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Porn & Pizza

It was Cappi’s Pizza and Sangweech Shoppe against “I Am Curious (Yellow).”

Cappi’s Pizza and Sangweech Shoppe, my father’s fateful venture into the restaurant trade, opened for business in the winter of 1964. Built by hand out of a pair of burnt-out storefronts, Cappi’s occupied an awkward stretch of White Plains Road near Pelham Parkway in our native Bronx, directly under the elevated tracks of the Number 2 train … but nowhere near the actual station.

You really had to go out of your way to get to get there. Once inside, you had to endure the terrifying racket of trains thundering overhead every few minutes, sparks raining down from the tracks, crashing onto the pavement and bouncing off the white metal placard bearing our store motto: “We Don’t Spel Good, Just Cook Nice.”

Adding to the general tension and discomfort were the rules of the house, fancifully printed by hand on a sign the size of a man and posted aggressively at the door: NO RUNNING, NO JUMPING, NO PUSHING, NO SHOVING, NO YELLING, NO FIGHTING, NO CURSING, NO GRABBING. NO STROLLERS, NO BICYCLES, NO ROLLER SKATES, NO SPECIAL ORDERS, THIS IS NOT A BASKETBALL COURT, NO SHARING, NO EXTRA CHEESE, NO SLICES AT THE TABLE! 

Customers caught breaking any The Rules were summarily ejected. They’d often argue, of course, and try to defend themselves. My father would listen reasonably for a minute … and then just throw them out, busting into a full-throttle Ralph Kramden: “Owwwt! Get owwwwt!”

Word spread. Business was slow.

Our local movie house, the nearby Globe Theater on Pelham Parkway, didn’t help matters any when it made the bold move of going porno just a couple of years into the pizza shop’s existence.

It had been nudging the envelope for months with M- and R-rated movies, but pushed it all the way to the wall with its first X-rated feature: "I Am Curious (Yellow)." My father, enraged, began a campaign to shut the theater down, organizing local priests, rabbis, and concerned citizens to protest the theater with handmade signs, bang pots and pans under the marquee, and otherwise discourage potential perverts.  

This very quickly grew into a broader crusade against pornography, and before long my father had established the Committee to Control Obscenity by Constitutional Means.  I still have the letterhead. The address? Cappi’s. 

Yes, Cappi’s Pizza and Sangweech Shoppe was the national headquarters of the Committee to Control Obscenity by Constitutional Means.

My father subscribed to the "Congressional Record," piling them up in great stacks all around the shop, poring through them for relevant references, racing up to Albany in his broken-down lime green Cadillac (sold to him by Squeegee the bread man for under a hundred bucks) to lobby support among members of the state legislature for an obscenity amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Either that, or he was proselytizing from behind the pizza counter.

“How do you feel about pornography?” he’d ask every adult male customer.

Most people felt it was a matter of free speech, which really got his goat.

“Oh yeah? Is this free speech?”

And he’d flash a picture of, say, a nun in a barnyard with her habit hiked up over her head, being mounted from behind by a farm animal. He kept a collection of particularly egregious porn samples handy for just this purpose.

“Or this?”

And it would be a close-up of a way-dilated bodily orifice being violated by an oversize household object, like a vacuum cleaner hose or a decorative vase. The customers, of course, would be horrified. They’d politely explain that while these images were not their cup of tea, they didn’t have to see them if they didn’t want to (unless of course they happened to be ordering a slice of pizza at Cappi’s) and therefore they had a right to exist.

“Oh really? Well guess what? I don’t serve perverts here! Now get out! Owwwt!”

Another potential customer tossed out on his ass. I’d say one out of three met this fate. It was becoming clear to everyone that my father just wasn’t cut out for retail. Mercifully, in the summer of 1970, he sold Cappi’s to a couple of suckers fresh from the Old Country. Maybe they’d be able to make a better go of it.

The Committee to Control Obscenity by Constitutional Means became less and less active, until finally it faded into memory.

As for the Globe Theater, it flourished. When "Deep Throat" and "The Devil in Miss Jones" were offered on a double bill in the fall of 1972, a line of nervous, shifty-eyed patrons, all men, stretched halfway down the block.

Porn proved much more profitable than pizza.

Carl Capotorto has been a playwright, screenwriter, and actor for more than 20 years. He made his acting debut in the cult classic "Five Corners"; performed principal roles in "American Blue Note," "Men of Respect," Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" and John Turturro's "Mac"; and played Little Paulie on "The Sopranos" for six seasons. His plays have been produced at the National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Yale Repertory Theater, and in dozens of other venues in New York City and around the country. "Twisted Head," his darkly comic memoir about growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s and 70s -- based on his solo show of the same name -- is now available in trade paperback. He lives in Manhattan.