She has worked at the Haight branch of Escape from New York Pizza for at least four years. So my best calculations dictate. I’ve seen her working there in some capacity since 2001. And frankly I’m a bit worried.
Escape from New York, if you don’t know San Francisco, is a two-branch outlet, specializing in pizza-by-the-slice. You’ll find one in the Haight and you’ll find one in the Castro. You can have yourself a slice of pizza as late as midnight — anything from a slice of pepperoni to the special potato slice. But this is not specifically “New York pizza” — rather, it is some approximation of the same, with considerably less tomato sauce. Walk inside an Escape from New York outlet and you’ll bear witness to pizza-themed records hanging on the walls, as well as autographed photos from the likes of Leonard Nimoy and Matt Groening. In short, the joint serves its purpose. But what makes the Haight street place curious to me is her.
You’ll find her on the evening shift — generally on Fridays and Saturdays. Her hair has been blonde, black and is now currently brown. I get the sense that most of her twenties have been spent at this place. And in the past year, she’s gained quite a bit of weight. I worry and I hope to hell she’s okay. In the past year, I have seen her mouth contort into a vacuous ellipitical shape every time she slides the spatula underneath a full disc of pizza, then transfering a slice of pizza into the oven, where the slice will stay for about 3-5 minutes, and then be transferred to the customer for swift and delectable consumption. I don’t know if this is a method of coping with such a mundane task or whether this is the inevitable conclusion. I don’t think that even a genius can truly intellectualize this pizza-warming process.
I have asked this young lady several times if she will talk with me outside work. She’s said no. I am careful to spell out to her that I am not a pervert or a maladjusted freak or someone looking for a date. Rather, I am curious. I will even confess that I’m a bit concerned. Every time I order a slice of pizza from her, her slipshod hair and her hangdog eyes resembles the telltale sign of one who has had too many hits of pot. Like many working in the service sector, she is going through the motions. One suspects she is trying to survive.
Is this pizza world all that she knows? And if so, how much am I responsible every time I order a slice of pizza?
Is this all she can ever know? Is this all she ever dares to know?
She can’t make much, which is why I always tip generously. But I wonder what keeps someone in a position in which they are clearly miserable. I wonder if there are sidelines, whether ephemeral or addictive I cannot say, that encourage her to remain in this position. I wonder what she’s truly capable of and what her true passions are. And I feel like a bit of a con. Because, after all, she will not speak with me and, even if she did, there is nothing I can say or do to steer her off the track. In short, there’s nothing to contribute.
And every time I order a slice of pizza from this place, I feel somehow as if I am committing my energies towards denying someone a moment. And yet I order the slice anyway, somehow corralling this concern with my hunger. I feel hypocritial. I feel helpless. And I feel irrelevant. I feel as if I somehow commiting all pockets of decency to her demise. Yet Escape from New York is not a Round Table. It’s an independent business. Can I justify this? Or am I just as hypocritical as the rest? Or has this pizza-slinger truly accepted this horrible fate?