Phoenix Part II Luigi’s

By BOB ZIMORINO

The next few blogs are from my time in Phoenix and are more often than not stories, some heartbreaking and some hysterical but all of them true. I couldn’t make up the stuff that happened while I worked there any more than I could make up the cast of characters involved. I will be using first names or nicknames to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Suzy Creamcheese and I rolled into Phoenix on a rainy Tuesday morning, December 28th 1976. My friend from high school, Ferd, and his girlfriend, Ronnie (she was working), welcomed us into their home. We both took showers and crashed hard. That evening we sat around after cooking some burgers and reacquainted, as well as got acquainted.

When asked what my plan was by Ronnie, I suddenly realized I really hadn’t thought any of this through. I didn’t really have a plan other than I would get a job and go from there. First thing the next morning I was up and running. Creamcheese stayed in bed, while I got up and showered. We pre-agreed that I would use her car to look for a job until one p.m. at which point I would turn it over to her to do the same.

Having been raised in a small town and not overly familiar with malls or mall culture, I went downtown. I assumed that is where all of the action would be. What I didn’t realize is that while Phoenix is a city, in 1976 the downtown area was pretty spread out.

I ran into some folks outside of a high rise on Central Avenue. Their dress indicated a level of affluence that would allow them a disposable income that hopefully (for me) they spent in restaurants. They looked at me and recoiled slightly fearing I was some kind of homeless mass murderer out to fleece them for their Rolexes in broad daylight.

Sure I was wearing clean jeans and a sweater but it was probably the hair and beard that threw them. I have always kind of had wild extremely curly hair. It was fine when it was short as long as I didn’t try to part it or comb it. I was in a gas explosion in the spring of 1976 that literally blew most of my hair off as well as my beard, my mustache, my eyebrows, my eyelashes and all of the hair off of my hands and forearms.

I had been pitching horse shoes with my friend Frank. Between games he went in to use the restroom. I asked him to light the oven so that it would preheat for the chicken I was going to roast. After he returned we played a couple of more games. It was the loser’s job to rake the pits which, much to my own disappointment, I was doing. He went back in the house and smelled gas. Realizing the pilot had not been lit, he turned the oven to off.

I walked in after raking and putting away the horseshoes. Having a cold, I couldn’t smell the gas. I saw the oven was unlit, cursed him for forgetting and then opened the door, bent down and lit a match. The air in front me ignited in a blue flame. The words “Oh shit” escaped my lips in the half of a second before the inside of the oven exploded in my face.

The punch from it sent me reeling backwards out of the kitchen and through the living room. I would have gone right through a window but by that point my trajectory had started to wane and I slammed into the wall right below the sill. In my semi conscious state I could hear my hair burning as it made it’s way past my ears but had no way to stop it. Frank grabbed a pot of chicken stock that I was going to use for gravy and threw it in my face effectively leaving me smoking, but flameless. A pharmacist friend gave me some burn cream and after looking me over concluded that the amount of hair on my face saved me from being severely burned. I looked as though I had a bad sunburn.

Now months later it had all grown back even wilder. I took of my hat and as though spring loaded it popped to life looking somewhat like a tumbleweed someone had thrown from a passing motorcycle. Their relief was palpable when I asked them where the best restaurants were in the area. Realizing there would be no fleecing they immediately relaxed and came to a quick, unanimous consensus that Scottsdale was the place.

I drove to Scottsdale. Not seeing a downtown on the corner of McDowell and Scottsdale Roads, I stopped at Los Arcos Mall which was a local strip mall on the south east corner of the intersection. I asked ten people where to find the best Italian food in the valley and nine of them named the same place, Luigi’s. The tenth said either there or Avanti just up the road from Luigi’s, but still thought Luigi’s was better. Nine and a half out of ten is pretty good odds so I headed up the road for Luigi’s.

It was a Mediterranean style white stucco building with a walled courtyard that included cheap plaster statues that poorly imitated Italian, yet served as Italian art. The glass door on the south side of the building was locked so I went around to the back. There was a doorbell for delivery men to use adjacent to an extra wide steel door. I rang it and no one answered so I rang it again.

With a shudder and a creak the door opened up and a small, bald Italian looking man with a nose large enough to hide under squinted at the brightness of the day and said “Whadayouwant?”

“Um is Luigi here?” I asked hoping that there was a Luigi.

“What the hell are you supposed to be?” he looked me up and down.

“I hope to be a cook here.” I gulped as I said it feeling like I had no chance.

“Yeah well he ain’t here right now, but soon. Come on in. Louie’ll have a field day with you.”

He stepped aside to allow me to pass. I entered into the darkness from which he had come, into what would become more of a home than my actual home, into the jaws of the dragon.

 

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Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in hislifetime.