Being a throwback to an earlier era in terms of food and diet, the humble frozen pizza remains a go-to when a little convenient comfort food is called for. They are not good food, but they can be good comfort, which can often be enough. There is one piece of baggage, however, that a frozen pizza brings in my life. I cannot pop one in the oven without turning just a little red in the face.
My senior year of college found my two roommates and me living in the upstairs half of an old foursquare double in an old neighborhood of Muncie, Indiana. The downstairs half was occupied by four girls. We didn’t know them well but were on polite terms, always saying hello whenever we passed during our comings and goings.
One evening I came home from classes and was preparing to pop one of those frozen pizzas into the oven. This was not one of those “good” frozen pizzas, which I would describe as the ones that advertise on television about how tasty and close to “real” pizzas they are. This was one of the pizzas that, if it merited any advertising at all, was all about the price. You can still buy them for about 99 cents today (on sale, at least), if this gives you any hint. And yes, I will still occasionally buy one just for kicks.
As a quick aside, at least one food writer has pronounced my brand of choice as the best of all frozen pizzas. He reasons that because all frozen pizza is awful we may as well revel in the really cheap one that is not actually trying to be pizza at all. He is not wrong.
Our oven was part of a range that had been sitting in this kitchen since at least the mid 1950s. When first installed, it must have been the height of modern convenience, particularly compared to everything else in that kitchen. Like the wooden cabinet with the built-in flour sifter that surely been there since the Woodrow Wilson Administration. That range had served us ably for over half of the school year, but on this particular evening the oven decided to call in sick.
I had already taken the pizza out of the freezer and opened the cellophane. Modern me might say “oh, never mind” and head for a drive-thru somewhere for a substitute. But for college student-me that frozen pizza was a precious resource that was not to be wasted because the money earned from delivering real pizzas did not grow on trees. Thinking about that last sentence, I suppose I could have just driven to my employer and eaten free pizza, some of which was almost always available to we drivers to nosh on between runs. I don’t actually recall this coming into my calculation, so perhaps I was pressed for time or was just looking for a little quiet time.
Then an idea came to me. I picked up the phone and dialed the apartment downstairs. “Hi, I’m one of the guys upstairs. I just went to put a frozen pizza in the oven and our oven has gone dead. Any chance I could come down and use your oven for a few minutes?”
This, I reasoned, could be a win-win. Not only could I salvage my kind-of-pizza, but perhaps this little unplanned social interaction might lead to something more. The downstairs girls (I didn’t know any of their names) were not unattractive and there was still plenty of time left in the semester for a new girlfriend.
“Sure, come on down” came the encouraging reply. So downstairs I went. They had already turned it on and I popped my crappy frozen pizza right in. Baking time was only something like ten minutes and they said it was OK to wait. I made a little small talk in the kitchen with a couple of them, but they seemed to have something to do in the other room. I heard some laughing, but what group of college kids living together doesn’t laugh sometimes.
My pizza was quickly done and I pulled it out of the oven onto a plate. I said thank you and went out the back door and up the stairs into my own place. Noise tended to travel up through the floor and I heard more laughter. And then I saw it. My zipper. It was all. the. way. down.
I get a little red thinking about this even now. I can only imagine the thoughts that went through their minds, the most benign of which surely involved me being a complete idiot. It does not take much imagination to see them wondering if they had experienced some kind of crude come-on (which, I can assure you, it certainly was not.) After all, it was early 1982, a time when that sort of thing was merely in bad taste rather than the quasi-criminal conduct it would be in a college environment today.
I have occasionally wondered how the conversation might go if I were to meet any of those girls today – girls I have not seen for over thirty five years. “OMG, are YOU the guy who stood in our kitchen with your fly open????”
Or perhaps they would not remember at all – maybe this was one out of hundreds of stupid or strange events that we all experience in our lives. Perhaps I am the only one who remembers because I was the one who was so embarrassed.
Then again I still remember the poor girl who tripped on a sidewalk crack one day on campus early in my freshman year. She performed a most inelegant swan-dive onto the pavement right in front of me as her books scattered everywhere. She hurriedly assured me that she was fine as I helped her to gather her things. Her deep red face was due only to embarrassment as she made no time for small talk and got the heck away from me, the only witness to her clumsiness.
I suppose that is just the natural state of things – sometimes we all make a fool of ourselves in one way or another. Perhaps the best attitude is to shrug off the embarrassment and not get too much enjoyment when it happens to someone else. And, I suppose, to be thankful that such events don’t happen to us more frequently.
And yes, I realize that this has turned into something more about embarrassment over stupid things than about frozen pizza, but sometimes this is how life works. My life, at least. And now yours too.