Paul McGonagle of Portland, 27, bought his girlfriend, Allison Taylor, an engagement ring on Aug. 8.
He gave it to his brother to hold onto so he wouldn’t, in his great excitement, impulsively propose without thinking things through first.
McGonagle, who works in the security department at Maine Medical Center, had dreams of doing something special for Allison. Maybe he would take her to a romantic bed and breakfast to pop the question.
Some people suggested doing it over the holidays, but he thought that was kind of cliche. He wanted to do something different.
But times are hard.
“I tried to budget it and budget it, and obviously times like this are pretty tough,” McGonagle said. “Money is tight. I was going to have to dip into some bill payment money.”
His boss convinced him that instead of digging himself into a financial hole, it would be better to do something simple. Simple, but memorable.
“The thing I definitely didn’t want was to put (the ring) in food,” McGonagle said. “I was so against putting it in food. I didn’t want it to get dirty or look sloppy when she got it.”
McGonagle and Taylor both love pizza. One night, they ordered a pizza for dinner, and McGonagle noticed that when Taylor opened the box, she examined it closely to make sure it was just the way she likes it. “It looks really good,” she said.
“And I was like, ‘Huh,’ ” McGonagle recalled. “It clicked immediately.”
McGonagle went to the couple’s favorite pizza chain and asked for help proposing with a pizza. The staff did the best they could, spelling out “Marry Me?” in barbecue sauce on top of a pizza.
It just didn’t seem right.
So McGonagle went home and tried making his own with vegetable toppings. (Taylor is a vegetarian.)
Still didn’t seem right.
The next stop was Amato’s on St. John Street, just a few blocks from the couple’s Brighton Avenue home, where McGonagle spoke with the manager, Peter Koffler. Koffler suggested writing the proposal in dough on top of the pie. He told McGonagle to give him an hour. While Koffler worked on the pizza, McGonagle called his parents and told them what he was doing.
“(Koffler) comes out with the pizza, and it’s all rolled out, and it’s got ‘Will you marry me?’ written in the dough,” McGonagle said.
“Could you make the pizza in a heart?” McGonagle asked. “And he said, ‘You know what? I think we can do that.’ “
They decided on toppings – tomato, spinach, mushrooms and eggplant. Give me another hour, Koffler said.
Meanwhile, Taylor called McGonagle and told him to come home. (He told her he was “running errands.”) They needed to go grocery shopping. Twenty minutes later, Koffler called and told McGonagle to come back and look at the pizza.
“Listen, I just got a call from my bank,” McGonagle told his girlfriend. “They want to take a look at some statements.”
He drove down to Amato’s, and the pizza “looked amazing.” Koffler offered to deliver it himself at 5 p.m.
McGonagle went back home. At this point, it was 3:45 p.m., about the time McGonagle usually goes to sleep before going to his night shift.
“I crawl into bed,” he recalled. “I’m laying in bed for a good 45 minutes, and I can’t fall asleep. I’m so excited. I cannot do it. I hear some rustling around in the closet. I’m pretending to, like, fake sleep. So I ‘wake up,’ and I’m, like, ‘What are you doing?’ “
“Oh, I’m getting ready to go out,” Taylor replied as she searched for some shoes in the closet.
“What? You’re leaving?”
“Yeah, I’m just going to go out and run some errands while you sleep, and then we’ll go grocery shopping.”
Taylor told McGonagle she’d hang around long enough to finish her cup of coffee.
“I laid in bed as long as I possibly could,” McGonagle said. “At 10 of 5, I get up. I can still hear her in the room.”
McGonagle got up, saying he just wasn’t tired and couldn’t sleep. He lit a cigarette.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
McGonagle ran into the bedroom and grabbed the engagement ring out of his jacket, then went to answer the door. When he opened it, there was no one there.
McGonagle ran out and caught Koffler going down the stairs. McGonagle took so long to answer the door, Koffler thought he had the wrong apartment. McGonagle took the pizza and thanked him profusely.
“I get in the house,” he said, “and I get to the doorway after I come up the stairs, and she’s like, ‘You ordered a pizza? When did you have time to order a pizza?’ “
“Right after you left the bedroom, when you were rustling around in the closet looking for some shoes.” (Um, yeah. That’s the ticket.)
McGonagle brought the pizza into the living room and set it on the coffee table. He went into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of Champagne he’d bought earlier. He set it on the counter where Taylor couldn’t see it.
He nudged the pizza box, which had a heart drawn on it, toward her.
She opened the box.
The pizza was covered in tissue paper.
“She unwraps the tissue paper from the side, and she just burst out crying,” McGonagle said. ” ‘Oh my God, oh my God, are you serious?’
“And then I get down on one knee, and I said, ‘Allison, will you marry me?’ “
More oh my Gods, and an “Are you serious? You’re not kidding?”
“I’m on my knee right now,” McGonagle replied. “I want to marry you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
He put the ring on her finger.
“She stands up, stands me up, and she goes, ‘Babe, we’re engaged.’ I’m like, ‘So that’s a yes?’ “
“Yes, yes, of course it’s a yes. Oh my God.”
“It was the perfect surprise,” McGonagle said. “I couldn’t have done it any better. It was amazing to me. And Amato’s. I cannot thank Amato’s enough. They went above and beyond to do something like this for me.”
The wedding date is Oct. 26, 2013.