The setting was Joe’s Pizza in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
It’s a small storefront, lined with a counter and dotted by a few barstools. This is pizza by the slice, meant to be eaten New York style, standing up, on the go, fresh from the oven.
I was perched on one of those barstools yesterday, enjoying my first slice inside the space since the start of the pandemic, when I heard a man exclaim: “Here’s Joe’s Pizza.”
He stood outside the open window, laying claim to a space at the outside counter, as his wife stepped inside with their young son.
She turned to her husband to ask what he wanted. His response
Do they have Hawaiian?
elicited chuckles from the handful of people in the space.
A back-and-forth ensued as the wife asked the guys behind the counter about available toppings and relayed the info back to her husband:
Plain. Pepperoni. “Fresh Mozz” — mozzarella and tomato. Sicilian. Mushroom.
That last one was news to me. I’ve never seen anyone at Joe’s pizza eat a slice with vegetables on it.
I couldn’t help myself. Overhearing their dilemma, and wanting to put them out of their misery, I did the most New Yorker thing one could do: I offered my unsolicited advice:
Get the plain.
She looked at me askance. Probably wondering why some stranger was telling her what to order. What?
Get the plain. You can’t go wrong with the plain slice.
Her husband commented that he doesn’t like plain. I doubled down:
Get the plain.
The man standing next to me, eating his slice, nodded in approval at my insistence. We locked eyes and laughed, engaging in a brief exchange about the magic of Joe’s Pizza.
There’s a reason Joe’s is an institution, a reason that they churn out slices of plain so quickly there’s always a fresh pie coming out of the oven. The pizza is flavorful on its own; it doesn’t need gimmicks or fancy topics to give it a boost.
The magic is in its simplicity, in the sweet and tangy sauce and the perfect sauce-crust-cheese ratio that keeps the cheese on even when its piping hot.
As the tourist man decided on pepperoni, the man standing next to me opined that pepperoni was also a valid option. I don’t eat pepperoni but I conceded that this was acceptable. And he agreed with my assessment that if you’re coming to Joe’s for the first time, your first slice should be the plain.
We turned back to our respective pizzas, and I finished my slice. As I got up to head out, I made eye contact with my new friend and wished him a “good one.” He wished me the same.
As I walked out of Joe’s into the mid-afternoon Greenwich Village heat, I reflected on the exchange with the man next to me. It was the most mundane exchange, the kind I used to have with strangers on a daily basis, especially at a place like Joe’s.
It was hardly worth writing about, but for the fact that it hasn’t been a staple of my daily experience for over 18 months. And that made this ordinary exchange all the more extraordinary.
Like Joe’s Pizza itself, its magic was in its simplicity, in its ordinariness, in plain ingredients assembled in just the right proportions so that the whole elevates the sum of its parts.
It’s these small moments that create a sense of community, that me feel connected to a world beyond myself.
At the end of a long day — a day filled with special moments and experiences — this one lingered in my consciousness, like the tangy sweetness of the tomato sauce that mediates the crust and cheese in a slice of Joe’s Pizza.
Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
I call these moments “magic moments” and I record at least one each day as part of my Daily Recap ritual, which I’ve been doing daily since 2014.
My interaction with my anonymous friend at Joe’s Pizza reminded me of something I’ve leaned into a lot over the past year:
What makes these moments “magic” is simply that I label them as such. They are memorable because they are the moments I choose to remember.
We live in a culture that tells us to look for the big things, the big miracles. It’s easy to get caught up looking for the fireworks that we miss the beautiful simplicity of a sunset. Or to get so absorbed by the sunset that we miss the miracle of a butterfly sitting quietly on a blade of grass.
In our pursuit of the extraordinary we often miss the ordinary. And the ordinary is where the magic happens. The miracles we seek are in the mundane. Life itself is the magic.
you miss the ordinary
mundane is magic