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April 2017

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Celestino’s is Real New York Pizza

It had been a bad summer for Ronny Cammareri Jr. 2010 had started out good: he was living at home rent-free. There was a fine looking chick he'd met at the candy store that was a definite prospect. He was going to classes at Kingsborough when he felt like it or whenever his old man, Ronny Sr., got on his case. "You're gonna wind up like your Uncle Johnny! Twenty-two years old and still livin' at home!" He'd wave that gloved hand at him like an augury of doom. Mostly Ronny Jr. just shone it on. Loretta, his mom, was still, in the words of his friend Richie, babelicious. She wasn't harsh like his old man. She seemed to understand his need to have a little fun - maybe because she had always been a serious girl with a tragic end to her first marriage.

But then things turned upside down. Loretta came home one day in the spring with big news: her Uncle Raymond and Aunt Rita had franchised Cappomaggi's Deli and wanted Loretta and Ronny to oversee the California operations from the west coast headquarters in Chico, California. It was a new opportunity - get out of that crumbling house on Cranberry Street, move to California, get a tan, maybe have a swimming pool. It would be good for Ronny Sr. to move out of the basement of that bakery. And since Ronny Jr. wasn't exactly overwhelmed with prospects for living on his own, he moved with them.

If it had been L.A., he could have dug it, speeding down Sunset Boulevard in an open-top convertible, a gorgeous blonde beside him, waving to Brad and Charlize. He could have gotten a job as a trainer to the stars - after all, he worked for a while cleaning the Gold's Gym in Brooklyn Heights, so he knew a thing or two about lifting weights. But no: here he was stuck in this place no one ever heard of - at least, no one he knew ever heard of Chico.

It depressed him to walk around. People here were so cheerful. "Have a nice day!" they'd chirp, and they seemed to mean it. They were all into yoga, or jogging, or Pilates - whatever that was. They rode bikes and wore bright clothes. Nobody sat on the stoop in the evening. And nobody here spoke his language: on the second day in Chico he asked a hot babe where the candy store was and she directed him to Shubert's Ice Cream and Candy.

God, did he miss New York.

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One hot night, Ronny Jr. was stumbling downtown after two too many at the Town Lounge: a date with the babe who sent him to Shubert's turned ugly when she wanted to go to Monk's Wine Bar, then got pissy with him for making fun of the ambiance and the crowd. He was just having a goof but she took it all wrong. He headed up Salem toward the campus, then stopped abruptly. Something in the air.... smelled like home.

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There was a line out the door of Celestino's. Ronny's nose drew him closer to the crowd. As soon as he got inside the door he could see the pizzas in the display case. If he had been drunk before, he was now intoxicated with the pizza aroma. "Gimme a schlish oof scheese," he garbled to the Amy Winehouse wannabe at the counter. She rolled her eyes but took his money, dispensing a little ‘tude too. For the first time in two months, Ronny felt comfortable.

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In a few minutes Ronny was outside on the sidewalk clutching what looked like the real thing: thin-crust pizza on a cheap paper plate, scattering of melted cheese, patina of olive oil glowing on top. He folded the slice in half and took a bite. He staggered against the wall. Tears came to his eyes. A miracle had occurred. In this yuppie enclave, in this stinkin' hot valley town full of smiley Californians all having a nice day, God had set down real New York pizza. It wasn't that overstuffed pillow with gobs of cheese and broccoli and artichokes that passed for pizza out here. This was the real deal.

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He shoved the last bites into his mouth and wiped his oily fingers on his jeans. Amy Winehouse was out on the sidewalk taking a smoke break. "How youse like the pizza?" Youse! He'd already been called Joe Pesci for saying youse. And this chick said youse too!

"Yeah, it's real good." Ronny furtively felt his face to brush away strings of cheese and pizza crumbs. "It's just like home."

"Try the Godfather," Amy said, pronouncing it Gawdfodda. "It's real popular."

"Eh... where you from?" She looked suspicious. "I mean... you're not from here." Her face lit up, as much as Amy Winehouse could.

"Fresh Meadows," She exhaled a fug of smoke. "I was going to St. John's but I got sick of my family raggin' on me so I came out here to go to school." She extended her hand. "Hey... I'm Tina."

Oh thank you Saint George Steinbrenner, Ronny thought.

Celestino's Pizza, 101 Salem Street, Suite 1, Chico, California 95926, 530-896-1234,, also 1354 East Street, Chico, and locations in Oroville and Rocklin. Open seven days a week. Vegetarian and vegan options. Website and menu at http://www.celestinospizza.com/ (click on Rocklin location for menu listing).

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