I live in an old apartment building on the corner of Elm and Howe called the Elmhurst. This means several things. The first is that my radiators are very noisy. Sometimes in the night, it sounds like they’re trying to communicate with me through a long-lost language of whinings and clangings. The second is that things don’t work a lot of the time, in what I like to think is a charming, old-building kind of way. Plaster chips, faucets leak and nothing is close to new. The third — and the one I’d like to talk to you about right now — is that within a one block radius there are not ONE but TWO establishments that serve pizza: Alpha Delta and Brick Oven.
Most people are more familiar with Alpha Delta, I think, largely because of their famous sandwich, the Wenzel. I’ve never really cared for it, to be honest, but I can see the appeal. Since I live literally next door, I tend to order their garlic bread with cheese on cold nights. I take it up to my room and squirt on Sriracha sauce and watch a movie or something.
But here’s the thing: while I enjoy garlic bread and the occasional sandwich from Alpha Delta, I much prefer the pizza from Brick Oven, which sits just across Howe Street behind a parking lot near-filled to capacity with lumber (presumably for the oven). This routinely presents a problem, since in order to return safely home with my pizza, I inevitably have to pass by Alpha Delta, unless I want to cross Elm Street for the short stretch between Brick Oven and the Elmhurst, which would be unnecessarily evasive even for me.
The other night, as I was returning from Brick Oven with pizza stuffed into a paper bag (it was clearly pizza — no doubt about it), I encountered one of the men who works at Alpha Delta outside smoking a cigarette. He was facing me as I crossed Howe, and as I passed by his place of employ whilst checking a very important message on my phone so as not to make eye contact, he remained an obstruction on the sidewalk for what must have been about half a second longer than was comfortable but felt to me more like two or three seconds longer than was comfortable. Then again, maybe even that half a second was my own invention. Either way, I felt guiltier than usual.
Never before has one of my simple everyday choices as a consumer felt so weighty; every time I order pizza from Brick Oven, I feel a little like Daisy Buchanan from “The Great Gatsby”: “I loved you too!” Theoretically, it’s my right as a citizen in a capitalist democracy to pick and choose which products I eat and from where. So what if I want pizza from one and sandwiches from the other? Supply! Demand! Let the best deal win! But the space encompassing my apartment, Alpha Delta and Brick Oven isn’t a capitalist democracy. It’s a single block. Before coming to Yale, I had never lived in a city, so this phenomenon wasn’t an issue, but it matters to me what the guys at Alpha Delta think of me, even if, in reality, they don’t think of me at all. (Given the amount of business they bring in on an average night, they probably don’t.)
If I’m honest with myself, this thought started out as an act of repentance, an absurdly self-indulgent apology. But the fact that I put so much stock in my imaginary relationships with these local businesses isn’t just evidence of my neuroses, though it is surely that as well. It’s not that I can’t make a choice between the two establishments, shuttling back and forth between the two like an indecisive lover. The fact of the matter is that not choosing has become increasingly significant as my attachment to this otherwise insignificant lot has grown. The realization I’m having, I think, is the acceptance of the Daisy Buchanan phenomenon. When I leave here in a few months, the notion of missing one or the other of these pizza places will be nonsensical. I’ll either miss neither of them or, more likely, both of them, completely.