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It’s surprising, this happened so very long ago but writing about it – I still tear up. It’s not me I’m crying for but a 15 year-old girl, who was fired from a job she really loved. Of course she learned a valuable lesson that day: Never assume anything. She also discovered something else, which would change her culinary pallet forever.

Sprinting to the bus stop, tears flying, I had to call my sister and tell her what happened. So, I found a payphone, which was only ten blocks away (pre cell phones) and I told her the entire story, while people looked at me either worriedly or greatly annoyed. I asked if she could please pick me up, but she was watching the owner’s little boy, Henry. This meant I had to take the long humiliating bus ride home alone. After I hung up the telephone I blew my nose in my bandana, turned around and saw a pizza joint that I’d never noticed before. Pizza! That will make me feel better. I walked up to the counter with red eyes and a blotchy face and ordered a small pepperoni and olive. “Thick or thin?” The young man asked with a kind smile. “Ummmm…I don’t care.” I told him, unable to make any life-altering decisions at the moment. “Well, we’re known for our thick Chicago style pizza, so maybe you should try that.” I appreciated his sweet tone of voice as much as his patience with me, since there was a giant bustling line of people, all waiting for me to make up my gosh darn mind.

Sitting, waiting for my pizza, I took a moment and began to look around at all the people packed into that place. UC Berkeley college students, city workers, families and children, all thoroughly enjoying the messiest pizza I’d ever seen. “What is this place?” I asked myself. The sign said Zachary’s Pizza Est. 1983. I remember thinking, “That’s odd, putting the year you were established when you were only established two years ago.” When my name was called, I quickly got up and paid for my pizza. “Nineteen dollars?! This better be good.” I said to myself as I scraped together the dough and handed it over; I barely had enough for the bus.

After I got on the 51 and took a seat close to the front, fresh tears began to flow from my eyes and plop on top of the pizza box. For a moment I actually forgot I’d bought a pizza. I was so used to carrying some kind of box home on the bus, only with pastries inside. A few older women smiled at me with concern in their eyes, so I opened my pizza box, took a piece out and stuffed my face with it. As my eyes widened, I must have made a muffled, “Mmmfmygommm!” Because people leaned up to look. I ate a second piece, shocked that a pizza could taste this good. My family was a big supporter of Round Table Pizza, which was cardboard and cheese compared to this concoction. It had a deep crust, but it wasn’t oily like other deep-crust pizzas. Instead it had a flaky, buttery, yet chewy crust that held its shape. Upon further inspection, I noticed there was a bottom crust per usual followed by mozzarella cheese, then there was another thin almost doughy layer with more mozzarella on that, pepperoni, a final thin layer of dough, then what I can only describe as chunky stewed tomatoes with lots of Italian seasoning on top, finished with a sprinkling of sliced black olives. It was sheer heaven.

After I ate my second piece I noticed there was a small boy sitting next to me. Oops again. I offered him a piece and to my surprise his mother said, “Sure,” after her son looked on pleadingly. So, I put a napkin in his lap and laid a piece on it, then he and I made smiley faces and nodded at each other while we ate. Life wasn’t so bad after all. When I got home I had four pieces left, which I graciously gave to my family. As they ate I could see their faces light up. “I accidentally poisoned a girl and got fired today.” I blurted out, but I couldn’t fool my mom, she knew I was devastated. As I told my family the whole story again, only slower this time, the moral was sealed in my heart and I was not to set foot in La Farine Bakery for almost ten years.

It’s not that I harbored hard feelings towards the manager or anyone there. La Farine simply no longer held the magic it once had for me. The family feeling was gone, because it wasn’t my family, it was a business that couldn’t just forgive me for making a customer ill. Therefore, my own personal penance was to abstain from eating their delicacies forever (or until I met my husband).

That night my mom and I discussed the importance of trials and tribulations in our lives and how they can build character. I hugged her for being so sweet and for not judging me, and then I asked her if we could go to Zachary’s for my 16th birthday. Absolutely we would go – my family, my friends and me; it was to become a birthday tradition. Collectively, we’ve had at least thirty of the happiest birthday parties at Zachary’s Pizza on College Avenue, and it’s still the best pizza in the world. It’s also where I first saw the man of my dreams at the age of 21, the man I was to marry five years later.

To think, I might never have stumbled upon Zachary’s if I hadn’t been fired from the bakery. I might have weighed a hundred pounds more today if I had continued working there. Or perhaps I wouldn’t have become the hard-working Girl Friday I became if I had not experienced being fired.

In any case, being fired wasn’t great, but it makes for a good story.

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