Review of Totino’s Pizza Rolls by Greil Marcus

I had Totino’s pepperoni pizza rolls one Wednesday night a long time ago while sitting in my living room with my brother, my dog, and a fly that had gotten stuck on the sticky spot on the end table; my brother had spilled orange Crush soda earlier and dried it off but didn’t wash it. To this day, my brother will not tell me whether he liked the pizza rolls. He was born in San Francisco in 1943, bagged groceries in high school, and graduated college with a degree in Medieval Studies. He is older than me, and has eaten a lot of pizza rolls as well as regular pizza (in many different flavors).

Our mother was there when we ate them—she actually baked them in her Kenmore oven, but she eventually became loyal to the Kitchen Aid brand a few years after that. She was born—in Tulsa—and grew up (to be a teacher, wife, and mother). Determining why she switched oven brands is no easier to figure out than solving the mystery of why she chose to paint the kitchen eggshell white instead of regular white. Ask my father, cousin, or her book club, and no one will be able to tell you, “Yes, I know why.” “How do you like those pizza rolls?” she asked from the kitchen. Our house had an open air layout; there were no walls between the kitchen and the living room. She could see us eating. And—my brother said, “They are a little hot. They are burning my mouth.” “Let them cool!” she said. “You’re right!” he said. So then we waited for them too cool down and started eating them. I’m not sure if he ever burned his tongue again. His method of eating pizza rolls was to bite off a little corner of the pizza roll and squeeze the filling into his mouth, so probably.

There were not many other brands of pizza rolls at the time but there were a lot of brands of pizza,  including Tombstone, located on the shelf below Totino’s (“I think those don’t come with enough pepperoni,” said my brother), and Red Baron,  which is distributed by Schwann Food Company. You can see them sometimes making deliveries in their yellow trucks. You can’t buy food straight out of the truck, though, the way you can with ice cream trucks.

Red Baron is not as good of a pizza brand as Tombstone. I told my brother, “Then let’s not get Tombstone pizza if you don’t think it comes with enough pepperoni.” We ended up settling on the Totino’s pizza rolls instead of regular pizza. “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” my brother said when I grabbed them. “Let’s go!” I said when we were done checking out. “Okay.” “Where are my car keys?” “They’re in your pocket, remember?” “Oh, thanks.” We drove the speed limit the whole way home. My brother said, “I saw Sam yesterday and he said, ‘They are building a new movie theater on Main Street. My dad told me, ‘They are going to build a new parking lot too.’ ‘That’s good for business.’—his dad, a slow talker, said slowly—‘Yes, it is,’” my brother said. According to one theory, they were also building supplemental parking next to the shopping center across the street. The same thing happened when they built a mall two towns over. I have always admired people who know how to build parking lots. The key is to buy land first. The best I have ever been able to manage is to buy a lot with a home on it, to live in—not to build parking lots. “This song is terrible,” I said when the Pet Shop Boys, a pop duo from England (and three time Brit Award winners), came on the radio.

There are pizzas made in the oven that follow the trail of recipes of pizzas made before them, that can capture my imagination, demand it, cutting off all feelings for other pizzas; pizza started as focaccia, a more modern version of the breads that were covered in herbs and oils in Ancient Greece—the Greeks were pure kitsch. Many centuries after pizza started, Greece is still a country. Focaccia has toppings—



Olive Oil

—eager to preserve the pizza, this is why olive oil was used, and it is delicious. Other toppings were vegetables, from spinach to zucchini; from onions to olives; from peppers to mushrooms—




—you rise from your seat from the smell, eager to eat. But I only had pizza rolls at the time, and they would have to do.


4 responses to “Review of Totino’s Pizza Rolls by Greil Marcus

  • dohertys115thdream

    No, I disagree with Courtney B,–I think it is pretty great. But by that I mean something totally different than she does, unless she means it in a Pre-1958 Little Richard way, and then I’m almost there. And I don’t think this parodies Greil Marcus s much as it parodies someone else–who, I don’t know–but it truly is the best thing I’ve read since I read that piece on the song “Friday’ as written by Bob Dylan. OK, before that, because this is funnier, with more social commentary.

  • Robert Schlembach

    I enjoyed the read. You definitely got Marcus’ nonsensical rambling and disassociational shifts.

  • Sasha Henry

    Love it. “The Greeks were pure kitsch.” haha. Nicely done.
    The relevance of the cold leftovers from Mellow Mushroom I’m eating this very moment at a quarter past 3am sparks inspiration… Cold vs. hot pizza…ah yes, like doing a cold reading of a Dylan song versus really listening to and watching a live performance of his. You can have cold, and sure you might enjoy it, but you really know in the back of your head that you should be havin’ it hot as it’s meant to be served. If Bob Dylan were a pizza… hmm.

    On a related note, found this article:

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