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Dietary Diversion: the 80s pizza parlour

Who needs a profound New Year’s message, when the weather is so bad? It’s snowing again here in the Land of Enchantment. Some people envision New Mexico as being a desert region like Phoenix, with blistering temperatures in the summer and little to no chance of freezes in the winter. New Mexico is high desert; we are at risk of freezes and snow up through Easter. However, we are still unequipped to deal with extensive snow because storms blow over, and then the sun returns and melts it all away. Sometimes we wake to snow and ice and bask in sixty degree sunshine by noon. Also, we go through drought cycles, which means we might have several winters in a row without good snowfalls. This year, we’ve had multiple bouts of snow, and it’s only January 1. I have so many beautiful and crazy memories of snow extending through March here, which would have rarely happened in my childhood Pac NW…but I’ll refrain from rambling about snow and shift to the topic, childhood pizza, Oregon style.

I’m cozied up on the last (adult) vacation day of the holidays, eating leftover New Year’s Eve pizza with my hot black coffee. Pizza is a rare treat in a gluten-free household because gluten-free crust is a. difficult to make and b. expensive to buy. I remember the days when pizza was easier, though, and so was life. Maybe not easier. Simpler. I remember when life was simpler because going out to a restaurant was a rare event, and celiac wasn’t a condition I thought about.

It wasn’t just the condition of my conservative, potato-eating Anglo-Irish upbringing that was simpler: the Oregon 80s pizza parlour itself was. This is starting to remind me of Diner Coffee From Bygone Days*, albeit entirely lacking the coffee. Perhaps it was a regional quirk that Italian pizzerias in the 80s didn’t serve coffee or espresso, despite espresso’s place in Italian cuisine. After all, the coffee fad had not yet intermixed with the Oregon natives. Life was simpler, remember? Instead, pizzerias served beer. Good, bad, indifferent — I can’t say. I was a child. I drank pop because my mom ordered it by the pitcher.

More specifically, she ordered root beer to offset the spicy Italian food (Anglo-Irish, remember?). The pitchers were made of the same hard, opaque plastic the cups were made of — cafeteria style tableware. But the pizzerias themselves didn’t resemble cafeterias. They were more like taverns, in that the lighting was low, and the tables large dark planks you could imagine a Hobbit dancing on. If there were curtains on the small windows, they were checked…one concession to a “diner” experience rather than a tavern.

In those days, of course, smoking was allowed in restaurants, and there would always be men smoking in the section with pool tables if there was one, or the new and amazing video game rooms. I’m not talking about abominable places like Peter Piper’s pizza, though. We never entered those dreary yet loud dens that served cardboard pizza. The 80s pizzeria was a restaurant first; the games were secondary and not required.

But what really got me thinking about these cozy places was the simple toppings on my New Year’s Eve pizza, in a time when people are inclined toward five or so toppings, and exotic ones, at that. Green chile. Artichokes. Spinach. Chicken (shudder). Sundried tomatoes. Feta. And that’s not to mention ghastly choices like taco or barbecue pizzas. I suppose the 80s pizzerias had more extensive menus — spaghetti, perhaps? — but there were three standard pizzas and nobody I knew ordered outside these standards: sausage and peppers; pepperoni and olives; the Hawaiian, aka Canadian bacon and pineapple. Plain cheese with no toppings was for abnormal people. And three toppings was clearly an excess one did not display in polite society.

Now that wheat isn’t part of my life and pizza toppings have become the gourmet stuff of microwbreweries (Yes, even in Oregon. Maybe even especially in Oregon.), I find myself drawn to the stoic ideal of food from my youth. Nature or nurture? Hard to say, but that leftover pizza with its simple taste of peppers and sausage was better than all the gourmet re-creations put together. The celiac crust is a little…tough to fit into an aesthetic. But an aesthetic isn’t precisely stoic, anyway.

Neither is melancholia, and yet that’s what I have as the gray day here in NM doesn’t liven itself with blue skies at noon. The gray transports me further into my childhood pizza parlour. They were meant to have dark interiors, but even if they weren’t, they did because gray skies were ubiquitous in Oregon. Push aside those checked curtains in your mind, and you will see rain streaking the glass. So raise your pitcher high! That’s all you can do, really.

Happy New Year!

*I wrote many coffee memoirs on this blog back in about 2013. They are unedited and probably badly need editing. Someday, it might even compile them into a book.


Christmas Story Redux

I don’t know why I was in such a rush to get my story done before Christmas day. After all, haven’t we all heard of the twelve days of Christmastide? I finally read through it, as I hadn’t had a chance to before we drove off to my parents’ house for Christmas Eve. It wasn’t terrible, but I did edit out all the niggling issues and fixed the ending, which I had left in a dissatisfied way owing to the general need to tack on the words THE END. So here it is. Again.
A Very Merry Roswell Christmas
At some post in the near distant future, I’m going to make a blog-post list of books I want to buy. If you’d like to contribute potential books to this list, please do so in the comments. Mostly, I don’t want to forget about desired books once I have replenished my book-buying funds. I buy too many books. I really do. But I’m all right with you encouraging my habit.


The Inexplicable: a short spiritual memoir

Life throws us these…snowballs, I’m going to say (instead of curveball), because it’s been snowing since last night. I seem to have predicted a blizzard with my story, linked in the previous post. It happens occasionally in New Mexico; we just haven’t had a good snowfall for a few years. Obviously, that is not the inexplicable.

Baptism Trouble

In the fall of 2017, I started RCIA classes, which are adult catechism classes. Because I’m a baptised Christian, I needed only to procure a copy of my baptismal certificate in order to be confirmed. That sounded simple enough. As it turned out, it was not simple at all.

We could not find my baptismal certificate anywhere. It was not in my files; it was not in my parents’ files. My mom is the filing master. Even if my own system had been torn in two upon moving to Roswell, my mother’s system was still intact. Also, I checked both of my houses. I had a memory of filing the certificate away, but it was not to be found.

I called the church where I was baptised; I was sixteen at the time, and I’m not that old now. Surely, finding the record of my baptism would be easy. It was not. The man I spoke to said he would search for that year’s records and call me back, but he was not confident he would find them because the church had gone through a merger soon afterward. He never called me or emailed me back, as he had promised. Finally, I called him again, only to find that, indeed, those records had vanished. This was confounding — churches have been maintaining records for hundreds of years, but a modern church could not maintain them for more than a few years. Or return phone calls.

My parents then filled out and signed an affidavit provided by my local Catholic diocese. However, the priest did not accept it because the church my parents listed was generically titled “Community Church.” It was a Baptist church, I told the priest (it was). But the priest had no way to verify the validity of the baptism from the affidavit. Therefore, I missed my confirmation date. The class I studied with were all confirmed, everybody but me, as if I were divorced or another special case of sinner.

Months passed: we were out of town or the priest was out of town. I mentioned in one meeting we managed that my mother had a baptismal video stowed away somewhere. But I didn’t want to ask her to search for it. The whole situation was irritating me beyond measure. I was a witness to my own baptism, and so were my parents, and why wasn’t that good enough? I understood why, and yet I was upset because the only answer seemed to be to capitulate to what the RCIA director had offered as a way forward: a conditional baptism. I had been staunchly opposed due to my own memory of my baptism; conditional baptisms are for people whose baptism status is unknown. Mine was not.

Finally, I relented and told the priest I would be conditionally baptised, thinking my capitulation (I can be very stubborn) would unblock the obviously dammed up river I was attempting to traverse. It did not. The RCIA director had offered the conditional baptism as a potential option, but the priest said it was inappropriate in my case, which was what I had thought all along. He would, however — he promised — check with the local diocese to see if it was possible.

But I was done at that point. Yes, I still attended Mass — most Sundays. I decided to continue doing so, even if I never became a member. I couldn’t see another way forward. Joining a church is inherently spiritual, and God had not provided a way for me to join this one.

Unbeknownst to me, my parents had been saving old VHS tapes relevant to my life on their hard drive and were planning to put them on a flash drive for me as a stocking stuffer. However, before they had a chance to save the videos (which included my baptism) to the flash drive, their hard drive crashed. And then the baptism video went missing. Nobody could find it anywhere. Not that they didn’t try…by dragging out every humilating video of me from my childhood. I’ve never had a lot of dignity, okay? And that lack of dignity all at once…it’s a hard pill to swallow.

Even if “weirded out” isn’t an official verb, it describes how I was feeling. This was going beyond the RCIA and whether or not I should be joining the Catholic church. It was as if the evil one were stealing something he didn’t have a right to steal. Nobody can call my baptism into question as far as God is concerned, but the evil one can plant doubts in the mind: doubts as to the very relevance of my existence. And he was doing it. For the record, the day I discovered the church had no record of my baptism, my Fitbit informed me it couldn’t detect my heartbeat. Snort. I write SF, okay? Suddenly the question was not only of relevance, but of existence itself. Did I exist? Had I ever?!

Later, we did find the baptism video. My dad had carried it off. Iconically, he’s the dotty professor, only more curmudgeonly and down to earth. Kind of like me. Carrying things off and losing them is just his way. And can you guess what happened next? Yes, that’s right, the VCR one moment presented a cowboy telling another (John Wayne) he looked better with a beard, and the next, it had eaten my baptism tape.

The Polish Puzzle

When I was twelve, our church hired a new youth pastor who doubled as a PE and chapel teacher at the private school. His name was Greg Buckiewicz. His Polish name had no relevance for me at the time. I only knew I butted heads with him. All the time. He was a hyper intense jock who knew all the answers. I was a hyper intense intellectual who thought he was wrong about everything but the gospel. I can still see his face, always with a big, tight smile (he never relaxed), playing the keyboards. He wanted to win hearts for Christ. Yes, he did! He was the pastor who baptised me. The one who should have been on the tape. And for better or worse, he was an odd spiritual mentor, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time. Honestly? I did not appreciate him at all.

My parents left that church shortly after the merger and, therefore, I left behind my spiritual mentor. Sometimes, the original members of a church are beaten down under the feet of the domineering new members. That occurred here, unfortunately.

Fast forward past my dropping out of high school and ending up at Portland Christian high school: my new-found spiritual mentor was another Polishman named Mike Demkowicz. Mike was my English teacher. He also taught my photography class. Unlike my previous mentor, he was matched with me as a hyper-intense intellectual — no joke, here. I marvelled at his intellect. He could be incredibly mild-mannered, too, and encouraging to awkward, struggling students. However, he was known for the frightening face he could put on when he stood his ground on a nonnegotiable truth. He was a blond, as was my previous Polish pastor; but being fooled by the pale beard and eyes was a big mistake. His you-shall-not-pass expression could make the strongest heart quail in terror. Through his influence, I called up Greg and asked for his forgiveness for my nastiness toward him. I probably spoke to his wife, which was more appropriate. But the message was still to aGreg. Mike was my spiritual mentor up through my early twenties and early marriage, before my husband and I moved from Oregon permanently.

Fast forward to the future, and where do you think this priest is from, who is causing me such consternation in my current Catholic path? Yes, Poland. He is not merely Polish-American, the child of recent immigrants; he was born and raised there in that bastion of conservative Catholicism. He speaks with a strong accent; he writes with one. Like the other two before him, he is fair and blue-eyed. I don’t know him as well — not yet — but I’m guessing the Polish spirit in him is something to be reckoned with.

A Mystery Resolved

I became obssessed with not just becoming Catholic, but watching my baptism video for myself.

“Can we risk watching it on another VCR?” I asked my husband, after the first had eaten the tape.

He sensed my desperation. “Yeah, we can give it a try.”

He put it in: the VCR immediately ate it, once again. He unhooked it and rewound it. What we wanted wasn’t a John Wayne film, but a ten-minute baptism recorded over the top at the beginning. People used to do that, you know. They would record one event/film on top of another because buying new tapes was too expensive.

He pressed play. We held our breath. And it played. Thank God, it played. It wasn’t just a baptism, see. It was a prophecy. I remembered a man from church praying over me at my baptism, but I had zero recollection of the prophetic message he had given me. And it was obvious now that my attempt at becoming Catholic had stirred up this forgotten message. The Prince of Darkness had perhaps wanted to keep me in ignorance, but God had wanted me to hear it at the appropriate time. God always defeats the Prince of Darkness.

Has the Polish puzzle been solved? Hardly. I’m Irish-Anglo by ethnicity. There is no ethnic recognition there. Also, I’ve never lived in an area of the U.S. settled by Polish people. The Polish people in my life have been uniquely pugnacious, though, even if the priest is really just out of his depth culturally (he has no idea how American dioceses operate, let alone the minutae of American Protestant denominations — like, really, don’t you get that a community church is Baptist? No, he does not.) And a person of my pugnacious and contrarian spirit needed the big guns to turn my heart. So God provided Poles.


I wrote this post when we went out walking in the blowing snow (we always do) and ended up drinking a bottle of red at the winery. It occurred to me you might wonder what that prophecy was. It was made publically, after all. Here are the main points: I would follow God all my days, and God would eventually take me into the wilderness to preach the gospel to those who were lost and hurting. As with the first Polish youth pastor, I could not appreciate that as I can now. My young mind and ego were, well…focused on other things. Like winning arguments and being as cruel as possible to all-knowing jocks.


Christmas Update

I’m still working on my Christmas story. Like much of my writing, it has been pushed to the edges, though it’s also decided to be longer than I originally intended (6000 words, originally). It will probably end up at 8000-10,000 words. It’s a companion story to Order of the PenTriagon, so I do care about getting the details right.

In other news, I’ve run across the anti-Christmas Puritans after years of not hearing their voices. In the early days of the internet, they would have Bible studies via emails or old-school forums — and that was long after I left their physical culture behind. But I was still friends with some, and so I (or my husband) got their emails. Now they are on on YouTube…unsirprisingly.

It’s never just Christmas, of course. It’s puritanism in as many forms as can be excavated through historical studies, but with very little understanding of historical context — the kind of childlike understanding that leads people to the erroneous belief that everybody died by age forty back then, but applied to multiple layers of history.

Although broad-sweeping, this puritanism usually starts with nixing traditional church holidays and filling in the gaps with a quasi adherence to a patriarchy.* Female headscarves are an outward sign of this patriarchy, and I don’t mean the kind some Catholic or Mennonite women wear, as most of the traditional churches aren’t pure enough for the Christmas Puritans.

Do I sound harsh? I probably am bring harsh. Intentionally. I distanced myself from this culture because it was a joyless manifestation of Christianity. And then I watched from afar as the families following this path fell apart. And I mean really fell apart from adultery, divorce, or losing every material thing they’d invested in. In some cases, all three. So I tend to have a sinking heart when I see a renewal of young people following the puritan path.

It isn’t that they’re doing anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with eschewing holidays or wearing headscarves. The problem is in the relentless pursuit of following a pure religion that causes them to forget that following Jesus must come from an inner place, not an outer one. That outer place is always raising the stakes: it’s not okay to just praise God; you have to use the appropriate Hebrew names. It’s not okay to read God’s word; you have to transliterate it from the Greek and Hebrew. It’s not okay to put your kids in private school; you must homeschool them so they’ll receive pure transliterated doctrine. You must not only follow the biblical dietary laws, you must grow or raise your food yourself.

Again, nothing wrong with any of this. It’s that it never will be enough to cover over that inner place of emptiness, darkness, or perfectiomism that threatens to eviscerate the gospel light of Jesus. That’s the saddest part to me, that a lot of people I knew walked away from their broken lives along with their faith. Yeah, they celebrate Christmas now, but it’s been divested of meaning for them.

Ultimately, it’s hard to live without joy and peace. Joy and peace contain reciprocity: they give you the ability to determine what is really important (i.e. God’s actual standard of holiness) and what is petty or unnecessarily burdensome, which in turn creates more joy and peace to pass on to others. The Christmas Puritans don’t have that to pass around. Consternation: yes. Dissatisfaction: yes, that too. I’ll take the joy of communally celebrating the birth of my savior, albeit on the wrong day and with benign pre-Christian traditions thrown in, over petty consternation any wrong day of the year.

*I call it quasi patriarchy because almost without fail, the woman is the driver in these families. They are large and in charge, forcing their husbands to submit to their form of religiosity…which involves patriarchy. If the results weren’t so devastating, I would laugh instead of weep.