(another pic by Gloryglorycatchacory)
As we always do when the band has convened in New York for rehearsals, we all took the Q train out to Midwood for pizza at DiFara’s. I describe it every time we go there: ancient shabby place, now famous to all New Yorkers; there’s always a crowd three deep around the counter, behind which a shuffling old guy named Dominic, the only guy that’s ever made pizza there, putters about making the pies, removing them from the oven with bare hands; his hands look like catchers’ mitts. The pizza is, no exaggeration, the best any of us have ever had.
We usually go in the evening on a weekday, thinking that might lessen the wait time, which on a lucky night is around an hour and a half, and can be up to three hours. This time we thought we’d try a new strategy; I live the nearest to Midwood, so I showed up at 11:30 am, when the place was still closed, to put in an order by the time the other guys showed up. There were three other guys in line when I got there.
There’s a tense vibe in the place, what with the crowd, and everybody trying to get the attention of this old man to place an order. Everyone that’s actually eating their pizza enjoys a serene camaraderie based on collective pleasure, but the atmosphere around the counter is pure angst.
There’s five of us coming. I order two round pies, two squares. (believe me, we can finish that easy, and take a slice or two–and that’s it–home for girlfriends) I’m delirious with joy that I’ve ordered seven minutes after entering the store. It usually takes an hour! And right after that, the store is packed, as usual, three deep against the counter.
Still: I wait. Dom’s got a few pies coming out, but they’re slice pies, he’s cutting them up and distributing them among the people waiting. Quelling a riot? Perhaps not. There are never enough slices, and half the throng ends up grumbling.
Everybody in my party shows up. I give Pete the rundown on who was ahead of me in line: that guy in the drawstring jacket, that guy in the denim shirt, the tall blonde dude. This is vital to know, as we need to be on the lookout for pie poachers. I am so serious. I am serious as a busted leg.
And Dominic’s not exactly an organized guy, either. Who knows who gets what first? Who knows who will be favored? Despite the aggro scene among the hoi polloi, everybody treats Dom like Louis the Sun King.
So I go stand in front of the counter. There’s two older gentlemen that look like trouble to me. The guy in the drawstring jacket is a few steps behind me, eyeing me like I eye them. We all wait together.
Suddenly pies are coming out of the oven. “Two squares, two round pies,” Dominic creaks.
Somebody must’ve ordered the same thing as me. I don’t say anything.
“Two squares, two rounds? For here?”
Unbelievable. “I ordered two mushrooms,” says the guy in the denim shirt, who was the first in line, and I overheard was here a half hour before me.
“That’s my order,” I say, “but I wasn’t first in line.”
Dominic blinks at me. The two gentlemen turn and look at me, bemused.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ll take them,” I say, “but I wasn’t first in line.”
“Maybe there’s method to his madness,” says the drawstring jacket guy, very gently.
I am stunned at my luck. To compound this–and I am completely not messing with you–just as the first square pie hits the serving pan on the counter, an aria comes on the radio, and a huge triumphant voice belts out a note.
And then Scrap walks in the door. And I give him a wide-eyes look. And he sees the pie. And he realizes that he is walking in and he is going to eat pizza at DiFara’s with absolutely no wait. We have this moment of mutual astonishment and bliss.
Pete, who loves DiFara’s so much that when he’s out here from L.A. he sometimes eats two meals a day there, and whose cellphone wallpaper is a pic of Dom’s square pie, is just staring stoically at the table. I’m a little weirded out that he’s not displaying any intense emotion. He tells me later that he thought it would be wrong to cause the waiting throng so much anguish.
A guy actually came over and bought one of our slices. We tried to just give it to him, but he left two bucks on the table.
I don’t know what happened. I’ve never had luck like that. I got pie-poached last time, and though seething with rage, didn’t confront the poacher, half because of Scrap’s soothing platitudes of zen peacefulness, and half because I didn’t want to get kicked out before dinner. But Scrap suggested it was Karmic payback for letting the poacher be.
You pay on the way out; you tell Dominic what you ordered, how many sodas, etc., and he rings you up. It would be easy to ditch, but who would want to risk his ire? A posse of customers would probably form to lynch the man in the hopes of an artichoke slice.
Most leaving customers offer gushing, ultra-deferential thanks, on the order of, like, “Praise be to you, oh gifted one, for your most magnificent mercies.” He deserves the praise, but most of us are hoping to maybe gain a little favor for next time.
An important lesson: showing up an hour before opening will not get you your pie early. The denim shirt guy, first man in line at 11 am, an hour before opening, was still waiting for his two mushroom pies when we left at 1:30. No strategy dodges the mysteries of Dominic.