Day 33: Mario’s Story

I actually wrote “Dave 33” first for the title. Crazy!

In the little town of Rome, Italy, a child came into the world who was Italian and his parents made sure he knew that from day one. Usually it was in conjunction with some sort of backhanded compliment or backhanded insult. “Mario! Do you know any famous Italians who knock over the trash can? No, of course not. We must have been mistaken.”

Mario went along with this because he didn’t have any choice. His parents weren’t all bad, they simply had no sense of imagination. He could surely imagine an Italian sneaking the unbaked cookie dough, or neglecting to put away his shoes, or bringing home stray dogs to his mother. But Mr. and Mrs. Marinetti had no such creativity or vision. In their world, an Italian had quick feet for kicking the soccer ball, keen eyesight for avoiding tourist-driven Vespas, and long, strong arms for pulling the pizzas out of the dedicated pizza oven.

It was this final failure that nagged at Mario the most, and it was the insult that pushed his parents past their good humored jests into outright anger and derision. For even as the rest of him grew longer and leaner and tauter and taller, Mario P. Marinetti’s arms stayed the same length. As the rest of him grew and grew through childhood and adolescence, into young adulthood, his arms remained the same, perhaps they shrunk, if anything. The doctors weren’t concerned. “He’ll grow into them,” they always said, which made no sense to Mario or his parents but they understood it really meant, “Goodbye.”

Though he couldn’t reach far enough up the pizza paddle to pull pies, Mario grew up fascinated by fire and food. “I’m going to be a great chef when I grow up,” he’d tell his parents. Holding back both laughter and tears, they would only say, “of course, dear, but perhaps Italian cuisine might not be your thing. Because of, you know, your little arms and all that.”

Mario smiled and worked hard anyway. He lucked into a job at an American place in Rome. He couldn’t wash dishes with his short arms, so they had him working the deep fryer, the one place in the kitchen where short arms protected rather than endangered you. He couldn’t have reached into the hot oil if he’d wanted to. And with how everyone at the restaurant treated him, sometimes he did.

You should know that there are very strict rules about pizza-making in Italy. you need arms long enough to support a massive pie as it slips in and out of a gigantic, thousand-year-old stone oven. Pizza-serving restaurants are regulated by a government commission. They bring out measuring tape and everybody from the general manager to the busboy is measured at least once a year. Any short-armed cooks will get you fined, and if they aren’t fired, you could be shut down. Nobody would take the risk.

Nobody but this American place that wasn’t even supposed to be serving pizza. One day, the head chef, Mickey, threatened to quit if he didn’t get control over the menu. The manager threw up his hands, not knowing what else to do, and let him go. “Make anything you want!” he bellowed, before slamming the door on his tiny office in the back. The chef grinned and told his staff they were going to start serving the most American thing he could think of–Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza.

The rest of the chefs were horrified, but Mario just stood there, staring, fascinated.

“You in, kid?” Mickey asked.

Mario nodded.

“Then roll up your sleeves–oh, I see, they already are rolled up.”

Mario nodded, sadly.

“Never mind, they’ll shut us down anyway. But not before we make something worth getting fired.”

Mario ran to the market, buying entire hams and pineapples, and rushing back to the restaurant before anybody could ask to see his pizza license.

That night, Mickey and Mario made forty American pizzas. They didn’t advertise–they couldn’t have, legally. But people came. So many people. The restaurant had the best night it had ever had. They had to chase people away with pineapple rinds after the food ran out.

The next day the GM quit and Mickey made Mario his sous chef. They paid off the Arm Measuring Commission and the restaurant was a roaring success until one day Mario’s tiny arms slipped and he fell into the oven. Rest in Peace, Mario.

Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, vegetables

Breadsticks: 5!

Weight: for it.

Mario: short-armed, but never short-handed.