18 February 2009
Pizza at the O
Our informal Fellows reading group has become incrementally more formal. The basic idea remains the same. Someone nominates just 12 pages, usually a draft of their own work. We read it and discuss it. The expectation is that everyone has really read the paper in advance. That is why it is just 12 pages. The procedure is for someone else, not the author, to "present" the paper, briefly in perhaps 5 minutes.
Why do we do this? "You know what you wrote," I would say again and again. "Now find out what everyone read!" The experience can be sobering. I still recall last term when Jeremy Butterfield presented one of my papers. He gave a masterful and enlightening exposition, as I slowly melted inwardly, realizing that this was the part of the paper that my readers would seize upon.
The strategies accumulated. How could we handle everyone's need to talk at length all at once on everything? Hanne Andersen last term had come up with the simple scheme of asking everyone ahead of time to list the "must discuss" topics on the whiteboard, which we would then systematically work through. Ulrich stressed the need for a chair to make sure that everyone, with English and as a first language or not, could get their turn. It was an easy vanity to imagine that our procedures were in asymptotic approach to something pretty good.
Appropriately, today's chair is Ulrich. We are reading a paper by Chris Pincock on fictionalism. He will be presenting this as a talk in two places and we were his test audience and editors. Claus had given his 5 minutes summary. "You can even go to seven and a half minutes," Ulrich had pronounced in mock formality. Then Ulrich had supervised the listing of questions, while Claus wrote them on the whiteboard. The list grew and Chris couldn't resist foreshadowing answers. We were 45 minutes into the discussion and, Ulrich pointed out in some dismay, still all the questions were not up on the whiteboard. I leaned over to him and mumbled, "perhaps next time we'll ration everyone to just one very important question."
The energy of the discussion continued until nearly half an hour past our stopping time. Ulrich told me he thought some important issues had surfaced at the end and that they needed to be discussed. So he had allowed things to continue.
Then we turned to the question of dinner. Or, more accurately, we returned to it. Over lunch in our lounge, I had broached the question of dinner with our Italian contingent of Laura, Federica and Flavia. Laura had cast her gaze heavenward and announced wistfully "you know this time pizza would be nice." That triggered a discussion of Italian and American pizza and an inconclusive search for a worthy pizza restaurant. I was busily shaking UrbanSpoon on my iPhone. Federica pulled out a copy of Peter Machamer's restaurant guide.
This was not fitting what I'd planned. This year's group of Fellows had not yet made their visit to the Original O hotdog shop and somehow I'd gotten in my head that today was a good day for it. The pieces fell into place when, a little while later, I talked to Joyce. "Do they sell pizza at the Original O?" I asked. Yes they do, and a quick phone call confirmed they are doing it today.
Many of you already know the Original. To those of you who don't, imagine tables with elegant white linens and waiters with impeccable manners and perfect service. Fix that image. Now take the opposite in all imaginable parameters. That is the Original O. And this was the speech I was making at the end of our reading group meeting to try to induce a few reluctant stragglers, mostly called Federica, that perhaps this is a good choice. It seemed that honest and full disclosure was the best policy, for the truth would be out soon enough.
There was enough agreement that the O is a classic worthy of visit. We were, soon enough, marching into the chaos of signs, neon and counters that is the O. Ordering is the reverse of the elegant waiter who comes to your table. You go to the cash register, order the pizza and then the beers, which are pulled one after another into plastic cups. The beer selection is surprisingly varied and good. We found our table and settled in, while I disappeared to fulfill another obligation of the O at a different counter.
I stood at the fry counter and ordered a portion. I watched as the cook heaved a full dripping fry basket of fries into the air and inverted it into a paper tray. He pressed it down slightly so it took the form of the basket. I hauled it over to our Fellows and rather transparently deadpanned "I ordered the small serving. I didn't have the heart to try the big one!" Perhaps they believed me. "Do you have your camera," Federica called out. "Take a picture and send it to me."
We circled and picked at the fries like hesitant birds, while a few feet away the pizza chef was building our pizzas from scratch. First one came over and then Claus leapt up to present us with the second. We were soon entangled in the aromas of yeasty crusts, ham, tomatoes, hot olives and great strands of cheese.
John D. Norton