Friday, December 31, 2010

System of a Down -- "Chic 'n' Stu" (2002)

What a splendid pie,
Pizza, pizza pie,
Every minute, every second,
Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy
Pepperoni and green peppers
Mushrooms, olive, chives


It's almost the end of 2010, and I wanted to give my readers a very special post to mark the occasion.  

This post is no doubt the most narcissistic one I've ever done.  (That's no mean feat, given the posts that have come before it.)  

My original plan for this blog was to identify and discuss good songs that few people knew about.  I planned to talk about how I became acquainted with those songs, or what was going on in my life when those songs were released.  But the emphasis was going to be on the music.

This post turns that noble concept on its head.  Instead of starting with a worthwhile piece of music and putting it in some sort of historical or personal context, I'm starting with a song that is not really worthy of much discussion -- except for the fact that it provides a springboard for a detailed exploration of a seriously trivial aspect of my life.  

I think those of you who read until the end will agree that the degree of self-absorption here is rather breathtaking.

I love System of a Down, but this is not one of their more interesting songs.  (It shouldn't have taken the SOAD boys more than about five minutes to write -- nothing very complex or subtle here, that's for sure.)  The only reason I'm presenting it is that my format requires it.  I have to have a song with 2 or 3 lines that I connect to my topic in some fashion.  And the topic today is . . . pizza and me.  Or to put it more accurately (even at the risk of offending the grammarians among us), me and pizza.

That's right, boys and girls.  We're going to start with the first pizza I remember eating, visit the pizza places I most often patronized in college, law school, and in the cities I've lived in since then -- all the way up to the pizza I had earlier this week.  

I wouldn't say that pizza is my favorite food.  But I am confident that there is no food I've eaten more often over the course of my life (excluding Dr. Pepper, which is not food, strictly speaking).  

And, after all, what is more significant?  What a man says?  Or what that man does?  To quote the immortal Mark Twain, "Actions speak louder than words but not nearly as often."  I think we can all agree on that.  

In any event, I'm not going to say "do as I say, not as I do," as my parents used to say when I pointed out inconsistencies between certain instructions they issued to me and their own actions.  (Their response to me?  To quote my favorite line in all of literature -- taken from The Young Immigrunts, by the immortal Ring Lardner: "Shut up," he explained.)
Before we get to my first pizza, it is incumbent upon me to discuss "Chic 'n' Stu," the song from which the lines quoted above are taken.

Chick Hearn
The title of "Chic 'n' Stu" is a reference to legendary Los Angeles Lakers play-by-play man Chick Hearn and Stu Lentz, who was Hearn's color commentator for many years.  Hearn broadcast 3338 consecutive Lakers games, a streak that began in 1965 and ended in 2001 (at the age of 85) when he had heart surgery.  He is credited with inventing a number of now-common basketball terms, including "slam dunk," "air ball," and "no harm, no foul."  

The first few lines of this song paraphrase what Hearn said when the Lakers had a game in the bag:  "The game's in the refrigerator, the door is closed, the light is out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and the Jell-O's jigglin'."

The song supposedly was conceived when some or all of the band's members were watching a Lakers game on television and were struck by all the persuasive and enticing commercials during the broadcast -- hence the lines in the song about "Advertising causes need" and "Advertising's got you on the run" -- especially a pizza commercial that inspired them to order a pizza with pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, olives, and chives.

You're probably asking yourself, "Chives -- on a pizza?"  This is Los Angeles, where they invented barbecued chicken pizza, so anything is possible.  But I've never seen chives listed among the toppings at a carryout pizza joint.

This is not the only SOAD song with sports references, by the way.  "Old School Hollywood" (which is on Mezmerize) is about SOAD member Daron Malakian's experience playing in a celebrity baseball game with Tony Danza (among others).

Enough of this.  In the words of the immortal Toby Keith, "I wanna talk about me."

My First Time

The first time I ever ate pizza was at the Pizza Hut (possibly a Pizza Inn) located in the Bel-Aire Shopping Center at 20th and Rangeline in Joplin, Missouri.  I would have said I was in 8th or 9th grade, but on further reflection I think it must have been after I had a driver's license.  (I don't recall parents being involved, so I presume that either my companion or I drove there.)  

1970s-style Pizza Hut restaurant
I was with my good friend, Bob, who was much more sophisticated than I was -- he probably had eaten more authentic pizza in larger cities.  I readily acceded to his suggestion that we order a mushroom pizza, although I doubt that I had ever willfully consumed a mushroom prior to that.  (I remember that the mushrooms were sliced, canned mushrooms -- probably all that was available in Joplin in those days.)  

The other detail I remember vividly is that I burned the hell out of the roof of my mouth.

Once I lost my pizza virginity, so to speak, it became a regular part of my diet.  On Friday night's after Parkwood football or basketball games, we often went to the Ken's Pizza (a regional chain) at 32nd and Main.  

I also remember wearing a double-breasted navy blazer and tie when I took a date (I won't embarrass her by mentioning her name) to a pizza place on North Rangeline one Saturday night.

All You Can Eat 

When I moved off campus my junior year of college, I went weekly to an all-you-can-eat pizza and salad buffet at a Pizza Inn (possibly a Pizza Hut) on Bissonnet Street in suburban Houston, Texas.  

I'm guessing the buffet cost $2.99 -- maybe $3.99.  In those days, I was kind of finicky when it came to pizza toppings -- I liked ground beef and cheese and not a lot else.  But the buffet was open from 11:30 am to 2 pm, as I recall, so I had plenty of time to wait for a ground beef pizza to show up on the buffet table.  (I usually took a book to occupy myself.)

I didn't grow up with much money, so I always got my money's worth at any all-you-can-eat opportunity.  As a result, I would fall asleep on my sofa within minutes of arriving back at my apartment.

I remember going to a slightly fancier non-chain pizza place with my college girlfriend on occasion -- I forget the name.  I think the main drawing point of the place was that they had beer and (more importantly) that they would sell some of that beer to us.  

"Here, To Go?  Ten Minute."

There was a Greek pizza and sub shop called "Three Aces Pizza" just a block or two from the Harvard Law School dormitories.  A favorite law school trivia question was which ace was missing from the Three Aces sign.

The staff at Three Aces -- I think they were all brothers, or at least cousins -- were men of few words.  Here are those few words:

1.  "Salt, pepper?"  (This was used only when you ordered a grinder -- which was the local argot for a sub.)

2.  "Here, to go?"

3.  "10 minute."  (No matter what you ordered or when, it was always promised to be ready for pickup in 10 minutes.) 

Three Aces closed in 2009.  I've heard two explanations for the closure.  One was that Harvard, which was their landlord, wanted the land (which was directly adjacent to the law school campus) for expansion.  The other was that some sort of toxic waste issue resulting from the way the neighboring dry cleaner got rid of its used dry-cleaning chemicals. 

I brought home a pizza from Three Aces at least once a week for my three years of law school.  During winter exam week, when there was usually snow up to your ass in Cambridge, I might go there 6 or 7 nights in a row.  (My lunches were usually Oscar Mayer all-beef bologna sandwiches -- with cheese, of course -- or homemade chicken noodle soup.  On weekends I would splurge and make Kraft macaroni and cheese.)

One of the perks of working on the law school newspaper was that we got free pizza and beer on the nights that we put the paper together.  We used to order from Three Aces.  But my last year on the paper, some of the younger whippersnappers insisted we try out a new alternative/healthy pizza place.   They sold whole-wheat pizza with broccoli as a topping -- I kid you not.  What hath God wrought?

I Could See Him at All Times

I lived in a number of neighborhoods in "Our Nation's Capital" and its suburbs since moving here in 1977.  

My favorite pizza carryout of all time was Vesuvio's, which was located on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle.  Even after I got married and my wife and I moved far away from Dupont Circle, I would hit Vesuvio's whenever we were asked to dog-sit and cat-sit when my in-laws (who lived near Vesuvio's) were on vacation.  

One Saturday night during one of these pet-sitting visits, my wife was out and I was left behind with our very young son.  I ordered a pizza from Vesuvio's, but they didn't deliver.  So I had to buckle Nick into his car seat, drive a few blocks to Connecticut Avenue, and find a parking place -- not easy to do on a Saturday night in Dupont Circle.

I decided to take a chance and leave my car in a no-parking spot right in front of Vesuvio's, figuring I could run in, quickly pay for the pizza, and get back to my car before anything bad happened.  

I didn't want to have to unhook Nick from his car seat and drag him in with me.  Carrying a large pizza box and a squirming baby at the same time would have been most inconvenient.  So I left him in the car.

Would you have stolen this baby?

I know, I know -- I probably shouldn't have done it.  But I did lock the car.  And I could see the car at all times while I was in the restaurant -- he was never out of my sight.  

Does it surprise you that my wife has never let me forget this?  I realize you don't know my wife, but you must know other wives.  Would it surprise you if any wife let her husband forget this?  It would very much surprise me.


After three years working at Federal Trade Commission headquarters in Washington, I was offered the chance to work temporarily in the FTC's San Francisco office.  My current wife -- she was not my wife or my fiancee then, but rather my POSSL-Q (that was a Census Bureau term -- "persons of opposite sex sharing living quarters") -- booted me out of her apartment at about the same time, so it was off to the city by the bay for me. 

My best friend from law school was working for a firm in San Francisco then, and we were quite the men about town.  When we didn't feel like fending off the attentions of the many eligible young ladies who frequented the Balboa Cafe, Dartmouth Social Club, and other Union Street establishments, we would head for a tiny local pizza joint in our neighborhood.

The main attraction wasn't the pizza, but a coin-operated "Galaxians" video game.  "Galaxians" was popular in 1981 -- just after "Asteroids" and "Space Invaders" and just before "Pac-Man."

Because I worked for the government, I managed to find quite a bit more time to sharpen my skills than my friend did.  It got to where I could play for about half an hour on a single quarter.  At the end of such a session, I would feel like I had just landed on Omaha Beach, or at least ridden a really scary roller-coaster a few times.  I was so overstimulated and twitchy from adrenaline that it would take me hours to calm down enough to go to sleep.

Eventually, the next generation of games started to replace "Galaxians" in the local bars and carryouts.  I never mastered another game -- I just didn't have the heart to start all over again.

"Just Like Cardboard"

Since returning to the Washington area in 1982, I've lived in the suburbs -- not really prime carryout-pizza territory.  

I've gotten in the habit of picking up a pizza every Friday night on my way home from work.  I usually eat half the pizza Friday night, and consume the rest for breakfast over the weekend and on the following Monday and Tuesday.  (Monday and Tuesday are the nights I've had baked salmon, spaghetti, and French-style green beans for over 15 years now.)

I've searched far and wide for a good source for my Friday night pizzas.  For awhile, I was happily patronizing Continental Pizza, a small, family-run operation in Kensington, Maryland, near the Catholic high school that my daughters attended.  I eventually gave up on Continental -- partly because my commuting patterns have changed, and I no longer drive past it on Fridays.

For the past several years, my go-to Friday-night pizza source has been the humble Pizza Hut (delivery and carryout only) in a nearby strip shopping center.  Until recently, I must say that most of the people who worked at this Pizza Hut were completely clueless.  (I can't tell you how many of my orders there have been screwed up.)  

I remained loyal largely because I could always find some kind of online coupon to use there.  About a year ago, the corporate suits at Pizza Hut decided to implement a single-price strategy -- $10 for pretty much any kind of pizza you wanted.  About the same time, my local Pizza Hut got a competent manager who actually remembers my name and makes sure my order is right.

As long as Pizza Hut sticks with the $10 prix fixe policy, I'll never leave them.  Even though my wife says their pizza tastes like cardboard.

Which doesn't prevent her from sneaking a piece of mine most Friday nights.  Which leaves me with no leftover piece of pizza for my Tuesday breakfast.  

Which makes me bitter!

Here's the "Chic 'n' Stu" song, including lyrics:

I'm not going to bother to include the usual links to order the song -- I can't imagine anyone paying for this song.

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