people you should know: Al at the NYC pizza shop


I hurried past the flower shop + bounded into the front door of the pizzeria and said, “Al, do you remember me?” and he said, “oh, you’re kind of a hard one to forget.”

I sat down at the same table as last time I was in here — right across the counter, so Al and I could catch up while he worked. He grabbed me a slice of Sicilian, brought it to me and said, “Welcome back – now tell me everything,” and so I did. 

A father with long, salt + pepper grey hair and a plaid shirt walked in. He had two sons -- Keats, who was blonde and older, and his brother Clive, still in diapers, but babbling excitedly when he saw Al. Al picks up Clive, babbling back to him, while Keats climbs up on the counter. He gives me a look, but Al says, “This is our friend, Amanda. She’s from where the beach is. She wants to write things that help people feel better.”

Al works long hours, but he loves it, and you can feel that. “When I came here from Germany, I had a green mohawk,” Al tells us. We discuss if Keats should get a mohawk, and land on that it would be a fun idea and I think his dad may actually do it. Al also wanted to be a teacher back then, but had to work instead of going to school. He says not much has changed since my last trip, but tells me he took his wife on a vacation to Amelia Island a few weeks ago and I imagine that she feels more loved and seen and heard than any other person on Earth. 

A boy in a Ramones t-shirt ordered half a dozen garlic knots, and Al gives him a free Coke. “Political Science -- at Sarah Lawrence, right?” and he nods and Al says, “Maybe you’ll be President,” and you can tell he truly means it. 

“Some names I forget, but I remember people. I remember their stories,” he said and I said, “that’s the only thing that matters.”

“I was wrong at Christmas. You don’t need to go be a history tutor. You’re doing all the good in the world right here, just like this,” and Al smiled. He gave me a big hug, and said I had to try the roasted chicken slice on my next trip, and that I could have a book signing here one day if I wanted, and I said “sounds like a plan.”

I can see his shop across the way, from where I’m sitting drinking my morning coffee. The SE corner of 69th + 1st is a sacred space if I ever saw one. I will always return to it, past the sake bar + the flower shop, to sit with Al and watch him do his miracle work. I am thankful that this city has him; I am thankful to call him my friend, and for Sicilian pizza, and that my story gets to have him in it.