I HAVE TO ADMIT, DESPITE LOVING pizza with an intensity that is otherwise only reserved for my wife, I do not have a favorite pizza. There was a particularly good pizza joint I went to back in college, and there were a few go-to’s back in my hometown of Cincinnati. Now that I live in New Jersey, I am so up to my neck in good pizza that I’m pretty sure I’ll never see the lighter side of 200 pounds ever again.
But I don’t really care to pick a favorite. I feel like, on the day I was born, an angel sat me down on his lap, blew some consciousness dust through my ear and into my newborn brain, and whispered, “You are now free to frolic through a nearly endless playground of pizza. Some of it will be just okay. But for the most part, this stuff will be a consistent joy of your life. You will eat it so much that it will literally kill you. And you’ll have no regrets. Godspeed, dear baby. Enjoy.”
To try and quantify, to try and select the greatest pizza, just never felt right to me. There was too much to enjoy. Too much variety, too little point in comparison. So instead, like Tony Montana with cocaine, I don’t discriminate. I just put as much of it into my body as possible.
Who cares about the “greatest?”
Americans are very insistent on being the “greatest.” The US is the “greatest country in the world.” New York is the “greatest city in the world.” Mass movements have sprung up around the idea of us losing our greatness. “Make America great again!” the movements say.
This movement does not make sense. Nearly 64% of Americans have never left the US. Presumably, many of these Americans are the ones concerned about making it the greatest again.
How would you name a pizza the greatest if you’d only ever had, say, the Chicago Classic from Pizzeria Uno? Sure, you’ve had a great pizza. But you haven’t had all of the pizza. You are not in a position to say which is the best. You would have to try all of the pizzas in order to be able to say which is the best.
And here’s the thing: once you’d tried all of the pizzas there were to try, you could be asked, “Which pizza is the greatest?” And you’d say, “Who gives a shit? I’ve lived well. I’ve eaten a lot of pizzas.” And then you’d die of a massive coronary.
This, for those who have traveled, is what seeing the world is like. Only amateurs dabble in rankings. Connoisseurs know that the variety, the diversity, the sheer amount of sights and sounds and smells and tastes out there are so overwhelming, so dazzlingly spectacular, that to rank and compare is to miss the point entirely: Not every place is amazing, but you can find something amazing pretty much everywhere.
The world is not scary.
Which is why the mindset of Donald Trump (who is, in my mind, the opposite of pizza) and his ilk is so perplexing to me. “Make America Great Again!” is not something that anyone who has recently experienced, for example, Cincinnati beer, or Charleston food, or LA street art, would ever say — there’s greatness to be found everywhere in this country.
Even more perplexing is when America is painted as some sort of bastion of safety and security, while beyond our borders lies only violence, chaos, and hordes of leeches and malcontents.
That’s just not remotely in touch with reality. Yeah, sure, there are terrorist attacks out there, but there are here, too. Just last week, there was a terrorist bombing a few towns over from me on the Jersey Shore. Sure, there’s violence and poverty out in the wider world, but I live just down the road from Trenton, from Newark, from Philadelphia. All of those places are plagued by violence and poverty.
The world just isn’t as scary as it’s often made out to be. Researchers believe that in spite of the terrifying news stories we hear on a regular basis, that the present day is the safest time in human history to be alive.
The world is too amazing to not get out there and see.
Look: if you eat enough pizza, you’re gonna get a bad slice or two. You might get anchovies, or you might get a pizza that’s covered in arugula, and you’re all like, “If I wanted to be eating healthy, I wouldn’t be ordering a fucking pizza, so why in god’s name is there arugula on this pizza?” Not every slice of pizza is great. Not every slice of pizza is for you.
And not every place in the world is great. Not every place in the world is for you. But there are some really, really amazing places out there that you will never see if you fearfully confine yourself to the United States.
Do not let the Trumps of the world scare you, or give you a delusional sense of superiority. There is no greatest. Overcome your xenophobia, and every pizza in the world is available to you. And every pasta. And every sandwich. And every curry. And every beer. And every burrito. And every poutine. And every cheese…