Many moons ago, my friends and I would go downtown for kicks. We’d meet at Kaufmann’s clock, shop at National Record Mart, buy gum at Candy-Rama and grab a slice at Mama Lucia’s. Holy Rick Sebak! Talk about things that aren’t there anymore. Mama Lucia’s is the only one left.
I had a standard order at the pizza joint: two square with mushroom. Call it square or Sicilian, it was my fallback choice. I like both round and square pizza. If someone made pizza in the shape of a dodecahedron, I’d eat that, too. Mama Lucia’s always used to pile on the sauce, and you needed the thick crust of the Sicilian to keep from wearing it.
Picture it, Sicilian pizza, the mid-to-late ’80s. I may have slightly skewered Sophia Petrillo’s signature line, but “The Golden Girls” still may have been in primetime when this story takes place. I was out of high school and attending Point Park College (Point Park University now). I’d run over between classes and get my standard order, “Two square with mushroom.” The counter man, Bruce, knew me only as “Two Square with Mushrooms.” Two-Square with Mushrooms should be my DJ name. Back in the day, my classmates and I went frequently. I was good to Mama, and Mama was good to me.
I was with a group of journalism majors. We were sitting around laughing and joking as I shook crushed pepper flakes on the pizza. We laughed so hard I got a tear in my eye. I wiped it away, but I still had remnants of the crushed pepper flakes on my finger. I burned my eyeball. I remember going back to Econ 101 in pain, sitting there with one eye closed. I sat there blinking, tears streaming from my face. My eye was burning and stinging. I thought I was going to need a doctor. It was almost as painful as listening to someone talk about economics. In retrospect, I’d rather have crushed peppers in my eye than listen to a lecture about economics. By the way, I have no idea why a journalist had to take economics; none of us have money.
Flash forward to early last week. I was downtown wandering around, saw Mama Lucia’s, and went in. I walked up to the counter and said, “I’d like two pieces of pizza.”
The counter man, Bruce, looked at me. He said, “You’re Two Square with Mushrooms?”
He remembered me. He remembered me before I ordered, by my old order.
In the late ’90s, I moved away from Pittsburgh. I’ve been back for almost five years. I hadn’t been inside Mama Lucia’s in, at least, 15 years! Maybe longer! To Bruce, I was still Two-Square with Mushrooms. I was flabbergasted.
Bruce told me he had been working there for 37 years. That’s a lot of time to be throwing dough up in the air. He was all that was left of the original Mama Lucia’s.
Technically, he is Mama Lucia now. Papa Bruce’s doesn’t have the same ring to it. It was still good pizza, and it was great to reminisce about my halcyon days from college.
P.S. I did manage to keep the crushed peppers away from my eyeballs. In all the passing years, I finally learned something!