Stage 1: Skepticism. You sit down at what’s supposedly the best deep dish pizza restaurant in all of Chicago and think to yourself, There’s no way I’ll like this better than New York pizza. I like my crust thin. I like to be able to fold my slice in half and eat it while I text and Instagram and walk the dog. What the hell does Chicago know about pizza that New York doesn’t? And then you sit and wait until your pizza arrives. It takes a good 30 minutes, and you don’t care how friendly the waiter is (FINE, the people in Chicago are nicer), no pizza is worth waiting more than half an hour for. You have other things to do. Like, try Italian beef. What are they doing back there, making the crust a quarter of a millimeter at a time?
Stage 2: Playing it cool. The pizzas arrive, piping hot and smelling better than bacon on New Year’s morning and you have an automatic salivary response. Your stomach churls and lurches, but your face shows none of it. Smell isn’t everything. You are going to reserve your enthusiasm for the first bite.
Stage 3: Loss of decorum. Despite your resolve not to like this bastard form of pizza, you’ve bitten down on a slice of pillowy, saucy, crunchy deep dish cheese with pepperoni, and you’re experiencing a mini-blackout. All of your pleasure centers are responding at once. You are floating through cloud crusts, sailing through a pepperoni sea. You are lulled to sleep on a bed of sauce and tucked into a blanket of mozzarella. And no pain or harm can come to you. Now or ever again. The world is not such a bad place after all as long as deep dish pizza stays in your mouth forever. You don’t care if it’s all over your face. You don’t care if you’ve brought the plate up to your face and you are licking it. You are alone with the pizza. Just you and the pizza for eternity.
Stage 4: Reverie. Your ecstasy turns to awe turns to curiosity turns to spiritual awakening. How can a pizza retain so much structural integrity? How can the sauce to cheese to pepperoni ratio be so harmonious? How can it be so fluffy and crunchy at the same time? What is the dough made of? Does it taste like it’s in the croissant family? What would the French think of deep dish pizza? Should I quit my job and move to Chicago and live in this pizza place and learn the way of the pizza maker the way all those hippies moved to India in the 1960′s to follow the Maharishi? Has anyone ever created a spiritual following based on pizza? You need your questions answered. And urgently!
Stage 5: Loss of control. Cocooned in a deep sense of connection to all sentient (and non-sentient beings in the pizza family), you proceed to eat three more slices of deep dish — cheese, sausage and mushroom and peppers — without pausing. It’s a food meditation. At least, that’s what you tell yourself. When asked questions by the other dinner guests you motion to them to leave you be. You are eating deep dish pizza and that is all you are doing. The boundaries between yourself and the food and your digestive system start to blur. You have the distinct sensation that you are getting very full, but that doesn’t slow you down. You were a skeptic and now you are a believer. A believer who does not want to stop consuming the gospel.
Stage 6: Stuffedness. The cloud crusts part and drop you back down to earth with a heavy thud. You are in a pizza place in downtown Chicago. Your jeans feel tight. You go to unbutton them and notice that your face and hands are covered in sauce. There is crust shrapnel on your plate. Your place setting looks like a war zone — all crumpled napkins and stray cili flakes and sauce smears. There is no joy without pain. You have experienced pure joy and now you will have to pay the price.
Stage 7: Desperation. But before you do, you want to one last moment before it’a all over. So, you do a special breathing technique that you learned as an overweight child, one that allows you to take a few more bites before the reality of how much you’ve eaten hits you. You ask for one more piece and with a fork and knife, slowly cut off a slice of pepperoni deep dish. You want your last bite to have equal parts crust, cheese and meat. Once you swallow, you know it was a mistake because…
Stage 8: Regret. It’s only a matter of seconds before the stomach pain kicks in. You imagine your body trying to digest this colossal mass of dough and crust and cheese and sauce and meat. It’s like a parasitic twin, living inside your stomach. You need to take a nap immediately, but there’s nowhere to lay down and you’ve come back to your senses enough to know that you can’t use an empty deep dish pan as a pillow. You’ll just have to shine it on for six to seven more hours, or until your body figures out what to do with the pizza bomb — that’s what you’re calling it. Until then, you will try to remember the good times you spent with the deep dish pizza and try not to focus in the ways the meal will betray you in the next 24 hours. A Zadie Smith quote from her essay about Joy comes to mind and you recite it to yourself, hoping that it will help you understand what’s just happened to you:
“That strange mixture of terror, pain, and delight that I have come to recognize as joy…each time [I] tried to forget it soon after it happened, out of the fear that the memory of it would dement and destroy everything else.”