Monday, June 10, 2013

Greased Lightning

While growing up in the Bronx neighborhood of Kingsbridge, I couldn’t imagine living anyplace else. There were certain things of such monumental importance to me that necessitated I remain—as long as they were there—in the geographical location of my youth. The way I saw it: Life without them just wouldn’t amount to much of a life at all.

Most kids establish reputations—deserved or not. They achieve notoriety for their personality quirks, unique abilities, and special passions. The New York Mets and pizza lust—notably from a place called Sam’s Pizza in the neighborhood—stuck to me like a barnacle to a ship’s hull.

From a very young age, I was a Met fan in an area of the Bronx teeming with Yankee fans. My father was slavishly devoted to that haughty franchise in the South Bronx since the Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio days. The first baseball games I ever saw were at Yankee Stadium. I broke ranks, nonetheless, and received the nickname “Mr. Met”—“Met” for short—which has endured for four decades. I remember thinking about the prospect of living someplace else back then—outside of New York City—and how I would be unable to see my beloved team’s games, which were televised frequently on local WOR-TV, Channel 9, in the 1960s and 1970s, but no place else. This was a time before satellite dishes, ESPN, and all that multi-media jazz. A Mets’ game televised as a network “Game of the Week” would be all that I could ever hope for—and that was hardly enough.

And then there was Sam’s Pizza. I used to patronize the place an awful lot in the 1970s through much of the 1980s. I'd say the sixty cents slice price to a dollar a slice price represented my heyday. Sam’s product in those days was both thick and cheese intensive. The oil from the pizza stained the takeout paper bags in varying degrees. My father dubbed the place the “grease shop,” and it genuinely annoyed him to see me plucking slices out of my all too familiar greasy bags. From his perspective and generation—second generation Italian no less—it was outright sacrilege for me to patronize a pizza joint as often as I did.

But as I recall, the Sam’s Pizza grease from days gone by was the tastiest grease imaginable—one that I will never know again. Occasionally, when the pizza had been sitting around for the better part of the day, the grease factor could metamorphose, take a turn for the worse, and upset the stomach. But so what? That was the price one paid for a by and large incredibly tasting pizza—grease and all. And back in the 1970s, pizza boxes were only used for whole pies. Two, three, and even four slices were placed in a small paper bag. “Grease City” as we might have said in those days of yore. One got a lot of bang for one’s buck in those days, though, which is why living down wind of Sam’s Pizza and its greased lightning once meant the world to me.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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