I saw this article about Pepe’s clam pizza being named the best in America and thought back to the days I worked at their annex, The Spot. In 1989 I was twenty-seven, had quit my job, paid off my car loan with my mother’s help, moved from my own apartment into one with a roommate and enrolled in college full-time to earn a BA in English. I remember the days, weeks, months leading up to my decision. I was tired of the work I was doing (exactly the work I do today) and craved a change. After much thought and discussion with family and friends I decided to retire from the business industry I was in to pursue a career in writing. The first step was the Bachelor’s degree; I had my sights set on an MFA in Creative Writing thereafter.
Through a friend of mine I landed a job waiting tables at the Spot. The only experience I had at the time was filling in at a few summer banquets and weddings for someone I knew who owned a beach club. There, I learned how to stack plates of food on a large oval tray, hoist it up onto my shoulder and serve without toppling the whole setup all over the table. I also learned how to snatch fried calamari and bruschetta from the cook and stuff them in my mouth before arranging the appetizers on our guest’s plates. I applied at The Spot in December of 1989, the manager hired me on the spot on my friend’s recommendation, I started at SCSU the following January.
I worked Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays on the floor, Thursdays at the take out counter, and got to know the regulars. Like the woman who called in a pizza to go every Friday night at five. Her husband would pick it up at six, she said, without fail, at the end of every call. Her husband would saunter in, his gait unsteady and reeking of booze, around nine. Every week. And every week we said “he’s going to catch hell when he gets home.” I imagined him telling his bride he was stopping off for a quick one at the bar before picking up the pie, both of them believing him this time. After he’d leave I’d feel a little sad, knowing his wife was going to be pissed about the late hour, drunk husband and cold pepperoni pie.
There was the couple who came in on Sunday afternoons; he was a musician with inky black hair that brushed his collar, she was dark blond with a tiny waist. They weren’t old but not kids either, maybe late 30’s or early 40’s. They’d order their own pizzas so he could layer his with bacon or sausage, his wife would order hers plain, no cheese at all, not even grated. She didn’t want the extra salt she told me. A young family of four also ate pizza with me most Sundays. They’d arrive early, before the crowd. Mom and dad would let the young boy and his sister run laps around the restaurant until one of us nicely asked them to sit down so we wouldn’t trip them, wouldn’t hurt them. Over time we watched the woman lose a lot of weight and start wearing makeup and guessed she might have a boyfriend. One day, when they came in at their regularly scheduled time, she was noticeably pregnant. Everyone seemed happy, no suspicious behavior or cagey looks; I worked there long enough to meet their third child.
I ate a lot of pizza, can vouch for the white clam pie. I took home a lot of ‘stiffs,’ pizzas ordered but never picked up. I’m assuming if I broke some law that the statute of limitations has long passed. I’d happily heat my oven to 400 degrees to warm the pie through and eat more slices than I care to admit. And I can honestly say I never got tired of eating pizza.
My last year at school I met my, now ex, husband. I had applied to Grad programs across the country, all of them “reach” schools, unaware I should have applied to a couple of “safety” schools and wasn’t accepted to any of them. Deciding it was fate, I wanted to stick around and see where our relationship would go, I stayed put, went back to work full-time after graduation and forgot all about my writing career.
If I had moved out of CT I would not have the opportunity to eat at Pepe’s, one I had two Friday nights ago with my friends. We were the last ones in the restaurant, three of us managing to almost polish off a large and a small pizza. There’s always a silver lining wrapped in a white clam pie.