Meditation on Sunrise Pizza

pizzaby Alison Grifa Ismaili

Off-the-boat Tony and his wife sweat in their pizzeria off Route 37 between the Taco Hell and Wawa. Thirty forty fifty years, when Frank Meyers and I were in high school, showin’ up on Thursdays with a gallon of water and a whole Sicilian pie to stay, and Tony would get mad and shout, “Eh!! I gotta wattah here!!” His forehead fierce with sweat, spit arcing across the counter. He let us sit down anyway.

He went back to Palermo and got married. Left his old lady holdin’ up shop in Toms River, New Jersey, our beloved armpit of the universe, but we never held it against him. It was kinda okay. She wasn’t our mom or anything.

Last night, the first time in 10 years, I’m back home, so I stop by. In a 500-degree time warp, Tony and his ageless wife (the first one), knuckle-deep in semolina and olive oil. Her hair a mess of spiders spilling out of her soaking wet schmatta. His hair, turning to ashes, the color of Vesuvius. The kneading the kneading the kneading, did they ever stop? Not even for a minute?

Italian satellite TV blares in the background. A football match. Balotelli. All their eyes cling to the flat screen perched above the soda fridge: Tony, his wife, the Centroamericanos, the high school students, some poor old dudes with nowhere else to go.

An eggplant parm for pickup, I tell ‘em, and they don’t remember me. So beautiful and tragic, I can’t even look at ‘em. So beautiful and tragic, like I just got two black eyes, and I know I learned a lesson, but I don’t know what it is yet.

I’m goin’ again tonight.


Al Grifa Ismaili is a proud native of New Jersey, which she affectionately calls The Dirty Jerz. She’s spent much of her life teaching English in faraway places like Managua, Guayaquil, Rabat, the Bronx, and most recently Baton Rouge, where she enjoys boiling crawfish and testing the patience of her very nice and well-mannered family.
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