Take Me Out to the Brawl Game
Photo by Amy TheligHe is the reason I maintain hope for the world—my baby brother, Gabriel. Except he's not a baby anymore. Nearly my height, with a Chappellian wit and a voracious appetite for knowledge, Gabriel just completed seventh grade at Anaheim's Brookhurst Junior High and therefore needs a role model to explain the perils of puberty. Enter me: we trade Simpsonsanecdotes before falling asleep in our bunk beds, read The Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times sports sections in the morning over quesadillas, and wrestle on our parents' king-sized bed until mami yells at us to stop lest our backsides meet the sole of her shoe. Not the most mature of mentors, yes, but at least I don't provide him porn—yet.
In many ways, Gabriel reminds me of a more athletic, suave and intellectual teenage Gustavo—hell, a more athletic, suave and intellectual right-now Gustavo. But I already feel a parting of ways as we age. Gabriel no longer enjoys loving punches to his stomach; he cringes whenever I call him Kent (long story) or recall his Pokémon days. So in an attempt at brotherly bonding—and because I promised food after his kicking of my ass in computer basketball—I took Gabriel to my childhood haunt, Larry's Pizza & Sports Parlor in Fullerton.
The 32-year-old Larry's is a North County icon, a place where kiddie athletes celebrate after a victory—or, conversely, drown their losses in pitchers of pink lemonade—while their coaches knock back beers with parents and watch the big leaguers duke it out on television. Little has changed over those decades: faded Sports Illustrated covers no longer plaster the walls, to be sure, but the Raiders shrine remains (Larry's Pizza is the official watering hole for the Orange County Raiders Booster Club). Team plaques still pepper the place but now number in the dozens rather than the hundreds as they did during my youth. Instead of pennants for every professional sports team, cheap plastic NASCAR and beer banners now crisscross the ceiling.
But the same outdated arcade games bleep from the back, including that stupid change machine that won't accept a dollar bill no matter how crisp. The sole television still functions, a big-screen so ancient you'd have to figure its age by counting the concentric rings in a cross-section. And the straightforward menu—pizza, subs and indigestible spaghetti—will outlast us all.
On the night Gabriel and I visited, a group of teenage girls armed with helmets, bats and eye grease terrorized Larry's in much the same way my fellow La Palma Little League Cardinals and I did over a decade ago—boorish jock behavior knows no gender lines. Gabriel's eyes darted around Larry's when we entered, simultaneously eyeing the arcades, the Angels-Indians game blasting from the big-screen and one of those girls. "Just like a teenage Gustavo," I observed—except this girl looked back.
Gabriel and I retired to a plastic booth; I showed him one of my cleat imprints from so long ago. We placed our order—two pepperoni pizza slices for Gabriel, a trio of jalapeño and pineapple para mi. And it was as wonderful as it was during my bench-riding years—slices thick as pocket Bibles, prepared with fragrant mozzarella and provolone cheese, toppings sprinkled over the pie rather than baked in so that picky kids won't goo up their fingers trying to discard unwanted salami. Larry's pizza is utilitarian: no froufrou aspirations, just tasty enough to keep the kids from going Lord of the Flies on the establishment, and edible for weeks afterward.
After scarfing through our meals and a jug of Sprite, Gabriel and I talked—school, cousins, sports. Brothers being hermanos, though, we quickly devolved into quizzing each other on sports minutiae. He began by asking when the three-point shot was invented; if I didn't know, I owed him lunch yet again. I remained silent.
"You told me that you knew yesterday!" he replied triumphantly, taking a particularly vicious bite from his pizza.
"No," I shot back, along with a breadstick. "I told you that when Jerry West shot his 60-footer against the New York Knicks during the 1970 NBA Finals, it only counted as a two-pointer."
That pacified Gabriel. But it didn't keep him by my side. He quickly tired of the Angels game and our trivia contest. He announced he was going to play arcades.
"Need money?" I volunteered.
"No, it's okay," my baby brother replied. "I have my own."
A decade ago, I was bugging my father for all the quarters in his pockets whenever we'd visit Larry's. Today, Gabriel carries his own. Resigned to my perpetual immaturity, I sheepishly asked him for some quarters to play pinball. He laughed and handed me a newly minted dollar. The machine didn't take it.
Larry's Pizza & Sports Parlor, 926 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-3484; www.larryspizza.net. Open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-midnight; Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Dinner for two, $12, food only; extra toppings go for about a dollar per. All major credit cards accepted.
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