Among the Distasteful: A Jeremiad Against Pizza

Amid the bacchanal of culinary dilettantes, let us pause to honor and pontificate upon the Seamless junkies, the strapless smartphone whores of Babylon, and the editors who will never edit my prolix copy. The streets of American cities are haunted by the ghosts of pizzerias and Italian restaurants, which have been invaded by the greatest, biggest, plus-sized, vilest, ugliest, most malicious, thorniest, and savviest of hooligans in the history of the food industry. There are baleful brutes who stab at their slices with forks and knives, and these include a Gotham City Mayor elected by delusional liberals who now complain of turned backs from those stalwart officers in blue rightly wishing to uphold the old Paul Anka white bread standards in the name of American justice and the occasionally playful choke hold or wrestling move gone wrong. Eaters, when they are not hanging from a trapeze, hover between a decent share of a pie and an indecent bite cadged off some smelly bum; they are expected to open a plastic wrapper containing a mass-produced square of spiral noodles produced in some exotic export processing zone when they are not eating a gluten-free meal at gunpoint, and all the miracles of electronic pizza dissemination somehow do not suffice for the experience of a home-cooked meal cooked and curated by a bromidic homemaker who no longer exists in our world of career equilibrium and gender parity. There is not a stove in the New York City area that is turned on, unless it compensates for a tetchy radiator in the blistering cold. Everybody — and by “everybody” I mean the three magazine articles I read in a drunken, self-loathing haze over the holidays — talks frantically about pizza, a second-order subject if ever there was one, as if the prospect of tomato sauce vanishing into a bed of “cheese” is a cataclysmic event rivaling the First Battle of Ypres. “Cheese” must be contained in quotes, for it is very much a part of the crisis; its ineluctably paralytic hold was once embraced in rap by a hip young man named Marshall Mathers, from whom I quote: “Here I go again hammerin stammerin grammerin and eat it like cheese, pass me the crackers please / I’ve got a craving.” But what does this understanding of “cheese” contribute to to the understanding of life? Pizzerias and restaurants have slowly transformed themselves into hammerin stammerin grammerin venues in which customers willfully fill their stomachs with subpar Mozzarella and pepperoni from questionable meat vendors, without regard for last century’s pizza standards, the greatest pizza generation, or the way pizza used to be, and the gurgling of bellies bellows above all stabs at grace and thrusts at aesthetic consideration. As the frequency of hammerin stammerin grammerin expression grows, the force, nay the power, of proper pizza consumption diminishes: Pie expectations of plentiful toppings and extra crispness confer the highest prestige upon the masticating cacophony of stertorous belches and promotional coupons promising a two-for-one special during the next vulgar visit. It was always the case that all pizza eaters, especially those too indolent to saunter down to the local establishment and pick up the pies in person, must pass gas, but this is ridiculous.

Meanwhile the discussion of higher dinners is being steadily absorbed into the discussion of “bidness” – a shorthand slang term I first heard from this Mathers fellow and that a young African-American friend (I assure you that, as a cultural expert, some of my best friends are black, although only one returned my call for this essay) recently educated me on. Apparently, today’s youth is now pronouncing “business” this way. Are they ashamed of sibilant consonants? I haven’t a clue, but I’m not at The New Republic anymore and unpacking these seminal and intricate issues is a more complicated and arcane professional task in the pages of the New York Times Book Review. For example, it was my “bidness” to write this paragraph with my trousers tousled around my ankles, gaping at my study window to ensure that nobody was looking. Scummy little pizza! Kill the bastard! Am I straying from my point? Perhaps. But I was guaranteed a 3,000 word count. I am scared.

Anyway, “bidness.” There are no known “metrics” between the relationship between “cheese” and “bidness.” Numerical values are assigned to orders that ping from the deepest recesses of the electronic vortex, as a voracious digital consumer logs onto Seamless and contributes to the “cheese” industrial complex. Economic concepts grow into great kaiju destroying our proudest metropolises: There is, in fact, an economist standing next to me right now! He does not answer to the name of Krugman but he is growing big bigger BIGGER! Oh shit! There goes my 19th century bronze chandelier! To paraphrase Yoda (and I’m not sure this benign, large-eared, fictitious creature actually said this; I have not actually seen these movies), where ceiling once was, bitter tears will now be. Ergo, pizza is the most overwhelming influence upon the contemporary American understanding of, well, everything. This draconian hold is enabled by the video game characters Mario and Luigi, two Italian stereotypes from Nintendo who should rightfully be employed as co-owners of a pizzeria (this was, after all, Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto’s source of inspiration), but who were ignobly cast as jocular plumbers, thus subverting the consumer’s expectations and therefore the pizza scholar’s. Yet in a Pavlovian salivation tactic worthy of America’s most craven marketers, one looks at Mario’s red and Luigi’s green and sees tomato sauce and bell peppers. Beyond their predatory and symbiotic relationship with pizza, all distastefully clandestine, Mario and Luigi penetrate even deeper levels of identity and experience, to cognition and consciousness. Such transformations embolden certain high culinary priests in the church of nostalgia to espouse the doctrine of “transmarioism” and to suggest, without any recollection of the bankruptcy of Atari or the guy who created the Pong game, that our pizza-eating acumen will carry us magnificently beyond our affinity for Mario and “allow us to, like, chill out with an old GameCube if you can bring the weed, bro…Smoke a few bowls and there will be no distinction, post-Luigi’s Mansion, between human and Mario.” (The author of that frivolous nonsense, a random email that someone forwarded to me to help me pad out this piece, is a twenty-five-year-old pizza delivery man known among his peers as something of a beer pong champion. One sees how transmarioism and the great pizza lie feeds on itself.)

And even as pizzaism, which is not the same as pizza and not the same as “cheese” and not the same as any other sinister neologism I may coin, asserts itself over more and more police precincts that subjugate human life the thrill of a warm fascist bath, so too does hamburgerism, which is not the same as hamburgers and not the same as hot dogs and not the same as pizza and not the same as pizzaism and if you send $9.99 to my home address I will provide you with a flowchart on all the terms I am establishing in this highly intellectual essay (not even my editor could figure it out!). I am Leon Wiesltier, which is not the same as Leon Wieseltierism and not the same as Wiener Schnitzel and not the same as the emotionally cleansing experience I have when spilling my guts out to my therapist, which may very well be better for me than accepting these assignments. The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of pizza must be explained in terms of the material dimensions…OH WHO THE FUCK AM I KIDDING? I AM A 62 YEAR OLD MAN AND I HAVE NEVER EATEN A SLICE OF PIZZA! THERE! I SAID IT, GODDAMMIT! PIZZA, I JUST DON’T GET YOU AND NEVER WILL! DAMN YOU KIDS AND YOUR FUN AND YOUR SUPER MARIO AND YOUR CHEESE AND YOUR HAMMMERIN STAMMERIN GRAMMERIN!

Okay…calm down, Leon. Let’s get it together. We can get to the end.

A complacent eater is an eater who has not picked at his pizza closely. But never mind the pizza. Our solemn responsibility is to stop writing dull and incoherent essays that fail to inspire anyone and that say absolutely nothing at all.

© 2015, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.

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