The Dirtiest Slice

by Louis Gropman
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outdoorcafe.jpgI’m a staunch advocate of the five-second rule. Even endorsing an extended 10, or 20 seconds in the instance of cleaner surfaces. But when it comes to the Venice Beach Boardwalk, I’m reluctant to trust the integrity of fallen foodstuffs; cautious of sand, stale urine, or general beach-funk.

At least that was my attitude when three pieces of pizza crashed to the ground.

I was with my brother, who was visiting from college. On his last day, he asked only to “sit somewhere and sip something.” Easily satisfied. We cruised to the beach. Found a bustling boardwalk. It was Sunday. It was slammed. Finding somewhere to sit where we could order something to sip proved more difficult than anticipated.

We finally spotted an opening in the back corner of the Candle Café patio. Swooped in on a recently vacated table. Vestiges of the previous patrons remained: A couple pint glasses, and a red ketchup squeeze-bottle forgotten on the floor under my chair. I picked up the orphaned ketchup bottle and placed it on the table. We ordered beers and pizza. Our table was wiped down. Except the ketchup bottle was left behind.

outdoorcafe.jpg I’m a staunch advocate of the five-second rule. Even endorsing an extended 10, or 20 seconds in the instance of cleaner surfaces. But when it comes to the Venice Beach Boardwalk, I’m reluctant to trust the integrity of fallen foodstuffs; cautious of sand, stale urine, or general beach-funk.

At least that was my attitude when three pieces of pizza crashed to the ground.

I was with my brother, who was visiting from college. On his last day, he asked only to “sit somewhere and sip something.” Easily satisfied. We cruised to the beach. Found a bustling boardwalk. It was Sunday. It was slammed. Finding somewhere to sit where we could order something to sip proved more difficult than anticipated.

We finally spotted an opening in the back corner of the Candle Café patio. Swooped in on a recently vacated table. Vestiges of the previous patrons remained: A couple pint glasses, and a red ketchup squeeze-bottle forgotten on the floor under my chair. I picked up the orphaned ketchup bottle and placed it on the table. We ordered beers and pizza. Our table was wiped down. Except the ketchup bottle was left behind.

pizza.jpgThe pizza arrived in all its glory. Set down on a pizza tray stand, raised like a halo over our table. Underneath the stand stood that ketchup bottle, which had nowhere else to go. The tray stand was a bit shaky; bent from years of use, but it settled under the weight of the pizza: A large veggie with salami add-on. It had a delectable dougheyness. We eagerly ate more than half.

With the beer waning, three slices remained. I went to offer my brother a slice, and somehow, in that motion, the tray stand was disrupted, lost its stability, jostled slightly, and in slow motion, I watched as the three pieces of pizza – still connected by the bottom of the crust – overturned and fell toward the ground. I tried to save them, but gravity acted more quickly. All I could do was emit a low frequency “Nooooooo”, and watch helplessly. A couple heads turned. My attention stayed southerly, where those slices now lay inert, face down on the ground.

Fuck the five-second rule, I thought to myself. There’s no salvation. I picked up the pizza anyway, replaced it on the tray, and shook my head at those three sullied slices. Grayed by sand and cigarette ash in a gradient from slightly affected to fully impacted according to the angle at which they hit the ground. I’m sure there’s a mathematical equation that explains the frequency of filthyness.

beer.jpgI was bummed. Poured another round of beers and figured the pizza eating over. Tried to move on. Thought about nachos. But found it difficult to commit to a new nosh when I was still dealing with the desire for pizza.

I looked at the ketchup bottle with disgust, silently saying, “I helped you, and this is how you repay me?!” Backhanded the thing off the table. And immediately picked it back up. (Don’t want to be that guy, taking aggression out on ketchup bottles). I tried to summon an attitude adjustment. But I had to face up: I failed to protect the pizza. I felt dejected.

That’s when a gentleman with a goatee, mohawk and hoodie appeared at our table. He asked if he could have a slice of pizza. Not an uncommon request, as there’s about an equal ratio of homeless people to tourists on the boardwalk at any given moment. I explained that he was welcome to all three slices, if he wanted, but had to let him know they had recently landed on the ground, and their status had been slightly compromised. He shrugged, said it was all good, leaned in and went straight for the dirtiest slice, replete with a sand-strewn kalamata olive.

We watched wide-eyed as he took a sizable bite. Chewed it around, raised his eyebrows pensively and said, “It’s a little crunchy.” Then swallowed and continued, “But it’s cool. You know, there’s probably more germs and funk transferred to your hands from a doorknob than whatever bits of sand and stuff might have gotten onto the pizza.” And with that, he walked off with the rest of his slice.

5secondrule.jpgWe were awed, impressed, and then surprised when I saw the man join his friends three tables away, where a waitress delivered the group their own pizza. The pieces began clicking together:

He must have seen my debacle, seen my bummer-face, and decided to perform a spontaneous act of generosity by demonstrating there was nothing wrong with a little sand and beach funk. Yes, Jesus walks. And in that moment, held hands with Shiva, Mohammed and Moses to let us know that good food cannot be contaminated if your spirit stays strong.

I looked at the two remaining slices. Looked at my brother. With a nod, we agreed what had to be done. We each took a slice, and earnestly finished our pizza. Between bites we laughed at ourselves and our situation – saved by the stranger who nobly ate our dirt.

 

Louis Gropman loves to eat, has always loved to eat, and is probably eating right now. If not, he's either writing or humming to himself. His non-fiction Notes From the Driver's Seat and Inaugurate the Day will appear soon, either by those titles or in alien form. 

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