Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: phoenix

My friend the banker

My friend the banker taught me how to make eggs. Small pan, a spritz of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, one side and then over. Easy. But mine don’t look like his. Mine are all tapioca-yellow broken-yoke muddle, his are all golden-brown, fluffy, yokes intact. Break them and the gold runs along your plate to the margins, waiting to be curled into a piece of toast.

My friend the banker recently bought a house. A duplex, to be exact. My friend the banker is 25 years old, and not even really a banker. He works at an investment bank, though, so it’s easiest to call him that. Snappier, too. My friend the banker is a snappy dresser and snappy with zingers to toss around. It fits, like the Mini Cooper he drives with the vanity plate that you couldn’t even imagine.

I explained the problems that I outlined yesterday to my friend the banker. He was uniquely qualified to comment on my situation, having no small number of his own things in my house, due to circumstances beyond his control. At first, he said that there were some things he would like to keep for posterity, and recommended gutting the house of its items and throwing everything in an above-ground garage. Expensive, semi-sentimental, and sensible, I thought. Then my friend the banker thought about it for another minute and spoke again.

“Throw it all away,” he said.

It caused me no small amount of joy to hear that. I consider it a healthy attitude to take toward one’s early youth, especially when is looking at it in the rear-view mirror. My friend the banker is moving in with his girlfriend, and embarking on a new life entirely of his choosing. It is altogether admirable. It’s something I did once.

That conversation was two weeks ago, on a highway in Phoenix, Arizona. Last weekend, I was face-to-face with my friend the banker’s stuff. Old photos, trophies, clothes, mementos, in boxes that chirped their owners’ suggestion to throw them out over the pulsating sound of the Bose speaker upstairs.* I did not do it. It’s not because I don’t respect my friend the banker’s wishes, but because having been reminded of the power of memory through the process of clearing the clutter from my own past, I have been reminded how it changes, like the colors of a sunset.

You know that moment at dusk when everything gets lighter all of a sudden, like someone pressed rewind on the night for 30 seconds? Doesn’t the same thing happen in life? I think it does, and I don’t know if my friend the banker has gotten there yet. And if he hasn’t, I can’t deprive him the opportunity to watch, in awe and wonder, as it appears the clocks are turning backward, that 8 o’clock has become 7:45, the the world has started spinning in the opposite direction, and that things that have faded in importance for him become, against all odds, resonant once more, final, shining beacons to the past.

So I’m careful. I throw away the trash.  I’m respectful of the past, and of the future. I’m as consistent as possible. But last weekend even I was taken aback when I found a shark hand puppet that belonged to me when I was six years old, and it all came swirling back, all of it. I put it in a box and onto a shelf and, unbowed, headed back to my project, the broken yokes of old dreams all around me, trying desperately not to break any more.

* On a lighter note, the Bose iPod dock is, in the words of C.P., the sixth man of the maintenance work. That thing is out. of. control. Wizardry.


Object in motion

In the northeast corner of the country, we have salty, wet, wooden America. The ocean. Evergreens. Boats. Lobsters for those who can afford them. The Red Sox. Islands big and small.

In the southwest corner, we have dry, air conditioned America. Cactii. Immigration laws. The Suns. Pizzeria Bianco. Those little misting devices outside of restaurants to keep you from becoming a sun-dried tomato.

In the last two weeks, I have bounced between and around these two Americas (John Edwards whut) like a pinball, but instead of leaving my normal trail of destruction, I’m actually cleaning up messes. I’ve left every place better than I’ve found it, in the maintenance I’ve done on my childhood home (Massachusetts), the paint I’ve slapped on my brother’s new home (Phoenix), or the economic stimulus I’ve provided to the U.S. economy (Las Vegas).

I returned to my apartment for more than 12 hours for the first time on Sunday night, fresh off the superlatively beautiful boat ride back from M.V. I was anxious. I had a leaky faucet, a stack of recyclables that have been long ignored, and a cluttered apartment setup. After all the arranging and rearranging I had done, did I have to live this way?

Of course I didn’t. Last night, I took upon the task of gutting my apartment. Bookshelf: gone. Books: in the closet for now. Trash: deposited. Bicycle: headed to Craigslist, or West Tisbury. Guitar I never learned to play or really cared to: eat me. Dresser: justify your existence, or go home.

This all sounds like boilerplate stuff, but there’s an underlying issue.

In performing maintenance on my childhood home, I’ve brushed up against the memories of some of its fellow former occupants. Okay, “brushed up” is the most delicate way of putting it. I have, with only a slight intention, jabbed at them completely and violently, like hundreds of razor-sharp needles. This has been difficult for some people, even if I’m striving to remind them that their memories are, if not the first thing on my mind (and they could be), darn close to it.

What it comes down to is the power of things, and how those things come to define us. Of course, it’s completely up to us how we let that happen, and there is no right or wrong way. There are differing philosophies, but other people could give a hoot about my philosophy. Their way works for them. That I initially tried to argue my way out of this shows a gap in my understanding that has been rectified, if not forgiven, by the people it bothered. I believe my grand plan for that house is 99% of what everyone else’s grand plan is, but it’s the 1% that’s important in this case.

So returning home (to New York this time), to a place that’s 100% my vision… it’s too grand an opportunity to pass it up. The thing is, I wouldn’t be able to do it had I not done it in Massachusetts or Phoenix. I learn by doing, watching, tinkering. In the end and in the future, my grand projects will be limited to what’s mine unless explicitly directed otherwise. Some people don’t even trust me anymore. That’s something I’ll have to live with. I suppose we all do.

In Phoenix

I shoud probably just suck it up and enjoy my four remaining days of vacation instead of blogging, and yet here I am. Blogging on the couch. My brother’s sleeping about five feet away. He’ll read this when he gets the subscriber email. (Note to friends: SIGN UP.) Now his girlfriend is smacking him in the face to wake him up, and his six month old Boston Terrier has parked herself beside me. Now his girlfriend is taking the dog away so they can both take a nap. Now Grant informs me he is taking a nap too, and leaves me with these parting words: “Feel free to go fuck yourself, if you’re interested.” I will have to mull it over.

Las Vegas is in the books, and by Las Vegas, I mean Licensing Show, the annual extravanza of branding which I attend for work. Uh, yay? It wasn’t so bad this year. It was actually kind of good. I would prefer not to admit that, because if I did that I might have to admit my job isn’t all bad. I would have to admit that I saw lots of people I actually like and some I actually respect. I would have to admit that I could, actually, parlay this job into something really interesting and cool and innovative and engaging. I would have to admit that I’m a lot closer to that than I’d ever imagined. And that would be weird. So let’s do the healthy thing and ignore it. IT WILL OBVIOUSLY GO AWAY.

I’m in Phoenix, which is the (hold on) fifth-largest city in the country at this point. I find this hard to believe and easy to believe. My friend Chris pointed out recently that the Southwestern United States has been settled largely thanks to one invention: the air conditioner. When I was flying, first over Vegas and then over Phoenix, I looked down at the little houses and thought of all the little pockets of cool air. Hundreds of thousands of them, lined up side-by-side.

What if the power goes out? What if the water runs out?

Do we think about these things? Probably not. Why? Because it’s the fifth-largest city in the U.S., and power could never go out to the entire fifth-largest city in the U.S. It’s just inconceivable. Someone will make turn on the cold air, or someone will pay. That’s not judgmental or anything. It’s just a fact. And I can grouse about technology all I want, but just because my life largely revolves around early 20th century technology (the subway) doesn’t make me superior to those who rely on newer ones. There were people who thought the subway was bullshit, too.

To put it simply: my knee-jerk antipathy to the southwest, to Vegas, to Phoenix, to places that I didn’t choose to live, is fading. I like a good number of places, many of them more than I like the place I actually live. I used to think that saying something like that was living with a contradiction, but it’s actually just living. I have some things I like perfectly and some things I just like. I like different things about Phoenix and West Tisbury and Brooklyn well enough. I just happen to live in only one of them. I haven’t been home for more than four days in about a month. And you know what? At the moment I don’t much miss it.

This weekend, time with dad, brother, and the city of Phoenix. Trying to figure out, finally, what it’s all about.

Finally! Pizzeria Bianco

We’ll tackle the Pats tomorrow. First, a Pizzerio Bianco update.

I have previously written about how I planned the first leg of my Thanksgiving trip around a trip to Pizzeria Bianco. This was my fourth attempt at getting into the famed pizzeria and my first successful one. Steven, Grant and I left directly from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (A very strange name for an airport, if you think about it. Sky Harbor?) and got there at 3:45, 75 minutes before it opened. We were the first people in line.

Let me rephrase that. I was the first person in line.

By the time the restaurant opened, there were probably 100 people waiting, and there’s room for about 60, tops. Bar Bianco, located next door, opens at 4 p.m. and I had a great beer: Hop Knot IPA from the Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewing Company.

But that’s not all that important.

We weren’t actually the first people to be seated — a group of 7 had made a reservation — but I made sure to toe-tap just inside the door to be the “first person through.” There were seven of us, as well, so we ordered all six of Chris Bianco’s specialty pizzas. They are the only six on the menu. They are:

MARGHERITA – Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil
MARINARA – Tomato Sauce, Oregano, Garlic (No Cheese)
ROSA – Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, AZ Pistachios
SONNY BOY – Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Salami, Gaeta Olives
BIANCOVERDE – Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, Arugula
WISEGUY – Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage

I found them to be divided into two categories. The Margherita, Marinana and Wiseguy were merely “quite good,” but as my brother Steven pointed out, the Margherita was bested by, among others, Domenic DeMarco of DiFara in Brooklyn, where we famously waited for three hours one winter’s day last year. That day, the pizza was merely “very good,” on one of my two other trips, I had the best single pizza I have ever had, and it was sans toppings.

Chris Bianco is the upscale, Phoenix-based DeMarco — he makes every pizza himself, in front of a restaurant, as opposed to DiFara’s counter. But where DeMarco excels in the cheese-and-oil areas, Bianco has mastered his toppings on the Biancoverde, Sonny Boy and Rosa. Neither the Biancoverde nor the Rosa has sauce, but the cheeses make up for the lack of tomatoes, and the Sonny Boy is just about the best sauce-and-toppings pizza I’ve ever had. These pies are all absolutely superb, but The Rosa is the best. The Biancoverde doesn’t look all that appetizing — it looks like a bunch of clovers fell on a cheese pizza — but it is a great change-up from the others and can hold its own thanks to the ricotta. The Sonny Boy I’ve talked about. The Rosa I can’t even say much about except that it is the second-greatest pizza I’ve ever had, second only to the single DiFara Pie described above. It’s just exquisite.

Bianco’s strength, or at least one of them, is his ability to churn out perfect, homemade crusts every time, and that was on display here. Not all DiFara pies are created equal: DeMarco is moving slowly enough that sometimes he doesn’t properly rotate the four or five pizzas he has going at once. Bianco worked quickly but perfectly. Every pie was perfectly cooked, exquisite. On the way out, we all thanked him, and though he’s from Brooklyn I gave him a “Queens, baby!” to which he responded “Yeah, baby!” Good times, especially when Thanksgiving is the next day. This is why we live, folks.

And, without further ado, The Rosa: