sidewalk holding our long-dead Maltese.
My brother and I would always order a large half regular, half pepperoni. A simple pie, sweet-sauced and oily, which wed take home. When I think of pizza, I think of those afternoons with my brother: Pardon the Interruption; green bean bags; the space-age boot-up sound of our Sega Dreamcast.
Strange, but often remarked upon, is that food is the pathway to memory. Stranger, Ive learned, is that when memory is distorted by loss, the food distorts too. Pizza, which Ive always loved for its humbleness, has become redolent of grief.
My brother died eleven months ago. Ever since, unfathomable depression, nightmares, screaming at random moments in the car. He had been mentally ill for years, but despite our frequent blowups, he was my friend. In his adult life, he mainly ate pizza. The simple kind: Dominos, after the Ultimate closed. One of his issues with me was his supposition that I was a phony, as evidenced by my adult fondness for artisanal pizza. He felt that I didnt actually prefer pies with, say, honey and hot peppers.
But then, he hated all the ways that I had changed. His was an ouroboros life. Hospital, childhood home, rental apartment that hed destroy, hospital again. Every outward motion of minemy marriage, when he had no girlfriend; my teaching job, when he kept getting fired; my publications, when he never could get past the first pages of his decade-long attempt to write a paper on semioticsemphasized his own stasis.
Strange, but often remarked upon, is that food is the pathway to memory. Stranger, Ive learned, is that when memory is distorted by loss, the food distorts too.
Removing myself from our shared childhood forced him to notice our differences. And now that hes removed himself from me, I notice him everywhere.
Cake Zine Volume 3: Humble Pieis available now.