It was a few weeks before my 34th birthday, and I was seven months pregnant with my first child. My husband, a native of Wyckoff, and I were living in Manhattan. We worked long days back then and didn’t cook much at home. After all, we lived in New York City, food paradise of the world. We could get meals delivered to our door 24/7—the ultimate room service. So we mostly ate out or ordered in.
For my birthday, my husband wanted to take me somewhere special. We’d go to the restaurant of my choice for a splurge dinner. Almost daily he’d offer suggestions—food for thought. Nobu. March. Aureole. Le Bernardin. Fancy establishments that would require a reservation weeks in advance. Maybe even the enlistment of “people in the right places.” I needed to decide fast.
There was only one problem. I couldn’t do anything fast. I was perpetually tired, and the brain fog of pregnancy often rolled in without warning. What’s more, the fickleness of my food cravings made it impossible to predict what I’d lust for on a particular day three weeks in the future.
As my birthday approached, my husband grew increasingly frustrated with my indecisiveness—a new side effect of my pregnancy that coincided with the onset of an increased desire for salami.
On the morning of my birthday, my husband left for work quietly exasperated. We had nary a reservation. It was a cold, stormy Wednesday, with rain and wind so intense that the 42nd floor of the GM Building, where I worked, swayed. Mid-afternoon, my husband called. There was a lightness to his voice. “Sweetie, I took matters into my own hands. I called around to see if I could get a cancellation on account of the weather. I got lucky! Oceana at 7 or Il Cantinori at 7:30.” He had a plan and he was happy. Until he stuttered, “Unless . . . there’s someplace else you wanna go?”
Yes. Yes there was. I wanted to go to Vic’s Pizza in Bradley Beach. I was desperate for its impossibly thin-crusted pizza, the kind that cracks when you fold it. I wanted glistening cheese under thick slices of sausage and peppers. I’d been consumed with thoughts of Vic’s chopped salad—tiny squares of salami stacked like Scrabble letters alongside squares of sharp provolone. All that savoriness nestled into a bowl of iceberg lettuce. Chunks of crunchy iceberg! (No wimpy, dark green, fragile leaves of micro-mesclun.) My gosh! Then we could drive to Hoffman’s in Point Pleasant Beach for a way-too-big scoop of Coffee Royal!
My husband was incredulous. But the fault was all his. Years before, after we’d gotten engaged, he introduced me (a native New Yorker) to New Jersey’s finer things: lovely beach towns where we’d spend blissful weekends; Bruce Springsteen concerts at the Meadowlands; Hoffman’s for the best ice cream in creation—all in hopes of someday seducing me into raising our kids in the Garden State.
The night of my birthday, my husband retrieved our car from its garage in Weehawken, picked me up in Manhattan, then drove through horrendous rain down the Shore for pizza and ice cream. What he couldn’t have known was that it would be the first of many pizza and ice cream birthday parties we’d celebrate in New Jersey. At home, with our two children.
Eva Lesko Natiello is is the author of The Memory Box, a best-selling psychological thriller set in a fictional town based on Westfield, where she lives.