The secret to cutting the perfect pizza slice is to put the blade down and commit – the worst thing you can do is stop halfway through or try to go back over it a second time. I spent most of my summer cutting pizzas and worrying about cutting pizzas – a task which many people instruct me “is not neuroscience.” Despite that simple fact, my upcoming shifts still rattled me.
People relied on me to repeatedly cut four straight lines through hot crusty bread, gooey mozzarella cheese, and sauce! As pie-cutter, I am the link between the waitresses and the kitchen. The waitresses yell their orders to me. I write them down. I yell to the people making the pizzas what toppings I need. I get them back. I cut them. Then finally, I yell back out to the waitresses, “PLAIN PIE”. In those eight minutes it takes to make a pizza there is a lot of room for error. And as the Labor Day countdown on the wall behind me ticked away my mind raced, doubtfully: Had I missed someone calling a pizza? Had I remembered to tell Steve I needed ½ pep? Had they heard me when I called a white pie? What would people think of my uneven slices?
A lot more goes into pizza cutting than many would dare believe. Many people assume that when they order their pizza, a pizza made especially for them comes out. Not the case. To keep up with the high demand of pizza and make sure tables are turned as quickly as possible pizzas are constantly being made and put in the oven before they have even been ordered. There are three different categories of pizza: you have your plain pies which come from Brenden, your item pies which Steve makes, and your white pies which Toni makes. When an order is placed I either need to tell Brenden, Steve, or Toni. Simple enough, right? Hold on. Now add the distraction of the loud conversation, phone ringing off the hook, takeout orders being yelled, and slices being called, the occasional parade or fist fight on the boardwalk, along with my voice just another noise trying to scream through the chaos: “TONI, I NEED AN ALL WHITE HALF BROCCOLI!” But the real difficulty sets in when a large group arrives, and I am faced with an order of a white broccoli pie, 2 plain pies, and a half pep. My mission, to get all the pies to the table at as close to each other as possible from three different people and two different ovens, hopefully avoiding angry customers and sideways glances from waitresses.
After many nerve-racking shifts, I realized I wasn’t nervous because I couldn’t do it, I was nervous that I’d mess up and get fired. But it is just pizza, not neuroscience. My coworker and New Jersey Buddha, Steve, reinforced this message in his thick Philly accent, “Even if you don’t cut the pizza perfectly, it’s still pizza. They’re gonna eat it.”
In the world of pizza cutting wearing nail polish to cut 450-degree pizzas will not end well, in New Jersey the terms “cheese pizza” and “meatball sub” will only bring mockery and confusion, and locking your bike to the boardwalk railing will not prevent it from being stolen. Pie-cutting taught me about fear too, that being scared to do something or to mess up is what holds you back –not your actual abilities.