The Brunching Shuttlecocks Entropy and Irony

Being There, Doing That: Pizza and Pipes

I am at "Pizza and Pipes" in Redwood City, a dining establishment that is not about to be sued for false advertising, because they do indeed have both pizza and pipes. The pizza I am not qualified to comment on due to the unfortunate circumstance of not being hungry, but the pipes are luckily there for all and sundry to enjoy, taking the form as they do of a huge pipe organ at the rear of the barn-like restaurant. "All and sundry" in this case comes to approximately eight, if you only count those who are not actually being paid to attend. And yet the musician at the Mighty Wurlitzer plays on, his back to the spacious lack of throng.

He's not even commanding the audience's undivided attention, this being the sort of pizza joint that hedges its bets and provides such attractions as a big-screen TV displaying some sporting event, a small-screen TV displaying The Powerpuff Girls, a "Kids' Playland" consisting of about four hundred bucks of "Tuf Tykes" plastic playground equipment, a row of video games, a bank of those things you put a quarter in and get lousy gum or cheap trinkets, and cardboard cutouts of dancing people in some sort of traditional European garb. I'm going to take a wild leap here and say Dutch.

But I'm in no position to criticize, except in the literal sense of having a worldwide outlet. I've played music to less-packed houses myself, and I didn't even have an instrument that could be described as "Mighty."

And frankly, "mighty" is not an overstatement. This is a huge instrument, bringing to mind old science-fiction stories where computers the size of Winnebagos enslave humanity. Hordes of pipes are visible behind festively-lit windows, shutters near the roof open and close presumably to control the volume, and best of all the organ seems to be connected to a small rhythm section of cymbals and the like, which lights up when the organist -- Warren Lubich if you must know -- makes use of it. There's a little display detailing the full range of pipes and other sounds available, but it was boring and I didn't read it.

I'm dying for this guy to break into "About a Girl" or even "Major Tom," something wildly inappropriate, but he's sticking to period music of the sort that Shirley Temple minced across the screen to. There's also a little cymbal-playing monkey on the actual playing portion of the organ. You'd think he could at least use the monkey.

It's 8:20 and I've been here for nearly an hour, so I'm guessing this place doesn't have a dinner rush, at least not on Wednesdays. In fact, the audience has dwindled to five.

The organizer has stopped playing and is either adjusting the organ or turning it off, your guess is as good as mine. The place seems extra-sad without the organ playing. It's no longer Pizza and Pipes, it's just Pizza, like those seaside touristy restaurants that dispense with actual names for the more efficient signs stating what you can expect to get there: "Ice Cream," "Mexican Food," "Pizza."

Oh, now the place is picking up. Two little girls just walked in, possibly twins, wearing identical pink piggy pajamas. They headed straight for the Tuf Tykes area. I bet they'd enjoy some organ music.

I miss the organ music. The musician, the bringer of joy and rhythm, is in the head, One of the piggie girls is deciding she would rather be out of her piggy outfit and her parents are explaining to her that nudity is not encouraged at the Pizza and Pipes. The dishwashing machine in the back sloshes and the air-conditioning hums malevolently. All would be right with the world, all would be restored, if only there were some 1940's-style organ music whooping merrily through the air, and possibly a little mechanical monkey banging his cymbals.

I try to distract myself by reading the back of the photocopied paper menu. Apparently there have been no less than eight Mighty Wurlitzers enhancing people's pizza-noshing experience in California and Washington State.

[Random thought: it must be a pain for Washingtonians to have to specify "Washington State" all the time, lest people ask them if they've been to the Lincoln Memorial. I knew a young lady named Robin Williams once, and I imagine the experience must be similar, having to continually amend a simple statement with "but not the one you're thinking of." But then, I have the name of a Star Trek character, so I know how it is.]

Anyhow, the menu is unclear, but it seems to imply that this is the last of the Mighty Wurlitzers still seeing action, although the Pizza and Pipes in Santa Clara may have a Mighty Yamaha DZ 100, which I'm sure you'll agree lacks a certain panache.

Well, Mr. Lubich is having his meal. There will be no more organ merriment tonight, I wager. But the monkey stands ready. The monkey, as always, stands ready.

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