“My mom made the dough.”
The text came as a pronouncement. It wasn’t planned; it wasn’t expected. The idea had only been an abstraction, really. But with the Maestro’s text proclaiming that the sacred dough had, in fact, been made, the reality was on the table: the Maestro and the Doc’s Chicago Pizza Project was going to venture into uncharted waters.
For those who may not know (editorial note: this cannot possibly describe anyone actually reading this blog), the Maestro comes from Italian stock. And I don’t mean he comes from Italian stock in the half-assed way many basically white Americans ethnically identify. The Maestro’s Italian-ness (Italianity? Spell check says no) isn’t the same thing as my parents having thrown central Iowa’s most decadent (read: Arthur Bach-levels of inebriation) St. Patricks’ Day party for years as a matter of “ethnic pride.”
(If you got the Arthur Bach joke in that paragraph, God bless you. Unless you think it has anything to do with Russell Brand, in which case, just, like, don’t read our blog. Seriously, you’re not our people.)
No, my best friend the Maestro, when he gets pissed enough, literally breaks out into Italian profanity. It’s the kind of Italian-issimio (screw you, spell check) that’s obvious from space, too. Like, the Maestro has this little motorized scooter that he rides when Mrs. Maestro commandeers their car; when that dude throws on his scooter helmet and rides that scooter, I swear to Christ, he’s a dead ringer for Luigi in MarioKart. I refrain from making Rocky Balboa jokes when I’m hanging out with him. That’s the kind of Italian we’re talking about.
(Okay, so the MarioKart thing doesn’t really have anything to do with Italian-American ethnic identification. But tell me you didn’t enjoy the completely accurate picture of the Maestro on a scooter.)
And here’s the thing, people: my understanding of Italian-American ethnic identity has basically come from the same sources that inform, well, most non-Italian-Americans’ perception of Italian-American identity, namely the following:
…I can’t think of anything else.
What I do know about Italian ethnic identity, whether it’s been formed by pasta commercials or not, is that family is incredibly important to them. And I don’t need to know anything about Italian American ethnic identity to know that the Maestro’s family is uniquely important to him. Please note, I don’ just say this because he’s explicitly asked me to refrain from making a certain tenor of jokes around his mother (which he has). I say this because, well, I know the guy a little bit.
We’ve been through a few things together.
Anyway. Knowing that family is the basis of most of the Maestro’s values, beliefs, perceptions, and, you know, the other major psychological building blocks of his world, I went into this week’s excursion fully aware that it was incumbent upon me to provide an objective review of the MaestroMom’s homemade pizza. Which, dear readers, you’ll be thrilled to know that this intrepid Doc is fully committed to doing.
“Will I meet your mom?” I texted him.
“Maybe next time,” came the reply. After a long delay.
See, what I was hoping was that, while the pizza creation magic was happening, I’d be able to, you know, gently, indirectly, sensitively, using the highly honed skillset it cost me goddamn near a quarter million dollars to acquire in grad school, maybe ask some questions about the Maestro’s formative years. Get a glimpse at the little boy who is still, in some ways, trying to understand this big, complex world he’s been thrust into, where skills like accordion playing seem to be inexplicably undervalued, at least from an evolutionary perspective.
“Tell me,” I’d say to the MaestroMom. “Who, really, is the Maestro? And what’s up with the Spider-Man thing, anyway?”
And she’d look back at me, this woman who bore my best friend, and she’d say, “Doctor, I’ll tell you about the little boy inside the man you know as the Maestro. Please; sit down, and while I recreate this crispy, cheesy slice of his childhood from scratch for you boy’s dumb pizza blog, let us walk down that spiral staircase of whispy, bittersweet memory together. Join me— won’t you?— as I lay bare the psychological Lego blocks that will finally, finally fill in the gaps of your understanding of this man, my son. It all started with this short film, he called it The Entertainment…”
That was totally how that was going to go down. (Trust me, I’m a doctor.)
But. It didn’t. Not my fault, dear readers. I was ready to ask the tough questions.
Maybe next time.
Oh, right! The pizza!
The pizza was crazy good. Cmon, of course it was. We’re talkin’ the MaestroMama, here.
The veggie option that MaestroMom prepared included these beautiful strips of green and yellow peppers [MaestroEdit: the Mrs. Maestro prepared the strips of peppers] that crisscrossed the slices in graceful C’s. Both the crust and the cheese had come out this beautiful, deep golden brown hue that reminded me of Rome– the way the sun hits the buildings in the afternoon.
(Let us all say a prayer, and make a toast to world peace.)
And then you bite into this pizza, and I’ll tell you what you taste: it’s not gooey, it’s not greasy; it’s toasty, is what it is. There’s crunch there, but it’s a deep, chewy crunch. As far as pizza does, it’s a little dry, but not one bit drier than it needs to be. It made me think– I swear I’m not making this up– about my Grampie, how he’d get up early in the morning and make toast, toast that came out juuuuust a touch singed, but just singed enough to be crispy and distinctive and flavorful.
[Maestro Ed: the singeiness was the Maestro’s fault. He’s the one who put it in the oven]
[Doc Ed: Wait, we can edit each other’s entries now? I’m going to go back and amend all of our previous entries so that “Doc” now reads as “Optimus Prime.”]
[Maestro Ed: yes, we can edit. I want all of our previous entries of “MarioKart” to read “SuperMarioKart” thank you very much.]
(Ah, Grampie. He’d be…amused to learn I became a psychologist. You know, I’d like to have a talk with him about the little boy inside my dad. Especially these days.)
I’ll tellya, on a purely aesthetic level, the fact that the MaestroMama made a pizza the color palette of which was yellow, green, and golden brown was a refreshing switch. Both the Maestro and I favor tomato-sauced pizza to white pizza, and, consequently, our pizzas are usually drenched in reds and oranges alongside the golds and tans of cheese and crust. As a fan of veggie pizzas specifically, I’m used to chunks of crimson tomato and full leaves of spinach visually dominating my pizzas. Not so with the MaestroMom’s creation. Being used to overloaded (yes, yes, I usually ask for it) veggie pizzas, I found the sparse, complementary yellow, green, and gold color palette was really beautiful. Elegant, in the way Apple products are.
(MaestroMom, if you’re reading, your son can attest to the compliment I just paid you with that last sentence.)
Similarly, the crust, usually a fat, pale, doughy color in most of the pizzas we sample, was an earthy golden brown that perfectly supported the color scheme created up top— all of which belied the fact that this wasn’t a white pizza, but the tomato sauce was perfectly hidden beneath the beautiful yellow, green, and gold veneer. That might sound dumb, but it’s a thing: pizza that oversteps its physical boundaries is easy to come by. Sauce spilling everywhere; veggies falling off; pizza that only holds its physical form long enough to make the journey from plate to mouth. The MaestroMama’s pizza, by contrast, doesn’t just stay within its limits: it knows what it wants to be from the outset, it is perfectly that, if that makes any sense.
What I’m trying to say is that I liked it. And I liked eating it with the Maestro, as his wife, afflicted on that evening with a bad tummy ache, sat by and watched two grown men wax rhapsodic about one of their mom’s pizza-making skills.
(The Maestro’s wife is surprisingly tolerant of many of the Maestro and the Doc’s misadventures. I think she and the Doc’s girlfriend might have a secret support group going, maybe something with twelve or more steps and teddy bears.)
(We also talked about the clusterfuck of a book that is “Infinite Jest,” insofar as I’d just finished reading it at the Maestro’s behest, and was still attempting to psychologically process the clusterfuck of an ending to that clusterfuck of a book. MaestroMom, I apologize for the profanity, but your son’s attachment to that book is something that should really, really be looked at in therapy. I’m just sayin’.)
So. It looked great; it tasted great. The Maestro noted in his post that it came out just a touch burnt; I’m going to say that was actually part of the experience. It didn’t stop me from slurping down piece after piece, and requesting the leftovers (which only existed because there is a limit to how much physical matter can literally exist within a human stomach in a finite time period) be wrapped in tin foil to be ferried home to my girlfriend.
(Said leftovers were decimated within 24 hours. You simply can’t make pizza that looks and tastes like that and expect to have leftovers for any appreciable length time, people. C’mon.)
The Maestro and I have had lots of conversations of varying depth and intensity lately about the ideas of attachment and loyalty. We’ve both had things happen within the course of the last year— hell, the last eight months— that have caused us to ask some fundamental questions about those concepts. What does attachment amount to, anyway? Who deserves our loyalty, our trust? Are attachment, loyalty, and trust things that can be measured or observed in any kind of objective way?
What occurs to me about those conversations is that we were, fundamentally, talking about the very ideas that make “family” such an important thing— because it’s there that we have our first experiences of loyalty, trust, identity, and attachment.
Family gives us our first sketches, our first outline, of what relationships of all kinds— friendships, love relationships, working relationships— should look and feel like. It’s a truism in my job that the interpersonal world a patient creates is usually a latter-day echo of their early family dynamics. Family provides the outline, the framework, for our later relationships. The scaffolding, if you will.
That scaffolding is either strong, or shaky…and tends to become more so over time.
I’ll let you guess what kind of scaffolding the Maestro got by looking at the pictures he included in his post.
Thanks, MaestroMom. Thanks for the pizza. And thanks for my friend.