Old Man Pizza

Tonight, I went to the pizza place on the way home. I asked the proprietor, who is almost always there, for a sausage and onion slice. I’d never had a sausage and onion slice until this past weekend. Because it was no longer foreign, and also because it is more substantial than a plain slice, I thought it was an appropriate order for tonight, when I’d had a few drinks on an empty stomach.

The proprietor, who I call “Old Man Pizza” – which I like to sing to the tune of “Old Man River” – because he looks very old and owns a pizza place, went over to the case where all of the pizza is kept to get my slice. I looked at my phone to see if someone had texted me, which is something I do approximately every five minutes, if not more often, even though sometimes I can go entire day without receiving a text. When I looked up, Old Man Pizza was sliding a chicken roll into the oven. I looked around. No one else was on line. The only other people in the pizza place were three guys sitting at a table behind me, talking about how many White Castle burgers they can eat in one sitting.

I didn’t ask Old Man Pizza for what I’d actually ordered. He was hunched over a sheet pan, his gnarled fingers hard at work pressing dough into the corners, his white head bobbing with each movement. He looked like he was in pain. It had probably been a long day, though I assume every day is long for him. He’s always up and reading the newspaper, drinking his coffee, readying the shop, every morning when I walk by on my way to the subway. Tonight, he shuffled back and forth between the counter and the oven every so often while I stood propped against a refrigerator full of cans of soda, looking at my phone, willing something interesting to appear.

When he took my chicken roll out of the oven, I thanked him, even though it wasn’t what I had ordered.

“Five dollars,” he said. I took my wallet out of my purse and counted out five ones. I’d left this same wallet at this very counter this past Fourth of July, when I was drunk and far too chatty with all of the men behind the counter to notice what I was doing. Old Man Pizza wrapped my chicken roll up in tin foil and put it in a paper bag.

“See you soon,” I said, grinning the same way I did as a child, when I wanted adults to like me. He smiled back at me, his lips pressed together, and turned around to face his dough in the sheet pan.

I walked the four blocks home with my chicken roll tucked under my arm like a tiny football.

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London, Part IV (Actually, A Shit Day in Oxford)

Katie and I woke up and met Chris at Paddington Station, where we were catching a train to go to Oxford. I’d wanted to do at least one day trip while I was in London and decided on Oxford because it’s featured prominently in some of my favorite fictional series: the His Dark Materials trilogy and the television shows Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis. I made absolutely zero decisions about what I wanted to do there before we got on the train, which I’m sure was annoying to my travel companions. I just had in my head that we’d get there and walk around and look at the colleges and eat lunch in a pub and have a lovely day.

The shit started when we got on the train, which was four cars and far too small to accommodate all of the boarding passengers. Luckily, we all got seats, though Katie and Chris ended up sitting on the other end of the car from me. I squeezed into a seat next to a woman, or possibly a man. I don’t remember anything about my seat partner except that they were sitting in the seat next to me. I tried reading Speedboat, but was distracted by the family standing in the aisle next to me. There was a middle aged mom and dad and a son in his late teens, accompanied by his girlfriend. The son was extremely attractive. (Extremely.) His girlfriend looked like an anime version of Baby Spice. There was nothing particularly interesting about them, but I kept imagining different reasons for their trip. By the time they got off the train in Reading, I decided they were visiting a charming but curmudgeonly grandfather for lunch.

It started drizzling outside just before we pulled into Oxford. When we stepped onto the train platform, it was pouring. Inside the station, I bought a map of the city in a tourist information kiosk. I never looked at it again.

at the ashmolean

at the ashmolean

We decided to go to the Ashmolean Museum because it wasn’t that far of a walk and it also was an indoor activity. I was pretty miserable by the time we got there, worried that my friends were annoyed that I had dragged them to be bored at a museum on a rainy day. This feeling intensified as we spent a long while walking around the collections of ancient artifacts, which everyone knows are the most boring collections in any museum. Eventually, I ended up by myself. I found some things I liked: the Anglo-Saxon stuff, the musical instruments, most of the paintings, the tapestries, the ceramics. When I was finished, I met Chris and Katie outside, where it had stopped raining.

We found a pub called The White Horse for lunch. It was cozy and dark and wooden and everything was a little slanted. Our waiter, the jolliest waiter I ever did meet, gave us a sheet with the pub’s history on it. (It dated back to the 16th century! Queen Elizabeth I might have visited it one time!) I ended up using it as my place mat and got malt vinegar all over it. Our waiter looked more than a little disappointed when he noticed this later, as he was pointing out that we should keep it for a souvenir.

After lunch, full of sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble, we walked through not terribly heavy rain to Magdalen College, which is supposed to be the most beautiful Oxford college. Since it was already late in the day, the guard at the college let us in to walk around the grounds for free. The building we were allowed to walk around was beautiful in a very medieval way. It also did not seem like a place for college students, but what do I know? My alma mater was founded in 1851.

magdalen college

magdalen college

We walked around the grounds for a little bit, just as the sun was setting and the rain was letting up a bit. I attempted to walk by the canal, but it was muddy and I was wearing brand new shoes, so I decided that was a terrible idea and stopped.

When we left the college grounds, it started pouring. Katie and Chris had been walking around without umbrellas all day. I had one, but it didn’t even help at this point because it was raining so hard. It was getting dark. We decided to call it a day and head back to the station, where we just made the train.

I finished Speedboat on the train ride back to London, which was very hot and uncomfortable, at least until I was able to get a seat.

We had dinner in Islington, at a place that I thought was literally called “The Pizza Pub” until Katie and Christ explained that that was just what they called their neighborhood pub – actual name: The Hanbury Arms – because, for some reason, it had an extensive menu of basically just pizza. This would be my third pizza-centric meal in London.

street fox

street fox

The pub was fairly empty. I confused the young bartender wearing an oversized tiedye t-shirt when I tried to pay for my order with an American credit card. I explained to him that he had to swipe my card on the side of his credit card machine, but he tried to feed it into the part that reads chips like six times before he asked one of his coworkers for help. After eating our pizza and a game of cards, Chris went home, leaving me and Katie to have “Girls’ Night.” We drank as many glasses of wine as we could before we got kicked out of the bar at 11 PM. We hadn’t noticed that we were the only ones still there and that my bartender friend was closing up for the night.

On our way home, we saw a fox in the street. This was very exciting for me because I think foxes are super cute and also I had never seen one in the wild before, let alone just trotting around an urban area.

Before going to sleep, we had a nightcap: an entire bottle of prosecco.

 

London Travel Diary, Day Three

I woke up feeling groggy but pushed myself to get dressed and ready so that I could get to Spitalfields Market in time to meet Ruth, a family friend from New York who had recently moved to London with her family. On my way, I grabbed a coffee at a small cafe called Appestat. I would have liked to sit and read if I’d had time, but I didn’t so I took my coffee to go and dripped it all over the front of my jacket during my Tube ride.

It took me approximately one hundred years to find Spitalfields Market. Once there, I had enough time to walk through the stalls and look for gifts for friends back home. I had to meet Ruth and Christine, another friend who was visiting London that week, at noon in front of a statue of a white goat, where our Street Art Walking Tour would begin. I got another coffee at a chain coffee place while I was waiting. The woman behind the counter seemed unable to understand me, giggled after I ordered, and I ended up with an Americano the size of a large movie theater soda.

street art, somewhere near brick lane

street art, somewhere near brick lane

I found the tour group assembling in front of the statue and checked in under Ruth’s name. Neither Ruth nor Christine was there by the time we were supposed to leave. Josh, our tour guide, looked at me and said, “Ruth, are you able to get in touch with your friends?” and I stared at him blankly before realizing that he thought my name was Ruth. I told him that I hadn’t been able to yet, but we left without them anyway. I spent the next ten minutes frantically turning my data on and off to see if they had responded to an email they had sent earlier.

Ruth, Christine, and three other friends from our hometown who had literally just arrived in London met up with the group outside of Christ Church. We all caught up as we walked around East London, looking at street art that Josh pointed out. An artist himself, he showed us a few pieces that he had done. Overall, the tour was informative and I walked away feeling like I’d learned a lot about the history of East London, so I’d recommend an Alternative London tour to anyone who’s looking to do something slightly off the beaten path.

The day was cold and windy, so we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant in Shoreditch called Pizza East. I was still jittery from all of my coffee, but drank a few glasses of wine, which evened me out. I hadn’t seen most of our group in a very long time, so it was really nice to hang out and hear stories about everyone’s lives.

(Please note that this was the second meal during which I, a New York native, ate pizza in London. The pizza was thin crust and delicious but it wasn’t better than other fancy restaurant pizza I’ve had recently. That is my brief review.)

selfie session in front of tower bridge

selfie session in front of tower bridge

We took the bus to the Tower of London, where we were going to look at the poppies and I planned to take a tour. We worked our way through the throngs of people to see the display, which was really beautiful, but the experience itself was overwhelming. I said goodbye to everyone and went to buy a ticket to get inside the Tower, only to discover that they had just stopped admitting people for the day. I had about two hours to kill until I was to meet Chris and Katie for dinner, so I decided to walk to the Tate Modern.

Before I left, everyone I talked to who had ever been to London was like, “You have to go to the Tate Modern.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve been there before.” Also, it’s annoying to be told the same thing over and over again, even though everyone had good intentions. The last time I was at the Tate, I was twelve, with my parents and our friends Gary and Pat. It had just opened a few months before our trip. All I remember about it was a video installation featuring a naked dude. We weren’t there for long.

at the tate modern

I walked across the Tower Bridge to the south bank of the Thames and made my way west to the Tate as the sun was setting. This time, I had just enough time to see the permanent collection. I walked through the building quickly and distractedly, worrying about how I was going to get to my next destination. I felt lonely.

I met Chris and Katie at Shoreditch House for dinner. Shoreditch House is literally in the same building as Pizza East. I did not realize this until I got there.

After dinner, we went to see Mr. Turner at the Barbican. I wish I could see every movie at the Barbican. It felt fancy, yet accessible, mostly in the sense that the service at the concessions counter – which had candy in glass jars and an espresso machine – was as terrible as it would be at a normal movie theater. (I ordered Katie a tea, we waited for it, they didn’t give it to us, and when we asked for it, they told us we had never ordered it.) Anyway, Mr. Turner was fantastic and I’m going to go see it again this week.