Trenton Makes (Pizza) and I Take

I'd put off going to De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies in Trenton, NJ, for a few years now. I'll get there, I thought. What's the rush? 

Then it turned out the rush was on, as I read in the Star-Ledger last month that De Lorenzo's, open in its current bathroom-less location since 1947, was going to close its doors on January 15, 2012. OK, no problem. Still no need to rush. 

Then came the holidays and shopping and I had other things on my mind. Then it was Christmas. Then it was 2012. And then it was January 12 and I thought, hmmm, maybe I should get on this. 

And after reading an excellent tribute in the Star-Ledger on Friday, I started to put the wheels in motion. Prior research indicated it was walkable from the train station (underrated thing to see in NJ:  the art running from the Hamilton station to the Trenton station on the Northeast Corridor line, which starts with a giant sculpture of people sitting in conversation and concludes with an impressive Amy Winehouse graffiti memorial mural), so I mulled it over, with the final stumbling block being a potentially demoralizing trip to the Nassau Coliseum for Pat Flatley Night. Mr. Flatley is my all-time favorite Islander, and his name is on the back of my first circa-1990 Islanders jersey (signed a few years ago), so though I knew it would be cool to see him inducted into the Islanders Hall of Fame, I feared that the current Islanders would muck it all up and come out flat after the ceremony. And that, and the long, sad ride home from Long Island, might make me less likely to get up early on Sunday.

But, hooray, Islanders win! (it helped that the Sabres looked flat, but a win's a win, and, on a side note, I hereby publicly apologize to any children in my section who heard my vulgarities when the Sabres were awarded a penalty shot with less than two minutes to go and a call that I'm gonna say here was questionable and that I said was something else from my seat at the Coliseum). So, I left Long Island happy and woke up early Sunday morning to print out directions and layer up (six!) for the likely two-hour wait in the cold to get into DeLorenzo's (they open at 4 and close at either 8 or 9, and only seat around 50, so it was going to require some early arriving). 
When I arrived, after a brief walking detour through lovely downtown Trenton, at around 2:30, there weren't too many people in line (and those that were brought their own camping chairs). But that was a bit deceptive, because there were also a few people huddling up in cars while their spots in line were held (the first group was about 20 people strong). Still, I wound up being about 25th in line when the "Pizza" light came on at 4 p.m. and the door opened for the last time to the public. 

I got some ordering tips from Danny, one of the leaders of the big group in line, who asked where I'd come from and seemed impressed that I'd made the trip down from Jersey City, I decided to keep it pretty basic, ordering a large, half-garlic and then, on Danny's recommendation, getting a "half-baked" to take home. 

There isn't a ton of space in the De Lorenzo's oven, and I was a few tables behind in line (several of whom were bringing it home with style, ordering four or more pies for a four-person table), so I soaked in the sights. The cash register is the most famous non-edible feature of De Lorenzo's, and rightfully so. And the rotary phone (whose receiver was taken off the hook, was a nice feature, too. 

The owners, Gary and Eileen Amico, looked like they were keeping it together, though someone at the table in front of me mentioned that Eileen was crying as a customer jumped up on his seat to give a speech thanking Gary and Eileen for bringing so much joy into his life and creating pizza and a pizzeria that was just about a religious experience. Eileen hugged the customer after the speech, and we all applauded. 

And, a little while later, my heavenly pizza arrived. 

Yes, I ate the whole thing myself. And I am proud of it. I even got my own round of applause from the table of folks across from me. Danny and his booth seemed proud of me as well. 

After having my picture taken by a photographer for some newspaper (I'm guessing), which, with any luck, will not make it into print anywhere, I layered back up, settled the bill (Danny bought me a birch beer, after I graciously declined his offers of beer and wine), grabbed my half-baked, and headed back to the train station, thought not before a woman who said she'd been going to De Lorenzo's since she was a girl (I believe she said she was now in her 60s) and I talked about family businesses and places that just do one thing and do it well without any fancy trappings. Those kinds of places disappear more and more every year, so it's sad to see places like De Lorenzo's go. But I'm glad I had my one visit.

And I'm also full. Thanks, Gary, Eileen, and crew for making it possible. My condolences to all of you who never made it there.


A Picture's Worth, Chapter 1

(The first in, I hope, a series, of posts about a picture that are exactly 1,000 words long [according to MS Word]. Get it? And, oh yeah, these words don't count. The rest of them do.)

September 8, 1995. That's not when this picture was taken. I'm guessing I snapped it in 2000 (at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey) with one of those old-fashioned contraptions that you loaded film into, took pictures with, and then hoped for the best when you got the roll developed. I got a winner here (full disclosure: I used newfangled technology to crop out the side of a woman's head).

But back to that Friday night in September, in Ithaca, New York.

I was only a few days into my sophomore year, after a freshman year that felt a lot like failure. I'm being a little dramatic, but I think this proves my point: having acquired so few friends that I knew no one who wanted to live with me, I squatted my spot in the triple I lived in in the least convenient building on campus. That is, I decided to stay where I was and again live with two strangers in a fairly tiny room. This is not the action of a guy setting the college world on fire.

In any case, my new roommates had just settled in when I headed downtown and saw a poster that said NRBQ was playing at the State Theater. I had started venturing downtown to see shows midway through my freshman year and had discovered the blues at a club called The Haunt when I went to see Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson on a weekend night. I came back to the dorm so revved up that, as I was breathlessly recapping the show, I realized that I had walked into the middle of one of my roommates making out with his girlfriend. Sorry, Bob.

But, you see, I'd found live music. I'd been to a few concerts, but they were all in big theaters or under festival tents. I'd never been in a small club and seen it all right there in front of me. Something big had opened up in my world, and nothing--particularly my sense of hearing--was going to be the same.

So, anyway, the NRBQ show.

I had a little awareness of NRBQ, mainly through their connection with pro wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano and their recording of "Captain Lou.” I can't quite recall if I had bought my cassette of Lou and the Q prior to the show, but I'm guessing I might have because I knew the guy on the left in the show poster wasn't Big Al Anderson and in those early Internet days, I can't imagine how I would've known about Big Al (who left the band in 1994 and was replaced by Johnny Spampinato, brother of NRBQ bass player Joey). So, it's quite possible that I bought my ticket for the show on the basis of one album featuring a pro wrestling manager rather than just one song about a pro wrestling manager. What else would an 18-year-old do on the first Friday night of the school year?

I'm not saying I made a ton of great decisions in college (the final tally is between 4 and 7), but buying that ticket to see NRBQ was definitely one of them. The 1,600-seat theater was probably 1,500 shy of a sellout, but you wouldn't have known it if you looked on the stage. The crazy guy with the blond hair, Terry Adams, was banging away on the piano and this weird piano-looking thing that made bizarre, spacy sounds (later determined to be a clavinet). The curly-haired guy on the drums, Tommy Ardolino, was, like all good drummers, making everything seem effortless while alternately swinging and pounding throughout the set. And the brothers Spampinato were grinning ear to ear, particularly during the spell-along song that bore their last name. Everybody, from the stage on out, looked like they were having the time of their lives. It all ended too soon, and after I got three of the guys to sign one of those posters I'd seen, I went back to my squatted triple with some sense that everything was going to be OK. I was going to get through college just fine, and music was going to be there to help.

I did, and it was.

As the picture indicates, that wasn't the last NRBQ show I went to. In fact, there were about fifteen more, at a street fair in Hoboken, at the Bottom Line, on a boat, at Castaways back in Ithaca after I graduated, and at the Bowery Ballroom for what might be my favorite show of all time, their 30th anniversary concert, which featured Captain Lou himself, a moment so joyous that I wish someone had taken a picture of me. I could've given you a few thousand on that one.

And I don't think I ever left an NRBQ show without a smile on my face. It would've been hard to do so, because Terry, Joey, Johnny, and Tommy looked to be having such a good time being goofy boys in grown men's bodies (staging puppet shows in the middle of a set, waving to the audience after every song, taking turns blowing the trumpet) that you couldn't help but join in. Or, to paraphrase their own song, they felt so good, and they wanted you to feel good, too.

But I don't feel good right now. Tommy Ardolino died on Friday. It felt like a punch when I read the news. But later in the day, I thought about this picture. And I smiled, thinking about all those shows in all those places with all that fun. And I felt a little better that I'd had the chance to see Tommy behind the drums so many times and that I bought that ticket in Ithaca.

I'm going to see the new NRBQ next week, with three new and equally talented guys now backing Terry. I'll probably feel a little sad for a bit.

But not for too long.

I plan on leaving with a smile.

Thanks, Tommy.


What I Liked About December

*Amy LaVere, Joe's Pub, NYC; Concerts in the Studio, Freehold, NJ
*My Mojo Nixon bobblehead
*The premiere of Impractical Jokers
*Jenny Scheinman, Bill Frisell, and Brian Blade, Village Vanguard, NYC

*Pumpple cake, Flying Monkey Bakery, Philadelphia, PA
*Christmas with the fam
*Post-Christmas with the extended fam
*David Wax Museum/Spirit Family Reunion, Le Poisson Rouge, NYC

*Slo-Mo/Steph Hayes and the Good Problems/John Train/Ella Dars, Milkboy, Philadelphia, PA
*Dawes, Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ
*Seeing John Striffler and family at Denino's
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places

The 50-A-Day Project: Books 71-78 and the Final Roundup

Success! I didn't quite read enough for another 10 to end the year, but I'm OK with that. I suppose I could've read some kids' books before I gave them away as holiday gifts and padded the book total, but I'm better than that. Not much better, but better. And the fact that I read a full book (albeit a very short one) on the last day of the year when I didn't technically have (and averaged roughly 100 pages a day over the last five days of the year) makes me feel like I ended on a strong note. 

Here's the breakdown of the final eight books:

Best Fiction Book: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (Beloved  and A Good Man Is Hard to Find are better-written books, but the Sedaris one brought me the most enjoyment.) 
Best Nonfiction Book: Belushi: A Biography by Judith Belushi Pisano (I don't think I've ever read an oral history that I haven't enjoyed, but this one was particularly good. And who knew Suze Orman was once Mrs. Belushi Pisano's roommate and knew John pretty well?) 
Toughest Read: Beloved by Toni Morrison (nothing was all that tough in this batch, so this gets it by default)
Easiest Read: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
Number of Books on Loan: 0
Number of Books Given as Gifts: 1 (Beloved by Toni Morrison. Thanks, Frank!)
Number of Books Signed by the Author: 4 (Beloved by Toni Morrison, Palo Alto by James Franco, Belushi: A Biography by Judith Belushi Pisano and Tanner Colby, and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris)
Book That Was Sitting on the Shelf the Longest
: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Best Passage (you must be 18 years of age or older to read this passage):

"...[M]y father found a number of other ways to use my car to his advantage.
One day, he asked me to pick him up at Benny Glickstein's bar, the 9M. He had some stops to make. We had only gone a block or two when we saw a fat woman waiting for a trolley, and my father recognized her. She was about forty years old.
'Stop the car,' he said.
After I pulled over to the curb, he got out of the car, walked over to the woman, and started talking to her. The next thing I knew, she was sitting in the back seat.
'Drive down to where they're building the Walt Whitman Bridge,' my father said. I looked at the woman in the rearview mirror and her face was expressionless, as though it was just another day in her life.
'Okay, park over here,' he said, when we reached a secluded area of the construction site.
'Take a walk,' he said. 'Come back in ten minutes.'
When I came back, my father was in the passenger seat. 'Now I'm gonna take a walk.' As soon as he disappeared, the woman said, 'Come here.' I got in the back seat with her, and she blew me.
When my father returned to the car, the fat woman was still in the back seat and I was behind the wheel.
'Come on,' my father said. 'Drop her off.'
We ended up dropping her off at the same trolley stop that she had been waiting at in the first place, and we drove away.
Even though some of these things were shocking to me at first, that was life with my father; the older I got, the more I learned to accept it. There was no use moralizing about it--then or now. The bottom line is, that was his way of life."
from You Only Rock Once by Jerry Blavat (as told to Steve Oskie)

And now, here are the final statistics:

Number of Books Read: 78
Total Page Count: 23,704 
Average Pages Read per Day: 64.9
Fiction Books: 32
Nonfiction Books: 46
Longest book (in every sense of the word): The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories edited by Daniel Halpern (667 pp.)
Shortest book: Save the Last Dance for Satan by Nick Tosches (114 pp.)
Best Fiction Book: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton
Best Nonfiction Book: (tie) The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty by Adrian Wojnarowski and All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York, 1927-77 by Tony Fletcher
Toughest Read: The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories edited by Daniel Halpern
Easiest Read: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
Number of Books on Loan: 4
Number of Books Given as Gifts: 8
Number of Books Signed by the Author: 21
Book That Was Sitting on the Shelf the Longest: Either Sixties Going On Seventies by Nora Sayre or Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Number of Pages I Will Be Reading Today: 0. I need a break. But it will be a short one, I hope.

Book Revku, Vol. 78

Tales of animals
With some morals tucked inside
This aint no Aesop

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (168 pp.)

Book Revku, Vol. 77

"Too soon gone" is trite
But the stories from his friends
Sure make you feel sad

Belushi: A Biography by Judith Belushi Pisano and Tanner Colby (287 pp.)

Book Revku, Vol. 76

Points for ambition
And for being a Freak
But he needs some work

Palo Alto by James Franco (197 pp.)