i scream, you scream

It’s not unusual for two born-and-bred New Yorkers to go out of their way for the perfect slice of pizza; when you live in New York City, that can be as close as the next block. Any block. In LA, however, it’s not as simple – or as close. And when you find it – the pizza and the place – you’re willing to brave the traffic to get there. After all, it’s pizza we’re talking about here.

Such is the case with B. and me. We’ve found our idea of pizza heaven (that is, pizza that tastes exactly the way it does in NY) – the only catch being that the place is about a 45-minute drive in LA traffic. (There is a place just a few blocks away with pizza good enough for a quick takeout or delivery, but, if we’re talking world class, we’ve gotta get in the car and drive). This past Saturday at lunchtime was one of those times when we happily – and hungrily – went to grab some slices.

This pizza place is low key, opened by two New Yorkers decades ago, and proud of its no-fuss atmosphere. With subway tiles on the floor; a handwritten, hard-to-read specials board out on the sidewalk; and the best hot pizza slices brought over on paper plates, it is worth the trip. You place your order at the counter and you pay before you leave. And somehow the guys working there manage to remember everything everyone orders. Spaghetti and meatballs is a frequent daily special (garlic bread or knots included) and cans of soda fill the cold case. There’s always a TV on playing baseball or basketball and there’s always a bunch of customers seated at the assortment of small mismatched tables or at the counter. It’s absolutely nothing fancy but the pizza is absolutely nothing short of amazing.

So. There we were on Saturday, coming in from the drizzle to all the mouthwatering aromas that only a great pizza place can offer. We placed our order, grabbed our favorite table (vintage white painted metal top with a red floral pattern) and got ready to enjoy. Until.

Like a tornado bursting through the front door came eight boys, probably around 11 years old, six dads (old enough to know better), and one mom, looking ready to take on the task of managing everyone. The thing that struck me first about the kids, aside from their matching soccer shirts, was the magnitude of sound that accompanied them. Pure, unadulterated screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. Not speaking loudly. Not talking over each other to be heard. Just outright screaming their conversations. And their demands.

They screamed that they wanted cheese pizza; they changed their minds and wanted pepperoni; they changed their minds again and wanted both. They screamed for spaghetti and meatballs, for wings, for soda, soda, soda. They screamed at the counterman to change the TV to soccer (he did not); they screamed at the mother to hurry up and bring over the plate of fries. (She did – no saying “no” to these little princes. And, apparently, no saying “please” on their part. “Thank you” was a completely unknown concept.) Once the fries arrived, the boys caused it to snow with the parmesan-cheese shaker and the salt shaker, covering the potatoes and the table with a mountain of both. Not to eat. Just because. It was enough to make you, well, you know.

They found the New York Post on the counter (part of the genuine New York experience, I guess) and pounced on it. Literally. I was about to give them credit for expressing interest in an actual newspaper until they threw the pages all over the place just for fun. One kid who looked like he wanted to read the sports section had it taken away by two other little darlings who then wadded it up for an impromptu game of fungo, using their fork handles (whose idea was it to give tween age boys metal silverware?) as impromptu bats.

Through all the noise, B. and I could barely hear each other speak. In an effort at humor, he traced four letters (no, not those four) on the table top with his fingertip – T-I-V-E. When I shook my head, not understanding, he gave me the first word: This. I got it and the sarcasm immediately – This Is Very Enjoyable. Not really.

And then – silence. Absolute quiet. It seemed that the food had arrived and the mob was too busy eating to scream. Or even utter a sound. For just the eight small boys at their own table, there were four extra-large pizzas, four gigantic platters of wings (each one enough to serve eight people, according to the menu), four overflowing plates piled high with garlic bread. Plenty of cans of full-sugar soda dotted the table to wash it all down.

I’m not sure what surprised me most – the sudden silence after the tumult or the amount of food on their table. “They just finished playing two games of soccer,” the mom explained as she walked past after checking on the horde. “They expended a lot of energy.”

I guess so. I get that not being parents means that B. and I haven’t dealt with the post-Saturday-morning-sports feeding frenzy. Although B. played weekend sports as a kid, I’m pretty confident that he and his buddies didn’t cause the unmitigated uproar that these kids did. Or that his parents would have been okay with it.

But it wasn’t the enthusiasm, the excitement, or the uncontained joy of being a kid that bothered me. Nor was it the overflowing energy that made sitting quietly impossible. I get that kids are kids and that if you want to eat your pizza in a quiet room you need to order in. It was the spoiled brattiness that got to me. The ordering the servers around. The screaming for what they wanted and demanding it “right now!” The tearing up of the New York Post (not that I don’t think it’s a rag, but it’s not your property to destroy).

Fortunately, our pizza saved the day (as only good pizza can). That and the fact that the hungry monsters had calmed down considerably.

As we got up to pay and leave, I noticed a small sign leaning against the window sill adjacent to our table: “Please keep your kids from screaming,” it read. Seriously. Seems like that one was neither seen nor heard.

Lesson learned? If you want a side of peace with your pizza, show up a couple of hours after practice is over.

Sign of the times.

©2023 Claudia Grossman

2 comments on “i scream, you scream

  1. Sadly, the days of parents expecting their kids to behave with even the tiniest bit of respect towards others seem to be over. And in my experience, sports teams are the worst. The parents, coaches, etc. pay zero attention to any behavior that isn’t actually on the playing field. We’ve had the same experience more than once in hotel restaurants, where travel teams are staying and where they have their meals before and after the tournament games. Kids will be kids, but it’s up to the adults to control the situation, I believe.

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