Today, I’m back in Cleveland.
But one month ago, Bali was home. I was briefly retired; scuba diving, surfing and yoga’ing my way around the island and its waters.
Three months ago, I was convincing travelers their lives were safe in my hands and leading tours across Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.
It’s been over two years since I was last in America. And I missed it. I missed Cleveland, family, friends, my dog, Dortmunder and abiding by traffic laws.
I missed home, so I came back for the summer.
But what I didn’t realize was there’d be a struggle to re-assimilate back into the United States. I’m not the same person I was when I left, nor is Cleveland the same city.
America’s changed a bit since I last saw her. Justin Bieber has changed A LOT since I last saw her. She’s grown facial hair, biceps and sleeves of tattoos, and she’s hot now.
Familiarity has also reared its head. In Indonesia, I was experimenting with good health: for a moment, I called myself a vegan. For awhile, I quit alcohol. In the States, I’m reminded of old habits and vices. In Cleveland, a pseudo-sober vegan doesn’t stand a chance.
And you know what’s at the forefront of this American crusade for delicious, indulgent arterial and hepatic abuse?
Pizza. Lots of delicious pizza.
“Hold on, Sarah, I HAVE to show you something,” says Lindsay.
We’re out in Tremont, en route to some establishment where delicious, indulgent food and drink probably will be served.
Because that is what you do in Cleveland – you eat and drink, delightfully and rightfully so. Whatever burgeoning food and craft brew scene I left is now fully established and running on all cylinders and my only fear is how unprepared my liver, stomach and wallet are for this.
Lindsay pulls me aside, with the sort of urgency one would reserve for milestone-marking occasions. Pregnancies, proposals, promotions, paternity tests – the kinds of things American 27-year-old’s are getting real frisky over these days.
“You HAVE to see this pizza,” she says.
We veer around a corner and quickly, off-course, duck into a pizza place I haven’t met yet. There, regal and elevated above a glass cabinet, is the most appropriately disproportionate pizza I’ve ever seen.
The pizza’s crust is huge, looming over the rest of its body. It is an authoritative kind of crust. Maybe two inches high, two inches wide. (I had a couple of beers prior to staring at this distinguished creation, so I could be wrong on the measurements, but this is how it exists in my memory.)
The body itself was thin, gleaming with cheese. Besides the crust/body ratio, the second most impressive thing about this pizza was what is called the Angle Aspect Ratio. Basically the radius of the pizza to the size of the crust. The arc length-to-radius. It was huge.
This was a big slice of pizza. I think Lindsay could tell by the expression on my face I was impressed.
“I TOLD you!” she said knowingly.
I nodded. I vowed to come back. We left the aptly-named Crust. And the image of that asymmetrical slice of wonderment embellished itself in a moment, a memory, a craving.
[I don’t have a picture of this pizza. I know, sorry. Too struck by a slice to operate a point-and-shoot I guess.]
We did not eat Crust pizza later that night. We ate Edison’s pizza, and several times. Maybe twice in the matter of thirty minutes. I have learned this is not uncommon.
The ease of which one can walk into this pizza shop, and order a slice of freshly baked pizza, and receive it, immediately out of the oven hot and on demand, is not what I was used to. It’s also what makes America, America.
The alignment of pepperoni on Edison’s is in a mouth-watering, symmetrical fashion, convincing me that pizza and math are intricately linked. The cheese is so hot and fresh it’s falling everywhere, oozing off the pizza onto fingers and face and neighbors.
One time, I overheard others say they didn’t like Edison’s because it has “too much pepperoni,” and then I eavesdropped my way out of that conversation. I don’t have time for this kind of illogical theorizing while in Cleveland.
Eating Edison’s late night can be a messy affair, but it never disappoints. That’s because, I’m convinced, you’re not just satisfying primal urges, an animalistic tendency.
It’s a combination of gravity and magnetism. A third magnetic pole exists within Edison’s oven, and a heavy gravitational mass in the pizza’s body itself, pull us into there at 1am in search of cheesy triangularity. Some have argued that other forces are at play, like alcohol, and I doubt that. This is physics. You can’t doubt science.
If we’re talking about pizza, I have to mention an old favorite. I hear a real local celebrity these days, too. Bier Markt’s Sunnyside Pizza has, as I read on the menu, earned Zagat and Food Network’s “best pizza in Cleveland” award, or something extremely competitive and prestigious like that.
Delightfully and rightfully so. In conversations with fellow Clevelanders on these sorts of pressing issues, the Sunnyside always comes up. Everyone’s familiar.
Thin-crusted and noticeably peppered, this pizza beams at me through those half-fried eggs. I beam back. We share a moment. Like the gravitational and magnetic pull elicited by a late night Edison’s slice, the Sunnyside has its own law of attraction. We share chemistry. I mention to the wait staff that I’ve adored this pizza since I discovered it; I dream of our nights together. The servers probably find this very charming about me.
When I Tinder in Cleveland, the pizza question is a dealbreaker. I ask it before my match can get his 1am “Hey pretty girl, what are you up to?” message out.
“Best pizza in Cleveland?”
I know I’ve hit Tinder gold when I get “That egg pizza from Bier Markt.”
Unfortunately, I haven’t hit Tinder gold with that question yet. But I have, however, experimented with, “I eat garlic and onions like apples,” and found a bit of success with that.
Tinder aside, you can see my struggle in American repatriation, right? I’m not prepared, physically or mentally, for what Cleveland’s pizza ovens and Justin Bieber have to offer.
Where I will find success, I’ve realized, will have to be through balance. My alter ego is a sober vegan. But I love pizza. There’s too much good pizza in Cleveland. Somehow, I’ll have to find a happy medium between healthful eating and pizza. I’ll have to hold on to the minimal amount of willpower I gained during my stint as a sober vegan, and use that as my foundation for good nutrition.
But if that never happens, I’ll just blame pizza and bad science.
*Special thanks to my friend Lindsay for being at the forefront of pizza culture in Cleveland and always showing me the way.