When it came to cooking, my mother was a conservative. Of course, part of her attitude toward food was explained by my father’s conservative attitude toward eating. He was a real meat-and-potatoes guy. That’s not a metaphor. He enjoyed simple food, and my mother served it that way. Oddly enough, toward the end of her life my mother did come to enjoy restaurant barbecue. But at the time of which I am writing, she would have been horrified at the thought.
Therefore, though we were dying to try some, my brothers and I did not have an opportunity to eat pizza for quite some time. The first occasion was at the Hancock Park Elementary School Halloween Carnival. All the students attended, many of them dragging their parents, though it was a pretty simple affair. As I recall, you could win the goldfish in a small glass bowl if you managed to toss a Ping-Pong ball into it. I don’t suppose that did the goldfish much good.
For a quarter (this was a long time ago) you could get a slice of OhBoy! Pizza baked right on the premises in a pizza oven brought in for that very purpose. OhBoy! was a local brand of frozen pizza available at many supermarkets back then, but to us it was pretty exotic, heady stuff. As it was to Mom. I don’t know why she thought tomato sauce and cheese on bread would kill us, but we had to plead plenty before she would allow each of us to have one slice.
It wasn’t good pizza, but even today I fondly remember the cheap cardboardy flavor. And I’ve learned from friends that I am not alone.
I don’t understand this phenomenon. There is plenty of good food around, not only at home — where Laurie can whip up incredible meals in jig time — but at the many fine restaurants around Los Angeles. Sometimes, however, fine dining is not what I want. Maybe it is the naïve flavor of childhood I am after. Maybe there is something addictive in the ingredients. Maybe I am merely enjoying the residual feeling that I am doing something vaguely illicit. I don’t know.
But whatever the reason, sometimes, all that will satisfy me is a second-rate frozen pizza fresh out of the oven. Or a fast-food burger served by one of our great American success stories. Or greasy, rapidly cooling fries. My parents would have been appalled.