Old Tony: UPSTATE
Old Tony wipes his arm across his upper lip. He’s been shifting pies with his peel, deep in the oven. Vassar ordered 400 pies. It’s taken him all day to prep it. What's he gonna say, "no?" Now the cooking is on, and the phone’s still ringing, because his pies are the best. His white tee has dough past the apron, on the shoulders. This is his third apron today, the other two are curled into balls in the linen basket he keeps in the corner. He tosses a linen rag over the round bald top of his head and pats it a few times. Then he brings the rag over the ring of hair around his ears and down to wipe his neck. “Whataya gonnado.” he says to an audience of silver bowls, resting his hands against his hips, smiling slyly.
He makes the dough in the morning, usually about 200 rounds worth. The dough is portioned out and placed into the stackable bowls. The kids who know best order small pies for thicker crust because Old Tony never changes the portion. He marvels at the stack. He’s had to double it. It looks like he’s not going to have room to dress the pies, or maybe the stacks will topple over and crush the whole operation and him with it.
All Old Tony’s kids are always running around. The place is a dump, it’s not well lit, the tables and chairs are old. It probably seats twenty people tops, and Old Tony’s wife sits at one of the tables with her kids or grandkids almost all the time while he flips the dough and peels the pies. Midway through the cook he’ll remove a pie and add more cheese, an extra few sliced sausages and then re-fire it.
The neighborhood kids argue over whether Old Tony’s place is the best. The arguments against it have more to do with decor and lighting than the quality of the pie. They don’t get that it’s just him in there, even when the place is full. Even for 400 pizzas. He picks up the phone, and does his little dance, and sprinkles every cheese and ladles every spoonful of that bright red sauce. He’s a master. Even the gorilla painted on the window atop the empire state building is holding one of Old Tony’s slices. What brought Old Tony to Poughkeepsie? Nobody’ll ever know.
Middle aged Tony took this one kid's checks. For years he did this. The kid showed up, smiled and said, "Hey Tony, you take check?" "For you," Tony said, before he was old and his ring of hair was all grey, "sure." And Tony kept taking this kid's dad's checks for so long he learned the kid's dad's name. "Hey Mike," he always said, "howydoin?" The kid smiled and said, "pretty good." He'd keep saying this for years, answering to his dad's name as they both got older. They'd have tiny conversations over the years, Tony always looking up and saying, "Hey Mike, howydoin?" And this kid, whose name old Tony never knew, who wrote him five and six dollar checks for his delicious pizza for years, never had the heart to give him his real name, he liked that Old Tony had taken the time to learn a name at all, even if it wasn't his, even if it was his dad's, from all those checks that often went uncashed.