When young lovers of rock music discover that I was born in 1964, among the first things they wonder is whether I ever saw Led Zeppelin. Sorry, no. I’d have been 13 in 1977 when they last toured the US, and anyway, they didn’t come to Syracuse, NY, where I raised. Sure, I was technically old enough to see Zeppelin, but for all practical purposes I was unaware of the band in 1977, even if I knew a song or two, and I was in no position to thumb a ride to New York or Philadelphia, where they played. By 1980, I was a huge fan and was planning to see the band in Buffalo at Rich Stadium. Alas, John Bonham died that year and the concert never happened.
But since most people don’t know those little details, I want to claim that I saw Led Zeppelin. I want young rockers to envy me the way I envy people who have had their plays produced. I want them to point me out at parties and remark to one another that I witnessed the greatest band in the history of rock music. Part of me honestly feels like I could get away with lying about it. Who is going to look up Led Zeppelin’s 1977 concert tour dates (besides me)? No doubt someone would, exposing me as a fraud and causing a scandal, such that this website suddenly gets millions of hits and I become famous. Then, using some internet advertising scheme, I make tons of money. But, alas, I’m a bad liar. (So please don’t ask if I ever saw REO Speedwagon).
I’m not much of an accessorizer. The most I ask of my belts are that they hold up my trousers and not look like lengths of frayed manila rope that I found in a dumpster. I own a nice watch that was a gift, but otherwise the only jewelry adorning my body is an unusual wedding ring that is made of 3 hoops twisted and fused into one, the constituent bands representing me, my wife, and my unseen “inner self.” I own a bike and have lots of accessories for it, but these are entirely practical in nature, such as the headlight designed to blind oncoming bikers, and the rack that’s used to haul all manner of goods and children around town.
The one accessory I do have plenty of, however, are gloves. I have biking gloves, which some people think are a frivolous waste of money but I assure you are not: winter biking gloves keep the fingers nice and toasty, and summer, fingerless biking gloves make my ride go about 15% faster (that’s an estimate). I have two pairs of fingerless typing gloves because my employer is going green by keeping my office around 50 degrees. Also, I like to look like I hang out near the railroad tracks on the outskirts of town in my spare time, making fires in old metal garbage cans, a wool watch cap yanked down to my ears. I have golf gloves (which are all but unnecessary but help when you want to look like a white, middle-class dude), ski gloves, hot oven mitts, leather work gloves, gardening gloves, “examination” gloves (not for what you think), and neoprene gloves that I use when working on my bike.
On the other hand, I do not own a single pair of drinking gloves (!!). Consequently, I occasionally drop a beer, creating an awful mess of foamy liquid and broken glass, which causes my kids to haul out the breathalyzer. If any of the thousands (millions?) of you out there who follow this blog haven’t bought me a Christmas gift yet, please consider drinking gloves. Not only will they improve my grip on the beverage I’m drinking, but they’ll also reduce the transfer of heat and cold from hands to beverage and vice versa. Drinking gloves: practical, inexpensive, and, when monogrammed, quite personal.
One day, a guy comes into Fast Eddie’s, the pizza shop where I worked back in the day, and asks for a small pepperoni pizza “well burned.” I’ve never been a person who craves the flavor of highly charred anything – meat or vegetable – and I was always a thick-and-chewy kind of guy, not a thin and crispy fellow, so of course my ears immediately perked up. One of the shop’s owners– I can’t remember his name (look, this was like 1985) – says sure, fine, small pepperoni well-burned. Whatever. So he puts the pizza in the oven for a little longer than usual, and out it comes, golden and crusty. But before the pizza could be cut, the patron says, “Could you burn it more?” “You want it more?” says the shop owner. So back in it goes. Five minutes pass, and then it comes back out. Now you can smell the scorched crust, which is good and black on the bottom. But the patron was unimpressed. “More, please. Burn it more.” At this point, my boss wasn’t sure what to do. It was already burned on the bottom. But, finally, he put it right back in. After a few minutes, smoke started wafting out of the oven, and when he opened the oven door, smoke billowed out. The shop owner pulled out the charred pie, and now even the pepperoni was smoking. “Burn it more,” said the patron. “Burn it more!” But at this point the whole restaurant was filled with smoke. Everyone in the place was coughing and we had to get a fan going to air it out. “No!” said my boss. “That’s enough!”
This is evidence that you can’t just do whatever the hell you want in this country. (Except, maybe, when it comes to buying guns).
I may seem like the sort of person who patronizes only higher-end food establishments, but the truth is I have a close personal history with fast food. I worked in a Greek pizza shop called Fast Eddies back in my hardscrabble college days, transporting meals to hungry couch potatoes.
Delivering pizzas sounds pretty easy, but it’s not. I had to drive around in a beat up old station wagon with steaming pies distracting me from the back. Not only that, but I worked in a densely packed district and had to double-park regularly, which meant I constantly risked getting tickets. These pressures take their toll, emotionally. I’d also get summoned to the BC dorms a lot, where college football players would claim that they didn’t have to pay for their two large, meaty pizzas because I hadn’t arrived within half an hour. “That’s Dominoes,” I’d inform them. Then, they’d slam the door in my face. Since a significant part of my income was tips, I had to be diplomatic with the large, muscular fellows who were trying to cheat Fast Eddie out of a measly 18 bucks and me out of part of my textbook budget. Eventually, they’d give me what I was due, plus a dime or so.
When delivery requests dropped off, I’d work the counter and make sandwiches. Much to my consternation, I was never taught the secrets of making great pizza at Fast Eddie’s. I couldn’t blame the shop’s owners for that, because no one had taught them either. I did learn, however, how to make a steak bomb. If I recall correctly, it was a cheesesteak with the works: onions, peppers, mushrooms, hots, and probably something else. Did I win any sandwich-making awards? Unfortunately, no. Still, I would characterize my tenure at Fast Eddie’s this way: I had good days, and I had great days, and sometimes, I had really great days.
In recent years, I’ve been making my own pizzas in my own over-engineered oven, which is better than renting space in a pizza shop for the night. Given my history with sandwich-making as well as current pizza skills, I’d say I have all the tools needed to open my very own delivery restaurant right here in West Roxbury, which I intend to call Speedy Pat’s. More news on this soon, after approaching my wife about the idea. (The part that might be a little difficult for her, which I totally understand, is that we’d have to quit our jobs in order to take on this back-breaking work, as well as put our young kids to work at the grill.)