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Giant Pizza King

600 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach

Oh, man. It's the biggest slice of pizza I've ever had -- nine inches wide, a foot long, and loaded -- and I'm trying to hide the damned thing in my ragged hunter's jacket side pocket.

"Got the results back," Hank's saying. "My cholesterol's down to 127. Can you believe from 300 plus? You've got to stop eating all that bad stuff, dude. You've got to get tested."

"I know, I know," I say. "You're right. And I am trying to, you know, think green."

'Course Hank's not buying this. He's been eating nuts and twigs yea these many months. The guy's discipline has been legendary. He sees this pizza, I'll never hear the end of it.

We're slurping coffee, sitting on the concrete steps to IB's beach, just north of the pier.

Hank stands up, glances over.

"So what's that in your pocket?"

This all began around seven this evening, when I was up at 9th and Palm. The Goodwill Store. Still looking for a chair for Carla. I called Hank (me, pay phone; him, cell) 'cause he'd been worried sick about his cholesterol numbers.

"I'll meet you outside Ye Olde Plank. Half an hour," he said.

I loped to the bus stop just as a 933 pulled away, dammit. I checked the timetable. Another half-hour.

That's when I hear the sounds of a small crowd buzzing 'round the entrance to this little shopping center called Silver Strand Plaza. Lots of people heading into a pizza joint. A girl sits at the one outside table, her bike propped against the wall. She's finishing off a big ol' slice. "The $2.99 special," she says. "A giant slice with cheese, and a 20-ounce Pepsi. Plenty for me, anyway."

Place is called Giant Pizza King, and they're advertising a one-topping, 14-inch pizza for $6.99. Guess that's a deal -- pizzas have never been my thing. But since I've got time to kill, I mosey in. Everything's tile-clean. Blue-and-white checks around the counter, gray-and-white on the floor. Curvy Formica benches. Ads for Pepsi are strung around the walls, along with lists of pizza toppings. The pies go up to 28 inches. That's big, ain't it?

It's not until I see that they have other stuff -- Italian dinners like lasagna ($6.49 with garlic bread and salad) or spaghetti with meatballs (same sides, $5.99) -- that I get in line. One chef twirls pizza pastry above his head. Another slides a long wooden spatula into one of the two Baker's Pride pizza ovens to lift out a pie. Couple of younger guys whip just-cooked pizzas into maroon Naugahyde delivery bags.

"Yes, sir?"

Hell. I grab at the first thing I see. Under "Giant Pizza King Combo Plates," they have "1/2-lb. shrimp combo, 21 pieces of breaded shrimp." With fries and salad, it's $5.99. If you have it as the Daily Special with a 20-ounce fountain drink, it's $6.49.

I order it. 'Course, right after, I see they also have fish and chips, with three pieces of fish and tartar sauce for $5.99. Also, a Philly steak for $6.49, or a half-pound burger for $4.99.

The pizza-by-the-slice section says that a "giant slice" with cheese is $1.99. With "The Works" it's $4.99. Sounds like a lot, but it comes loaded with pepperoni, sausage, black olives, onions, mushrooms, green peppers, Canadian bacon, and beef. Oh man. Almost too good.

So greed wins out. When Joanne the cute waitress brings the polystyrene box with my shrimp inside, all concealed beneath a logjam of crinkle-cut fries, and with an olivey salad in the corner, I can't resist ordering a slice of "The Works." Crazy, I know. I'm gonna be so-oo full.

While I eat, I get to chatting with Jim behind the counter, and Ali at the back. Everyone is Chaldean here. Ali wants to teach me Chaldean slang.

"Shakoomakoo," says Ali. "It means 'What's up?' Bacha means 'See ya.'"

Jim says this is one of more than a dozen Giant Pizza Kings around town.

But it's only when the pizza chef shouts out "The Works slice!" from the oven end that I start to understand what "Giant" is all about.

Omygod. I look at my slice. A foot long! Nearly a foot wide at the crust! And loaded down with peppers and onions and pineapple and chunks of meat and mushroom slices, and jalapeño peppers.

"Uh, could you bag it?" I ask.

That was half an hour ago. I finally gave up on the 933 and hoofed it the half-mile to Seacoast and found Hank outside Ye Olde Plank, the pub.

We got coffees ($1.50 each) at a place called Hubbard's Cupboard (mental note: they do breakfasts here -- must come back) and walked to the beach. And now, since he asked, here I am unrolling the monster pizza slice.

"You got this after you ate the 21 shrimp and fries and salad?"

I nod. I know what he's going to say next. Self-indulgence, health, gluttony, cholesterol...

Instead, he lifts one end, rips off a chunk, starts chewing.

"Hmm. Fresh veggies, peppers...As pizzas go," he says, "this has nuts and twigs written all over it."

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