Wednesday night is pizza night in our town. Everyone goes out, picks up or has delivered a pie from their pizza restaurant of choice. But anyone who is anyone goes out. While we in our small Connecticut town started this, according to local legend, the surrounding towns of have gotten in on it also and there-in lies the topic of Thursday work chatter—who was where, with who, and why.
We are a Greek pizza family; Mom loves the oily top and taste, but mostly she loves the smell. Us kids would eat any pizza but we’ve been listening to Mom extol the virtues of Greek pizza for so long we can make the same arguments. And, no matter how many of our family and friends go out we only order smalls, a medium might be acceptable but never a large. Mom decreed smalls get baked quicker, crustier and the tips of the slices don’t get all squishy from the oily ingredients traveling down to the center ready to slide off when picked up.
Acropolis Pizza is Mom’s favorite so that’s where we go and it’s big enough to hold fifty or sixty and Mom always gets a wink and a little extra cheese from the owner, John. Dad doesn’t care—he likes to see Mom happy.
A few weeks ago we got there at our usual time and had to scramble around for extra chairs and ate crowded together, and Mom found that intolerable so she showed up at Acropolis after the next Wednesday lunch and kibitzed with John Sr, and John Jr. and told them we’d be there that night with a party of twelve and they smiled and thanked her and then she had John Jr. come out from behind the counter and push tables and chairs around so they were prominent in front of the window and she turned a placemat over and wrote RESERVED FOR MIRSKY FAMILY and left it in the center. She gave Jr. a double sawbuck and walked behind the counter and gave Sr. a peck on the cheek and winked at his wife who didn’t exactly smile but ungrimaced a little.
You know how you hate it when you go to a resort and people get up early and put their towels on lounges around the pool, or set their chairs up in the wee hours along the parade route on the Forth of July and set out blankets first thing in the morning on the town green for a seven p.m. concert—well Mom started this territorial shtick in pizza parlors in the four towns. And, the worst thing of all was that everyone knew it was the doing of Elaine Mirsky that changed the Wednesday night pizza night from a tradition to a competition.
It turned elitist, like the not too long ago restricted beach club or the volunteer fire department yearly pig roast. Not everyone did this but the families that wanted people to know or think that they were special took up the Reserved cause.
Last week we were a half hour late getting to Acropolis and when we walked in our table of twelve was filled—filled with the eight we were to meet and another four—four outsiders—two couples—one being our Rabbi and his wife. There was a history of mutual dislike between my mother and the Rabbi. It’d been that way for years since he said unflattering things about me at my bar mitzvah during his speech. He thought he was couching his barbs in humor but no one else thought so.
A silence descended from the counter curving around from table to table.
This would’ve been the perfect time for John Sr. to change from Perry Como to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on the stereo.
While we were being stared at in quiet, all except for the Rabbi Four (as they became known) Mom walked over to the table, picked up the reserved placemat and held it up to the Rabbi’s face.
“Hi, Elaine, Mrs., Mirsky,” the Rabbi said. “We’ll be finished in ten or fifteen minutes and we’ll make sure no one else but your family gets these seats.”
Mom said nothing but shook the reserved placemat in front of the Rabbi’s face again.
“Look,” the Rabbi said. “We got here and this was the only empty table and we sat. It’s not like we used the whole table, we only took a third.”
Mom glared at the Rabbi as he took a bite of a slice, licked his lips, said, “Mmm,” and turned and began talking to his wife who never went to Temple and what turned out to be her parents.
Mom walked over to the counter and spoke softly to John Sr. and he handed her four pizza boxes and she walked back and handed three to my father and opened the forth, She leaned between the Rabbi’s wife’s parents and grabbed their pizza and slid it into a box and handed it to me and took another box from my father. She saved the Rabbi’s pizza for last and just as she was coming for it he circled the pie with his arms, bent over and covered it so she couldn’t get at it. Mom waited. The Rabbi hovered. Finally he bent down and bit into a mushroom and got hot cheese on his nose. He sat up and grabbed a napkin and Mom, without missing a beat smoothly reached in and slid his pie into the last box and piled it atop the other three in my arms. The Rabbi stood and his other three diners did likewise.
“Elaine Mirsky,” he said much too loudly since he was trying to whisper at her, “You’ll pay for this. You’ll pay for this in more ways than you can imagine.”
Mom motioned to Jr. to come clean the table, took the four boxes from me and held them out to the Rabbi. He took them and stared at Mom while his in-laws were at the register paying the tab. He stormed out and through the window we could see him open his trunk, stare at the pizzas, and slam the trunk as the others got into the car. He opened the driver’s door but just couldn’t leave well enough alone. He marched back into the Acropolis and stood two feet away from where Mom was sitting and ordering and asking the other eleven what they wanted. She was acting just like nothing happened and there wasn’t an irate Rabbi standing over her. Mom talked to her friends, the Rabbi glared at her sitting in the seat he had just been vacated from and it seemed as if he was there for the duration.
Mom looked up at him, “Excuse me, I believe I have something here that may interest you,” she said in her pleasant voice and then she lifted up her purse onto the table, opened it, rumbled around inside obviously looking for something. “Ahh,” she said with a smile and withdrew her hand, fist closed, middle finger extended and without giving him the courtesy of looking at him again, flipped the Rabbi the bird.
Laughter followed him out the door and Mom continued on with pizza night conversation without once mentioning the incident. The following week Mom didn’t put a reserved placemat down and little by little all of Wednesday pizza folks stopped and went back to the old ways.
The Rabbi goes elsewhere for his pizza we hear and Mom only sees him at Temple at Friday night services and at board meetings where she’s the vice-president which means that when her term is up she moves up the ladder to become president. That’s when things will most likely get interesting.
Paul Beckman was a pin setter & numbers runner in his youth. He graduated to air traffic controller, builder & realtor. Now he writes and some of his published stories have appeared in: The Raleigh Review, Blink-Ink, The Brooklyner, Metazen, Pure Slush, Boston Literary Magazine, Playboy & Connotation Press.