Youth Group – Forever Young
Every other weekend as a young boy, me and my sisters would pile in my Dad’s Nissan wagon and head to our favorite eatery in all of Little Rock, Pie Square Pizza. It was always a sleepy little place on Saturdays. An old Italian man with wispy white hair and an equally washed-out apron would take our drink orders in between working a giant pizza oven.
We’d run upstairs and admire the simple black and white photographs that decked the walls. I always fell in love, over and over again, with Marilyn Monroe. There was this giant, gorgeous Elliott Erwitt prnt of her that seemed to cover an entire wall. She was larger than life, lovelier than anything I’d ever seen, and looked a world apart from the conception everyone had of her. To this day, I can still identify with that. After 45 minutes, our giant Chicago-style pizza would come to the table piping hot, thick as a brick, and smothered in sweet, savory sauce. It was always delicious. Always perfect. And then things changed.
Over the years, Pie Square sold it’s little business over and became Easy’s Pizza. While the recipes must have been handed over as well, the flawless execution was not. It was still the best pizza this side of Chicago, but gone was that incredible panache for perfection. And while a change in the pizza itself would’ve been enough, during my high school years, Easy’s struggled to really identify itself apart from the food as well. The owners decided the interior needed a classy upgrade. My quaint little dive now had candles and tablecloths. I’m not exactly privy to their personal records, but I don’t think business boomed. Until…
Easy’s was finally sold over to new ownership with a brilliant name in mind: Damgoode Pies. The candles were gone. The walls were stripped. And in Marilyn’s coveted spot the new folks drew a giant portrait of a PBR. Really? A PBR? You’ve got to be kidding. But the pizza was back in a big way. It was cooked well, with love and care, most of the time. When it’s not good, I’m probably one of the few that even has a taste for it. It’s the kind of thing you can just tell from eating at the same place for 15 years (even if the name on the box has changed a few times). And you know what, Damgoode really is almost as good as the old days. Who knows, maybe it is (then it’d really deserve it’s name!).
Those fresh adolescent taste buds may have reacted stronger to something so new and earth-shattering. Maybe just the idea of the old days haunts my memory. I wonder about this kind of stuff sometimes. If a blind taste test of Pie Square and Damgoode took place, would I be able to tell the difference? Is it just that old golden memory of the pizza of my child hood or was the old golden-crusted pizza really that much better? Am I an old codger resistant to change, relentlessly holding on to something that may not even exist? Or do I really just have a well-formed opinion from more than a decade of eating some of the best pizza in the country?
While recently visiting my best bud Zach Dillon in Chicago, we were about to sit down at one of his friends’ favorite Windy City pizza joints. The place was legendary. But right before we begin our meal, Zach turns to me and says, “That pizza place you took me to in Arkansas still haunts me.” While I couldn’t help but smile with pride and even laugh a little, I’d have to say I agree with him even more than I thought at first. Yes, that pizza place in Arkansas still haunts me as well.
And it’s not just pizza places that mark our memories in this way, is it? It’s everything. Listen to your favorite albums from adolescence. Do they still ring true? Meet the Beatles? Yes. Third Eye Blind. Umm…nope. Movies: The Princess Bride, Adventures in Babysitting, Goonies, Top Gun? Four yesses. Bio Dome, Mr. Baseball, Bloodsport? Hmm…not so sure. Try it with books. Try it with art. Try it with clothes…that’s guaranteed fun. Heck…try on those clothes. Even more of a blast…or a strange sort of depression…for all sorts of reasons. I digress…
You see, sometimes we were right even when we were young. Sometimes we were right because we were young. And sometimes we’re just trying to stay forever young. No need to grow up as far as I’m concerned. I’m just going to keep enjoying my own slice of the pie. Might I say, it’s a Damgoode one if you ever get around to it yourself.