By Paul Blase
A word that often gets thrown around a lot is “culture.” We hear the term used in everything from the customs and norms of countries, the camaraderie in the workplace, the winning attitude of a sports team – you catch my drift. It’s seemingly multifaceted with a never-ending list of applications. I’ve been reflecting on families’ traditions, particularly mine, over the past week or so.
Growing up in Mastic Beach, NY, a once lower-middle-class, blue-collar town that has since devolved into one of the more dangerous and shady places on Long Island, certain places were staples of the greater community. Everyone has had to make a trip to the Handy Pantry at Neighborhood Rd. and Mastic Rd. at one point or another. We’ve all been to TJ’s Heros. Chinese? New Rooster Kitchen. Everybody had their own little corner store. But the one thing that was unrivaled over the course of 50 years was John’s Pizza. You literally couldn’t miss it. It was a giant two-story, hot pink building on Neighborhood Rd, the main street that runs through Mastic Beach. In 2002, they were recognized by LongIsland.com as having the best pizza on the entire Island. Trust me, that’s really saying something. I’m an admitted foodie and try new foods whenever I can. John’s had the best pizza that I ever tried, hands down.
My dad used to order John’s Pizza religiously once a week. We used to get the standard New York cheese pie. Then, of course, you gotta fold it in half and eat it, grease dripping down your arm and all. That’s just how it’s done. It’s a New York thing. The other thing that John’s always had that was out of this world was their heroes. For those not familiar with New York slang, that’s the term for a sub. My dad even had one named after him, “The Smokey Special.” Sausage, peppers, onion, mushrooms, black olives, and extra cheese with marinara sauce on a toasted Italian hoagie roll. Eventually, I got my own hero, “The Smokey Jr,” the same sandwich with light cheese. To this day, you could walk in that big pink building and yell out “ANGIE BABY,” referring to the owner Angela Nuccio, widow of John Nuccio, both of whom were Italian immigrants, and order a Smokey Special. Over my 31 years on earth, she’s never forgotten the order.
As kids, my brother Tyler and I rode our bikes all over town. We’d ride up to John’s and fold boxes in the back. As our reward, Angie and her two daughters, Josie and Maryann, would reward us with a slice and a cup of Pepsi. In 2003, ironically, on my 13th birthday, a massive power grid outage blacked out the entire northeast from Ohio to the coast, parts of Toronto down to Baltimore. John’s was the only place open because of their gas ovens. So naturally, that’s what we ate as a family.
In 2021, the tradition came full circle as I was able to take my son to John’s, accompanied by my dad. At that moment, three generations of Blase Boys were eating the best pizza on the Island, made by none other than the wonderful Angie. It was such a cool, proud moment for me as a father. I was able to share that experience, one of the pillars of my childhood, with my own son. I could only imagine how cool that must have been for my dad and how fulfilling it was for the Nuccio’s, to see yet another family come together at their establishment.
Unfortunately, after nearly 50 years in business, John’s is closing up shop in about a week. To my knowledge, it’s not because of the lack of success, but rather the family deserves a break to enjoy their lives and make their own memories, especially after the countless memories they’ve helped give to so many in the community.
Alas, we have come full circle for the point of this article. Culture, to me, has always been defined as norms and traditions that bring a group of people together to build a common identity. It’s important never to neglect our family culture, to establish an identity and sense of pride in who we are as people. For the longest time, my father has always preached to me about the importance of being a Blase. Who we are, what we’ve accomplished, everything from our long-standing military history dating back to the American Civil War, and how we continue to push the envelope further with each generation. My grandfather had to work three full-time jobs to support nine children. My dad worked his ass off to provide the best possible life for me as a single father, allowing me to pursue and achieve my dream of being a professional hockey player. Now, I am responsible for pushing the envelope even further to ensure my son and future children can accomplish even more.
It all starts with tradition and family culture. For me, one of those things was sharing the experience of John’s Pizza with my son. It’s taking him ice skating and exposing him to the sport of hockey in hopes that he becomes a third-generation hockey player. It’s exposing him to the music of all genres, to appreciate what has come before, and how it influences what has yet to come.
As much as we are all the same in the human race, as Americans (or other nationalities), as citizens of our states and our localities, we are very much our own people within our families. It is important never to lose sight of that, continuously building on the positive, weeding out the negative, and pushing the envelope forward, building our family culture.
HEAR HEAR …now i’ll drink to that ! Hope your Dad is doing great …..had some great times playing at Smokey’s place in N. Charleston …. Fast Eddie bass player / Sceamin’ Jr. and The Utter Tuggers
Appreciate your time, Fast Eddie!