As I sit here in Brooklyn, New York, awaiting the horrific onslaught of Hurricane Sandy as it roars up the Gulf Stream, takes aim at Atlantic City, and veers northward toward the Envy of Western Civilization, I feel a thrill. I know Sandy is already destined to go down in history as the Greatest, Most Powerful, Devastating and Oscar-Worthy Perfect Storm of All Time.
I know this because she's coming to New York. I've been a New York resident for less than five years, but it took barely a week here to grasp the one immutable fact about the Big Apple. I learned, from every source available, at a volume around 120 decibels, that New York has cornered the monopoly on the Biggest and the Absolute Best of Every Effing Thing There Ever Was!
If you don't agree, I'll introduce you to 8 million New Yorkers hair-trigger ready and eager to yell point-blank into your face — for hours, if necessary — to convince you that they are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. So shut up.
Me? I grew up in Wisconsin, which breeds a native subspecies who call ourselves the Invisible Man. Your typical Starbucks barista on 6th Avenue, for example, looks right through me, to the New Yorker behind me in the queue. Then she takes his order rather than mine — and he goes ahead and orders, because he can't see me, feel me, touch me, hear me. Who? Indeed! My consolation is that I can observe New York behavior unnoticed. And I never get mugged.
The National Weather Service classifies Sandy as a “Category 1” storm. Comparatively, Hurricane Katrina (some of you might remember) reached landfall at a Category 5. Looking at just the numbers, you might foolishly venture the thought that Katrina was “bigger” than Sandy. Go ahead, but don't utter this heresy in New York, unless you enjoy having your head bitten off by a rabid xenophobe in a Yankees cap. (By the way, if the storm news distracted you, you might have missed the victory by the Yankees yesterday in the World Series, during which, as a Halloween prank, they all dressed up as the Giants!)
A storm that fells trees, floods subways, and evacuates condos in Manhattan, the number one (that is, the loudest) media market in the world, is — by default — way bigger than any storm in itty-bitty little New Orleans that merely kills thousands of people, destroys hundreds of dwellings, empties every home, paralyzes commerce for months, and creates a permanent diaspora of refugees — because New Orleans is only the 51st media market in the US. Fifty-first? Pathetic.
Of course, a hurricane is hardly ideal proof of the preeminence of everything New York. Storms come and go, but cultural icons like pizza are eternal. And don't ask me why, but New Yorkers would rather brag about pizza than have sex. Or eat pizza.
New York is not only the home of the Best Pizza on Earth; it actually boasts the Best 50, or 60, or, for that matter, 2,000 Best Pizzas on Earth. The rest of the world should just give up making pizza entirely, and order take-out from here.
Not only has New York mastered pizza, eclipsing cheesy fakers like Chicago and Italy, it dictates the rules on how to eat it. For instance, anyone who uses a fork — especially on a New York pizza — commits a desecration. According to New York dogma, pizza can only be served in a triangular wedge roughly as large and maneuverable as a live Alaskan halibut. This ungainly slab, covered with near-boiling sauce and heat-liquefied mozzarella, is called a “slice.” The diner must lift whole this adversary and then — against all common sense — fold it.
Folding, of course, forces the searing slime to forsake its tenuous grip on the surrounding crust. This gummy mass of cheese-tomato glop gathers, concentrating its heat in the crease, ready to flow outward at the slice's narrowest point, which — following a rigid protocol — coincides with the diner's mouth. As a matter of New York machismo, the person trying to eat this pizza-slide of palate-scorching magma has no choice but to thrust his or her face into the avalanche, chomping desperately.
He or she must bite repeatedly at the slithering, steaming thing, engorging one's mouth and ignoring the inevitable pain, lest the bulk of it eludes capture. Fail to bite and swallow fast enough, and the hot flood of goop proceeds to your bosom, ruining your shirt (or blouse) and inflicting second-degree burns on the tender flesh beneath.
Picture a hurricane hitting a city, only instead of high wind and water, you get hot cheese and red sauce.