There are moments in this life when I truly wish I had managed, somehow or other, to father a child. I would not care whether said child was a boy or a girl. I would only ask that it be at least 7 years old and capable of taking itself to the bathroom. I would not particularly care whether or not it even bothered to wash its hands.
I would only ask that I have visitation rights on Thursday evenings. Thursday nights are when I want a pizza. A pizza is not something a 45-year-old man in a cashmere jacket and a printed-silk ascot can eat alone.
Ordering pizza, however, is one of the few tasks in life for which a 7-year-old child is particularly well qualified. It is one of the few niceties of life that that they have practiced enough to do really well. They have practiced it in the same way that they have practiced asking for a Newfoundland puppy or a trip to Disney World or the chance to host a pajama party at which they will be allowed to smoke cigarettes. They have lots of practice because, when they ask for these things, they make the mistake of asking their mothers. Because these children are 7 years old, they have yet to learn that, whatever the question, their mothers are going to say, “Shut up. Eat your peas.”
If 7-year-old children had any sense, they would never ask their mothers for large puppies or the chance to eat pizza. As far as mothers are concerned, a 7-year-old child who asks for a slice of pizza might as well be asking to have his nose pierced. Such a child might as well be asking to jump off a roof.
Such children, of course, have been asking the wrong sort of person. They have been asking their mothers, who are worried about getting ugly tomato-sauce stains out of white-cotton blouses. They forget that, when they ask their mothers for a slice of pizza, their mothers remember what happened to the last slice of pizza they themselves ate. Seven-year-old children do not understand that mothers look at a slice of pizza and see a pimple. They do not understand that mothers look at a slice of pizza and see a pair of size 4 Anne Klein culottes that no longer fit. They do not understand that mothers look at a slice of pizza and remember a girl named Loretta, who ate pizza like nobody’s business and ended up, unmarried, undated, living with her parents, wearing crepe-sole shoes, getting a degree from vo-tech school and supporting herself for the rest of her life by working in a dentist’s office and flossing other people’s teeth.
In short, children who want to eat pizza should not ask their mothers. They should ask their fathers, who get to keep them on Thursday nights while their mothers take classes in managing their personal finances. Or they should ask an uncle, who will take children anywhere, as long as he can get a Heineken. Or they could ask me, since, even though I am not a father and am only just barely an uncle, I am still a man.
I am a man, and because of that fact I use 7-year-old children as a means to an end. I will use them because I, too, am the child of a mother. I will use them because I still suffer the pain that can only be known by a boy who has been denied a corndog, a Hostess Twinkie or a seven-scoop banana splitthe pain of hearing a mother say, “My children do not eat like that in public.” I am, like other men, in need of affirmation and reinforcement. I cannot order a 14-inch pepperonihold the anchovies, extra cheese, heavy on the onionswithout hearing my mother say, “No, you certainly may not have another Coca-Cola. I can see right now that you’re going to be in and out of that bathroom all night long.” Mothers cannot understand, no matter how hard they try, that a 7-year-old boy does not mind getting up at night and finding his way to the bathroom. It is only 45-year-old men who are bothered by such things. A 7-year-old boy is perfectly content to take a slice of pizza, washed down with a pitcher of Coca-Cola, as fair exchange for yet another uneventful full night’s sleep.
Because I am a man, and because I am the child of a mother, I have appetites that can never be sated. Because I came to know pizza only in the company of other men, each of them deprived just as I was, all of us hidden away, ordering take-out and consuming it greasily behind the locked doors of a dorm room, I have cravings that cannot bewill never bemet.
I live in a world in which grown men may not go into a pizza parlor and order a deep dishlots of mushrooms, jalapeños, sausage and ground beefand consume it in the presence of other people. I live in a world of delivery men of indistinguishable ethnic origin. I live in a world of octagonal, snap-together cardboard boxes. I live in a world of leathery mozzarella and unfinished crescent-moon remnants of inedible crust. I live in a world that has made me like the rest of the unmarried, unchilded, pizza-shy men of my generation.
I wish for something more than appetizer calzones and tapinades spread on triangles of pale tortilla flesh and set out on buffets. I long for something more than hummus and eggplant mush slathered over foccacia chunks. I long to go into a pizza parlorperhaps one where there is a clown, perhaps one where there are a couple of pinball machines. I long to slide into a banquette and have my own paper placemat, just like other people. I long to order the extra largeeverything, including green pepper chop-chop and beef jerky strips. I long for it not to be served by a 17-year-old waitress who pushes back her red pizza-parlor team-spirit baseball cap and says, “Wow! I didn’t know it was just gonna be you!”
If Ihad a childeven just for a couple hours on ThursdaysI could order pizza and eat it in public. Cashiers and servers would look at me and think that I was doing my duty. They would think that I was doing work that only a father, or only an uncle, can do. They would think that I was teaching children the sorts of things that they could not learn from their mothers. They would watch us as we ate the crust together. They would think that, even if they saw me steal the final piece of pepperoni and four-cheese off the plate of a 7-year-old, somehow, I was doing my part to build a better world.