19. Precarious Pizza

New-Haven-PizzaThe work week began again and, with the second job and spending boozy late nights with Burton, I was not well-rested. But I couldn’t resist the invitations to go out with him — even on school nights.

I finished work in the early afternoon. By the time Burton was done with work, I was already in bed. I got a text from him around ten o’clock asking me to hang out. Knowing my bad luck with boys, I wanted to take every opportunity to see him because I didn’t know when it would come knocking again.

We met up at J. Patrick’s around the corner from his house for a nightcap.

“I’m going to use the restroom. Order us a shot and then we’ll go home,” commanded Burton.

I ordered two shots of Jameson and settled the bill. When Burton returned, he received a text from Werner. Our plans to go to bed changed.

We went outside to have a cigarette as Werner rolled up in his car.

“Am I interrupting something?” Werner asked as he shut the door of his car.

“No!” I said. He hugged me as we finished our cigarettes. We went inside and ordered drinks.

We sat at the bar, but I was on the outside and demanded to sit in the middle. I immediately felt bad about this. I turned my back on Burton to talk to Werner.

“Burton and Brooks. I like this,” Werner said enthusiastically.

I smiled shyly as Burton excused himself to go to the bathroom again.

New-Haven-Pizza“He makes me absurdly happy. What do you think? Is it a bad idea?” I asked knowing Werner was aware of Burton’s recent breakup.

“I think it’s good! But, to be honest, he’ll hurt you,” he said.

“I know. I’m ready for a relationship and he is not,” I said. “But this never happens. I never like anyone.”

“I know! Remember when I hit on you? You totally shut me down.”

“You never hit on me.”

“Yes, I did. During that period when I was divorcing Jesse and Maude broke up with me.”

“You and Maude broke up?”

“Yeah.. for like a year. She went back to her husband to work things out.”

“Oh.. I had no idea.”

“Yeah. It was awful. But it was good for me,” he said. “When it happened, all I said to Maude was ‘thank you because now I know what I want and it’s not my wife.’”

“That’s how I feel about Burton. I haven’t felt anything about anyone in so long. It’s nice that I can.”

“Then you need to follow the feeling even if it means getting hurt.”

“I know. But it’s going to suck when it ends.”

Burton returned from the bathroom.

New-Haven-Pizza“You should cook for him,” urged Werner.

She tried,” said Burton. “She was going to make ravioli but she got too drunk to finish.”

“Of course you did,” laughed Werner.

We had another drink as Werner gave us a progress report on his side project. And then he asked me about my work.

“It’s still a lot of fun, but I can’t do it forever,” I said.

“You should start a food blog,” he said. “Remember Julie and Julia? That’s how she got started and it led to a book and a movie.”

“I have a food blog,” I said. “I just don’t show it to anyone.”

“You can’t do that! You have to get your name and your work out there,” Werner aggressively suggested.

“I told her she needs to start her pie business,” Burton said. “I offered to a website for her and take pictures.”

All good ideas but I still didn’t have to courage to make it happen.

We had one more drink and bid Werner goodnight. I was comfortably buzzed before climbing into Burton’s bed. ‘I’ve got this,’ I thought. I can have a few drinks without getting shitfaced and still be productive the next day.

The next night was almost identical to that night only this time it was Mike and the bar was the Bedford. I hadn’t seen Mike since I brought him my practice pies before the pie contest. I always felt uncomfortable around him. He was pompous, judgmental and kind of an all-around ass. I loved his wife; finding room in my head for tolerance for him was imperative.

New-Haven-PizzaThe bar was crowded with young people who didn’t yet know how drinking on a school night could ruin a work day. Mike was sitting at the bar by himself drinking a Manhattan.

“Hello,” I said as he greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.

Conversation between the three of us was oddly difficult. Mike wasn’t offering any fodder for discussion and, frankly, I didn’t have any interest in talking to him.

Burton left for a moment to talk to his neighbor who was DJ-ing.

“That’s a bad idea,” he told me.

“What?” I asked. “Me and Burton?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“He’ll never act like an adult. He struggles with the booze. I know you struggle with booze. You can’t change people,” he said. I didn’t ask for any elaboration; I didn’t care what he thought. My relationship with Burton was none of his business.

When Burton returned, we ordered another drink even though I wanted to leave. But before Mike could finish his drink, he decided to go. I was relieved — there was no way for me to make the conversation not awkward.

New-Haven-PizzaBurton and I stayed to finish our drinks and left the bar to go to Burton’s house.

******

I got little sleep, but it was worth the sacrifice because it was pizza day at school. Pizza day was less hectic and I normally didn’t have to do any prep work for the following day so I could handle doing it hungover.

Our pizza was pretty great. We made whole wheat dough (cut with some white flour) which, admittedly, was hard to get used to, but once I did, it was awesome. On the other hand, because it was so awesome, it was hard to resist. The cruel reality of cooking for a living is that you’re also eating for a living — gaining ten pounds in six weeks wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy to take off. After I realized I’d have to be on a diet for the rest of my life, I allowed myself one slice of pizza (despite unlimited amounts) anytime it was available because Pizza. Will. Make. You. Fat. I wanted it, but I knew it was bad for me.

Also, because it was Friday, I knew my boss wouldn’t be stopping by and therefore had no idea that I blatantly defied him. Inexplicably, he insisted on serving pasta with the pizza (starch + starch=!!!!). This was also a violation of the rules set by the National School Lunch Program so I, in turn, violated his rules by (gasp!) serving vegetables with the pizza. It was my way of sticking it to the man who thought he was sticking it to the man. That made my job fairly satisfying: serving fun food with a side of nutritious something. I was sacrificing myself for the sake of balance.

New-Haven-PizzaWith the feeling of balance in love and work, I left at noon and sauntered home. I wasn’t in a rush to do anything because Burton was going to Madison to see his step brother and his baby for the weekend and I was slated to be at Lena’s house at six o’clock with pierogis. But my plans changed mid-walk when I got a text from Burton asking me if I wanted to get lunch.

I told him I could but it would have to be near my house because I had to take my bike in to get new tires and a tune-up. We decided on Cleo’s at one o’clock and that it would be a short visit because he had to catch the five o’clock bus to Madison. My afternoon was going to be a fun one.

I walked my bike to the Comrade Cycles. I saw Burton across the street, headed to Cleo’s, as I rolled my bike in to the mechanic. I wanted to drop my bike and go meet my love as soon as possible, but the the mechanic slowed everything down as he tried to sell me tires.

“Now, you can try the Kevlar-lined Bontragers, but Continental really is the best,” he tried to sway me.

“Yeah, I know, but the ones I have started falling apart after a year. The ones I had before that lasted two years,” I explained.

“Right. The threading is exposed on Continentals, unlike other tires, so when you hit a curb with the sides, they sometimes fray, but they’re really great tires.”

Not wanting to argue and get on to Burton, I said, “OK.”  I had hoped he’d hurry things along, but then he put my bike on the stand and wanted me to wait so he could tell me everything that needed to be done.

New-Haven-Pizza“You don’t need a new chain yet — you can wait until the spring to replace it,” he said.

“Yeah, that was my plan,” I rushed him, though he had no idea.

“Well, when you do, you might want to get this middle chain ring replaced along with the cassette,” he said.

“Uh huh,” I said, now irritated because he wasn’t getting that I was in a hurry.

“Now what kind of tune up did you want?”

“Just a regular old tune up.”

“Well, if you get the winterize tune up you can bring it in as many times as you want until March 30th,” he said.

“I just want the regular tune up,” I responded curtly. “I actually have to get going.”

It took another five minutes before I actually got out the door. Five minutes that I could have spent with Burton.

Relieved that I finally finished the transaction, I crossed Chicago Avenue in the middle of the block, dodging traffic. When I got to the door to Cleo’s, Burton was outside, sharing a cigarette with the bartender.

“Hi!” I smiled as he reached to hug me.

“Hello, beautiful woman. What took you so long?” he asked as he kissed me.

New-Haven-Pizza“The mechanic was trying to sell me stuff.”

We went inside and grabbed what were becoming our regular seats at the bar. Burton ordered a beer and a shot and I ordered a cider. He looked at the menu and said he wanted pizza. I told him that I already had pizza but that I wasn’t ready to eat. Really, I’d met my pizza quota for the day, but I didn’t want to tell him I was on a diet. He ordered the Carnivore.

It was looking like a fun afternoon. I had about half of my cider when Burton turned to me, looked intensely into my eyes and said without pausing for a breath or a reaction, “I love hanging out with you and getting to know you and the sex we have is as perfect as I will ever know. But you want a relationship with me and I cannot give that to you right now.”

It only took two sentences to break my heart. I ordered a shot of Jameson.

I was speechless. He went on.

“I just got out of a relationship and I have not had time to get over it,” he said as I frowned. “This is what I was trying to tell you the other night. It didn’t go over very well. I don’t know what this means for us. We could go our separate ways and maybe come back to each other or we could power through and have a great relationship and get married. I don’t know.”

New-Haven-PizzaMy blood boiled for a minute. “Burton,” I said sternly, fighting back tears. With my voice cracking a little I continued, “I know that you don’t remember this, but when you asked me out, I told you that if the tables were turned, there’s no way I could be fair to you.”

“I know. And I do remember. And I understand where you’re going with this.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say. This hurts my feelings,” I said. “Can we go out and smoke?”

“Yes.”

We went outside and sat next to the fire pit that was set up to keep smokers warm during brutal Chicago winters. Enablers.

“I love hanging out with you and I get so excited when I see your name pop up in my phone, everything about you is so fantastic but you know my reality. I have to get over my last relationship. There was no down time between the moment we broke up and the moment I stepped out of the cab at Werner’s party. It was terrible timing.” I didn’t agree, though I didn’t say it. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for our meeting. It was magical.

“I know. I just don’t know what you want me to do with this information.”

New-Haven-Pizza“I’m just being honest with you. I don’t know what I want you to say. And that you’re emotionally closed off makes this really hard.”

“I mean, this hurts my feelings. I will say that again and again. There’s nothing else that I can say. We’re not on the same page and it makes me crazy that you’re bringing this up.”

“But it would be irresponsible of me to not bring this up to you.”

It was difficult to reconcile that the person I thought about constantly and brought me absurd amounts of happiness did not reciprocate those feelings. His good feelings for me only cancelled out the bad feelings he had for the woman he was involved with before me. I was powerless. I’d been in unrequited love before, but this was a new experience. I couldn’t wrap my head around exactly what he was saying or doing. He loved hanging out with me. He loved getting to know me. He loved having sex with me. He was affectionate and loving. But he wasn’t with me.

“The outcome of our relationship is on you,” he told me. “You have to decide if you want to move forward knowing this; knowing where my head and my heart are.”

“I can’t make that kind of decision,” I said. “Am I supposed to abandon you? I mean, I thought we were just having fun and seeing where things would go.”

New-Haven-Pizza“We were, I just need you to know what’s in my head and that there’s an imbalance in our feelings for each other.”

“Well, I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, think about it,” he said, “It’s all on you.” He kissed me deeply and went inside without me. A minute or two later, I followed.

When I got back to the bar the pizza was waiting for us. I still wasn’t planning to eat so Burton ate without me. It was difficult to have fun after that conversation and it showed on my face.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But I had to be honest with you. You just have to decide if you can handle that.”

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “We’re not on the same page.”

“That doesn’t mean we won’t be on the same page at some point, I just need to work through this.” That did little to make me feel better.

Burton ate half of the pizza, we had another beer and another shot and a normal conversation despite the bomb he dropped on me. I went to the restroom and when I returned, Burton said he had to go home and pack his bag and that I had six minutes to decide if I wanted to go with him. Of course I wanted to go with him, but I knew it was bad for me.

New-Haven-PizzaI went. It was fantastic and heartbreaking.

*******

This recipe is for New Haven pizza dough. I got it from an internet forum — pizzamaking.com — and it’s pretty spot on as far as mimicking the world’s greatest pizza dough.

  • 5 lb flour 1lb
  • 50 oz cold water (6 1/4 cups)
  • .8 oz yeast
  • 1.6 oz salt
  • .8 oz sugar

In a stand mixing bowl, combine water and yeast. Let stand until it starts to foam, about five minutes. Add salt, sugar and flour. With the hook attachment, mix on the second setting for exactly eight minutes. When it’s done, scale it into pieces weighing 13.5 oz each. It makes about six portions. Slather each portion with a little bit of olive oil. Wrap them all separately in plastic bags. You can put the ones you want to save for the future in the freezer. What you plan to use first, put in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, but it’s really good after 48 hours.

New-Haven-PizzaWhen you’re ready to make the pizza, preheat your oven to the highest temperature it will go with a pizza stone inside, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it warm to room temperature. When it’s ready, it will be nice and soft. It’ll make you smile. I didn’t bother flattening my dough out on the counter — it was oily and I didn’t feel like making a mess so I sort of stretched it with my fists fit under it. I rolled my fists, massaging the dough so it stretched without breaking to twelve inches across. When it’s stretched enough (it should be super thin — it’s New Haven pizza, remember) place it on a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Before topping it, shake it around to make sure it will slide off the peel when it’s time to put it on the pizza stone.

Spread 1/2 cup of sauce (I use my special sauce thickened with two tablespoons of tomato paste) on top of the pizza followed by 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone and let it bake until all the cheese is melted and the edges are puffy — about 10 minutes.

******

New-Haven-Pizza

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