My dumb face eating pizza, a series by Zan
It's so unlikely that my path ever crossed Zan's, but since cross they did, our friendship feels obvious.
When she visited Ohio last winter, despite of years of my almost willful ignorance on the subject, she taught me to scramble eggs. I was never previously taught, and never happened to seek it out, remaining safely in my sunny-side-up, omelet little world. And it was a tasty world! But a limited one. And now I can scramble delicious eggs with the best of 'em, which you know (being an earthling) is not difficult or arcane. It takes a patient friend and a spatula. So because I don't want to embarrass Zan by describing her too much without her ability to edit, I will say that the business with the eggs sums it up handily. There I was, standing over my stove, asking if someone else wanted to make scrambled eggs for our breakfast seeing as I was not up for the task, and she was there to say "wait, buddy, let me show you." (And, okay, to hell with it, I'll embarrass her: Zan is the kind of person you root for. Whether she's trying to catch the next train or trying to move herself across a continent.)
Thanks for having me, Zan and co., even though I ate all the challah on Shabbos and dragged you to a funeral for a long-dead baby. For making me feel like I wasn't in the way at all in your one bedroom apartment with 2 humans, 2 dogs, 2 cats.
I don't need to tell you about New York itself, but I always forget, everything is happening there! Ha. Sure, a lot of those things are happening elsewhere, too, but not all at once. Beyond everything happening is the dense layered blueprint of things that happened there: a sprawling mortmain of steel and glass. If you try to get your head around it, you might double over from the weight of New York on your run around Central Park. Orrrr you might have just had eaten a shit ton of challah French toast and then immediately attempted an ambitious run. Hard to say.
I traveled there alone, but Nick accompanied me in that way our mates do. I saw the city through the red lens of myself, and the blue lens of my dude, casing the joint in annoying couplehood 3-D. A sort of schizophrenia, sure, but lookit how the buildings pop. I swear you could just reach right out and grab them.
Zan, Stephen, and I ate at a very classic 24 hour diner one morning, the kind of place so essentially "Nick" that his ghost would haunt it given the opportunity. Another thing Nick would have loved is taking the train so deep into Brooklyn that the Walgreen's sign was in Yiddish, for a slice of what those who know have called the city's best pizza. Each pie made when you order it, each pie so simple that how could it be the best? But it is. Zan nailed it I think: "This is exactly how pizza tastes...except that pizza never tastes like this." In low moments over the past month, I have meditated on that first buttery, chewy bite where others might have said a small prayer instead. O coal-fired oily friend, still my weary soul.
The day before I left I went to the East Village and handed over my wallet and jewelry no-questions-asked to an annoyed older Russian fellow. Then in a tiny locker room I stripped down to my underwear, having not packed a swimsuit, it being February in the northeastern United States and all, and had my first schvitz.
I moved from sauna to sauna, among the soccer-hunk Armenian teens and crumpled babushkas, in an almost trance. (All the rooms, by the way, were to the liking of the Nick in my head, except the freezing cold shallow pool, into which he would still have waded, howling.) When I emerged outside, my skin was humming, fluorescent. I bought a shitty bodega scone and ate it alone as I walked, steam ribboning out my nostrils as I chewed.
Monday morning I caught Zan as she navigated the dark apartment, and hugged her before she left to start her day. I rooted for her to have a good day, for blue skies, for triumph. And I rooted for myself to not miss my flight later, and went right back to sleep.