Tag Archives: pizza

Coming to terms with shame

I’ve been in hiding for a week or so, as you’ll have noticed by the lack of posts on here. It’s not because I’ve lost any of my desire to give you witty, charming and considered tracts on life in New York (one day I hope to deliver on that dream), or because I just don’t get the love or validation that I so desperately need having been a New Yorker for all of 19 months. No reader, it’s not you – it’s me.

Embarrassment, you see, causes me to shrink into the background – to bury my head and not re-emerge until I believe that the coast is clear. Any vague sense of shame essentially leads me to retreat to my metaphorical nuclear bunker, never to return unless I think I can nip down to the shops without having my arm mutate into a three foot proboscis. Or without people pointing and laughing, more to the point.

Such enforced exiles only happen from time to time, it has to be said. Like when I was a thirteen year old and walked into the ladies changing rooms at a department store, much to the open amusement of a gaggle of schoolgirls standing outside it (less amused, it has to be said, was the woman inside wearing only a bra and a frown). Or the time when my baffled friends looked on as I told the Queen that I had two years left at school, despite having only about a week to go. And especially the time when I got so drunk at a Christmas party that I knocked the DJ’s decks off a table, causing the glitterati of London’s media world to turn around and stare. You can only imagine their looks when I did it for the second time a few minutes later.

Now New York has inflicted an embarrassment on me that has had me wanting to disappear under my duvet (or whatever it is that Americans call that thing that you put on top of your bed to keep you warm at night), and only emerge when the house is completely empty. And it’s all the fault of a slice of pizza.

A week last Friday, I decided that some pizza would be the perfect start to the weekend. Ah, the joyous combination of crispy dough, flavoursome tomato sauce and a layer of grilled-to-perfection cheese – excluding the unexpected arrival of Heidi Klum looking for a place to stay, what better way can there be to celebrate the start of two days off?

Sadly my enthusiasm became a little too much for me, and I set about the task with all the indecent haste of an AIG executive banking his bonus. Realising that it was under attack, the pizza instituted emergency procedures and dispatched an area of tomato sauce and cheese (that had clearly been heated through nuclear fission) on a seek-and-destroy mission to the corner of my mouth. Shocked and stunned by the unexpected arrival of a globule of molten lava on my lip, I could barely move – and by the time I had, my mouth suddenly featured a rather fetching crater.

For the last week, I’ve been walking around with what looks like a ridiculously virile cold sore on my bottom lip. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I always think that it’s difficult to foster an air of respect when you look like you’ve got an outbreak of herpes on your face. I try to explain that it’s actually a third degree burn that was inflicted by a maverick Italian snack product, but nobody’s having it.

Thankfully the pain and the scarring is slowly receding, but the emotional scars will last a lifetime. I’ll go out in public again one day, but for the moment it’s back to hiding underneath the bedcovers. I’ve got enough food to last me another week. I think I’m going to need every bit of it before the shame finally fades.

Understanding New York’s unique formula

If you ask me – and I know you didn’t – New Yorkers must be the most accomplished numbers-oriented populace in the world. For a start, they know the price of every single slice of pizza in the city, and can calculate the cheese per cent ratio of each one by smell alone. They can generally tell you the cost of a cab journey between any two points in the city, texting you regular updates to take into account rising fares caused by minor traffic problems. And they always know exactly how many inches each person is allotted for the placement of their posterior on a subway seat, and if you exceed it, they can deliver precisely the percentage death stare necessary to ensure that you never even think about doing it again.

They are also the only group of people I’ve ever come across who can accurately time one-hundredth of a second in their own heads. That is, after all, the only way that they can manage to hit the car horn so quickly after a traffic light has turned green and the car infront of them has failed to move on within the aforementioned time period.

What has been frustrating me over the last few days is that I think natural-born New Yorkers have access to a secret mathematical formula that I just can’t quite work out. They are able to take a combination of a number of factors and combine them in such a way as to calculate whether the action they take will save them time without getting them physically assaulted or ‘accidentally’ bumped off by the people that they annoy in the process. Such factors include (but may not be limited to):

– the size of the gap that they want to squeeze into, whether as a car attempting to use every lane possible in an attempt to gain ground, or a person defying the oncoming group of fourteen people getting off a subway as he or she gets on. Note that whatever the mode of transport, the size of the gap will always be at least 50% smaller than that used by any reasonable human being.

– the amount of time that is saved by performing such a manouevremaneuver, whether three seconds by pushing ahead in a queueline for a subway turnstile, or three minutes by taking the cafe latte that was actually intended for the person who turned their back for three milliseconds. Note that any time saved will be used for swearing and cursing at random strangers.

– the irritation level of the person slighted by the action of the New Yorker, on a scale of one to ten. Level one might involve a small ‘tut’ or a roll of the eyes, while level six involves verbal intervention and a knowing look to those around them. Level ten has been responsible for at least 59 deaths in the tri-state area already this year.

– the smugness of the person carrying out the act, again on a scale of one to ten. Level one sees the perpetrator almost imperceptibly lick their lips as they perform the act, while level eight (generally reached only by men) features a visible turn towards the victim and a full-on game show host-style wink. Surely no court in the land could ever convict somebody for stabbing such an inveterate winker?

What amazes me is that New Yorkers can gauge all the variables, and work out the formula in a matter of seconds. Such speed allows them to decide against the procedure if they think they really can’t get away with it, or to reduce the smugness of their reaction in the case of the most irritating actions in order to avoid defenestration or a similar fate.

I can only assume that they’re taught it at school, and then practice it religiously for the next eighty years. We outsiders can only look on with an equal mix of horror and amazement. 

And serve our time in jail with grace and remorse.

200 things you simply have to know about New York (part one)

So after almost 300 days out of water, I’ve reached my 200th post. To mark the occasion, I’ve come up with 200 things that you should know about New York. Some of them apply to the rest of America, but all of them sum up why the city is completely unique. And whatever you may think sometimes, I think you all know I love the place deep down.

Obviously 200 bullet points would be one damn long post, so I’ve split it into four sections. OK, you’re right, I haven’t quite managed to finish the list yet. I’ll get there, don’t worry. And feel free to add your own New York idiosyncrasy in the comments. I might even use it (and credit you!) in the final 200…

Here goes:

1. Whatever your nationality, there’s a little community of your fellow countrymen somewhere in this city. Guaranteed.
2. People actually do seem to say ‘whassup’.
3. The streets aren’t paved with gold, they’re paved with the spit of a million construction workers.
4. State taxes are higher than any other place I’ve ever lived. After all, Eliot Spitzer’s high class hookers won’t pay for themselves.
5. It’s a little known fact that every molecule of dirt on the planet originated at some point from the New York subway system.
6. That person shouting randomly in the street is definitely shouting at you.
7. In the 1960s TV show The Invaders, you could always spot the alien by their rigid little finger. In New York, you spot the outsider because they’re smiling.
8. There is one Chinese take out joint per head of population in the city.
9. The longest and most depressing queueline in the world is at Whole Foods in Union Square.
10. Strike that, I’ve just been to Trader Joe’s.
11. The $2 subway fare is probably the best value public transport system in the Western world.
12. Thousands of New Yorkers still complain bitterly about the cost, as if that $2 cost is the one thing that’s preventing them from hiring a yacht in the harbour at Monte Carlo next summer.
13. How many New Yorkers does it take to change a lightbulb? One, to hold it in place while the world revolves around him.
14. Nobody does anything by halves in this city. Whether they’re campaigning on behalf of Tibet, or taking up rollerblading, New Yorkers put their heart and soul into everything they do. Apart from anger management, obviously.
15. The sound of popping animal skin that occurs when you bite into a hot dog on a New York street may be one of the satisfying noises known to man.
16. There is no louder sound on earth than an emergency services vehicle going past you with its siren blaring. They make them that loud so that no-one confuses them with an ice cream van.
17. It is a statistically proven fact that it is impossible to catch sight of the Statue of Liberty without internally exclaiming “f**k me, that’s the Statue of Liberty!”
18. Some New Yorkers really do think that the British say ‘potarto’.
19. On the London Underground you sometimes see tiny little mice scuttling around the tracks. In New York, the subway has stonking great rats who look like they’d eat your grandmother if they were given half the chance.
20. Most people seem to leave offices by about 3pm during the summer, to get an early start on the weekend. Of course, if they just gave everybody proper holidays in the first place…
21. Impatience is the number one religion in New York. Most New Yorkers reading this are already annoyed that I’m not on point 183 by now.
22. Such is sheer array of good food available in New York that it is more than possible to put on in excess of ten pounds in weight after just eight months in the city. So I hear, at least…
23. Co-ops are an opportunity for people who were bullied at school to feel like they have some power at last.
24. Brits in New York are the ones wearing t-shirts and shorts in February.
25. When it rains in New York, it really pours down. Which is embarrassing if you’re wearing a t-shirt and shorts. In February.
26. If you want a glimpse of what hell is surely like, walk down 5th Avenue on a Saturday afternoon.
27. For all the praise heaped upon New York cheesecake, (whisper it in hushed tones) it’s really not all that.
28. I *heart* NY is surely the greatest city logo of all time. More impressive than “Slough: It’s Not As Bad As You Think” at least.
29. Accidentally sneeze as you walk past a doctors in the city, and it’ll almost certainly cost you $20.
30. Customer service is something that New York schoolkids read about in fairytales.
31. A white walk sign is no indication that it’s safe to walk. It’s just to inform you that you will probably have a watertight legal case when the car that’s turning right hits you.
32. Coffee doesn’t actually taste better in New York. But everybody else is wired, so it’s best to grab yourself a cup and go with the flow.
33. There’s probably greater inertia in this city than most cities in the world. Anybody announcing that they’re leaving gets treated like there’s been a death in the family.
34. The everything bagel should be named alongside the Colossus of Rhodes as one of the seven wonders of the world.
35. Writing a blog entry about the woefulness of New York sport will inevitably lead to a last minute New York triumph in one of the biggest sports matches of the year.
36. The Knicks are still rubbish.
37. It is quicker to do forward rolls all the way to China than take a subway train any more than ten stops on a Sunday.
38. The Union Square Greenmarket is the only place in the world that I’ve ever seen edible ferns for sale. But then, I’ve led a sheltered life.
39. Despite the legendary nickname of the city, the apples here are no bigger than they are anywhere else in the US as far as I can tell.
40. If there’s currently a billboard in this town without Sex & The City on it, I’m yet to see it.
41. Given how many actors and actresses there must be in this city, it seems slightly unjust that the only one I’ve seen so far is Becky from Roseanne.
42. There must be a good reason why people wear New Era baseball caps with the gold sales sticker still on the peak. But for the life of me I can’t think what it is.
43. Breakfast in the city is eggs. If you don’t like eggs, you are legally required to make your way to the city borders if you want to eat before 11am.
44. International news coverage means reporting on events in Pennsylvania.
45. There is more privacy in Guantanamo Bay than in toilet cubicles anywhere in New York.
46. There are no stray cats or dogs anywhere in the city. This may or may not be linked to the number of Chinese takeout joints.
47. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway should really be called ‘That Road That Links Brooklyn and Queens’.
48. There are 103 different reasons for schoolkids to have random days off, each more spurious than the last. Today is apparently Brooklyn Day. Next week it’s Fraggle Rock Friday.
49. Nobody in this city gives a toss what anybody else thinks. Which would explain why people are capable of having fully-fledged screaming arguments at the tops of their voices infront of hundreds of commuters on the streets.
50. Being uncovered as a closet pizza hater has been enough to end at least three political campaigns in the last twenty-five years.

Only 150 more to go, you’ll be relieved to know.

Thanks for reading for the last ten months or so – your interest and comments are appreciated more than you know. I hope you’re still here for post number 400.

Just don’t expect me to do 400 things you simply have to know about New York, OK?

When the moon hits your eye

If there’s one thing that New Yorkers are particularly proud of, it’s their pizza. Now, given the staunch support of the British for their curries, I’m in no position to draw attention to the irony of the city having an Italian product as the foodstuff that most sums up their cuisine. Like the UK with its relatively large Indian population, New York has a high density of Italians, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there seems to be at least one pizza place for every ten heads of population in Manhattan.

Now, despite my love of the curry (and my upset about the inability to get a good curry in America) I am reluctantly prepared to accept that there are places in the world that make a better Indian curry than Britain. Like India, to pick a random example. But as far as a New Yorker is concerned, nobody makes pizza as well as this city. In fact, as soon as most New Yorkers get about ten miles outside the city limits, they start breaking out in a mozzarella sweat, for fear that they’re never going to eat good pizza again. As Joe Brown writes in this month’s Wired magazine, “it costs $482.79 to get a decent pizza in San Francisco – $17 for the pie, $85 for cab fare, and $378.80 for the flight to New York. Throw in $1.99 for tinfoil.”

I’m still getting used to the conventions around pizza purchase in the city. Firstly, it seems that plain cheese and tomato pizza is the only real choice of the genuine New Yorker. Sure, there may be the option of pepperoni or vegetarian, but I’m pretty sure that they’re for decorative purposes only, and that ordering one will lead to a trapdoor opening to plunge you directly into a wood-fired pizza oven. Secondly, cheese and tomato pizza is ‘plain’, and never margarita. That’s reserved for pizzas that have a bit of basil on them apparently. In this city, such flagrant flamboyance in pizza is to be discouraged. Finally, never ever ask for a cheese and tomato pizza, or even a piece of pizza. It’s a slice. And only a slice. Asking for anything else may well result in your snack having a third, less edible, topping…

In Britain, of course, having a slice of pizza from a takeaway place is pretty much the last resort of the desperately drunk (and even then only when they can’t find a doner kebab or a KFC). When I worked for a TV company in Camden, a place on the corner of the street on which we used to work sold slices of pizza that looked like they had been festering there since the early 60s. The fact that the establishment called itself “Tasty Corner” was in itself not a good sign. But after a few pints, you’d still see people taking their life into their own hands, eating pizza topped with meat so dubious that even those involved in the high pressure jet mechanical recovery of meat from animal bones would have turned their noses up at it.

Now, given my desire to blend in effortlessly with the locals, I’ve sampled New York pizza from a number of different places, and you can’t deny that it’s pretty damn good. Plenty of stringy cheese, good tomato sauce and a nice chewy base – what’s not to like?

No, the problem’s not with the taste. It’s the fact that almost without exception, these pizzas are hotter than molten lava on triangular slabs of furnace-blasted cast iron. One bite of pizza can be enough to remove most of the skin from the inside of your mouth. Having molten mozzarella clinging to your gums produces an excruciating pain that mimics what I’d imagine it’s like to have liquid candle wax splashed on your testicles. After one such nuclear pizza experience last night, my taste receptors went on immediate strike and are refusing to return unless I pay them danger money.

Interestingly, the guy who served me the aforementioned slice asked me if I wanted him to heat the pizza up, or whether I was happy with it the way it was.

The first person to invent a Hot Pizza Tongue Guard would make a fortune in this city, I swear.