Pizza pie and chocolate milkshake.
Each drew me like an oasis to a man walking alone in a desert.
But it was no sandy desert I remember traversing. It was the triple canopy jungle of Vietnam where the hot, humid heat would compete with any Sahara Sun blistering my throat, parched lips and dry mouth. And, I was not alone, but leading a platoon out of the “bush” where we survived another 14 days and looked forward to three days of “rest” in a rear encampment.
To hell with mom’s apple pie and ice-cold lemonade. This city boy — raised in a melting pot called Philadelphia — wanted nothing less than ethnic foods made by ethnic hands.
Pizza with pepperoni! Hot with cheese that stuck to the piece as you tried to pull it apart, stretching the yellow substance as if it was a taffy. Further and further in the air as the strip of cheese would get slimmer and slimmer until it “snapped” and you made sure you got every little piece of it on top and not leave it in the tray for someone else to devour. You worked for that. You earned it. Remember how hot it was? Might have even burned your finger manipulating it with your hand and not a fork or a spoon. Who ate pizza with utensils anyway? You fought for that slither. You suffered a pain — no matter how slight — to get that extra mix of . . . what . . . mozzarella cheese? And to place it in your mouth. That first bite. Almost heaven-like. Hell. It was heaven. Wasn’t it? Particularly, if you closed your eyes and let the taste mingle with your tongue, your teeth munching away, your taste buds awakening to flavor of Italy, a touch of the old country, a hint of a big, loving abundant Italian mama.
And then a delicious milk shake made the old-fashioned way, not some McDonald’s ripoff. The liquid mixture of milk, ice cream and whatever other ingredient the Jewish deli served up. Or one made by a young pharmacist’s assistant at a drug store with a soda fountain. Like Mrs. Kaplan, the spouse of the local pharmacist, who’d create such “joy” in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia (28th & Master streets). Nothing quite like the anticipation that for that drink. She’d use a long metal cup, fashioned for a special heavy-weight blender with three different speeds. No such thing as non-fat milk or ice cream when it came to a milk-shake. Pour in a little chocolate syrup and slowly churn it all together at low-speed. Hit a switch to get it moving quicker at medium, and then finally approach that high-speed where the whirling sound assured you that you’re were about to be served a nectar a Greek god would offer a kiss from Aphrodite for. (Ok, a kiss from the god Ares for you young ladies!)
It’s what got me through the war. I mean that! Exposing myself and 25 other guys to fire-fights had nothing to do with halting the spread of Communism. Hell, I kinda liked the idea of a society where all are equal and share equally with our goods. (Like Polish sausage, German salami, Swiss cheese, Lebanon bologna, Italian sausage and salami, English muffins, Greek olives, Danish pastry, French fries, and Canada Dry ginger ale just to name a few of the internationally named products I’d fight for.)
(George Orwell’s book, “Animal Farm,” showed us some animals would become “more equal” than others. Particularly, when spirituality was removed from a country, the influencing goodness in humanity.)
So, I fought for pizza and milkshakes. Rather, the right to enjoy ’em despite outsiders having no business being in places like Vietnam (Americans) and Afghanistan (Russians). Not unless you’re seeking a trading partner to introduce a new food or drink. Can we all say Chinese Egg Rolls? Japanese Sake?