He walked westward on Washington Street, carrying a burgundy bag cloaking pizza boxes, as if it were a faux pas to reveal cardboard in the Financial District. In his other hand, two white plastic bags, containing fixings, the top ends neatly twisted in the same relentless knots found in some Chinese restaurants. He was ignored by everyone else. You might even say that, aside from my five-second glance, I ignored him too. Why exculpate myself? What business did I have with the man? It wasn’t as if he was bringing me food. And even if he was, it wasn’t as if I’d get to know him, or ask him about the sports or the weather, let alone his name. The only thing I’d probably do is tip him generously. Perhaps more so than the investment bankers he was delivering lunch to, if I were to rely upon the remarkable tip-to-income inverse ratio described by acquaintances who worked in the food service industry.
He remained unnamed, as anonymous as a soldier in a tomb. Not even a name tag. Instead, the red pizza uniform and the slightly mystified and resigned look revealing why he, a man of thirty-five or so, was still delivering pizzas at his age, and how the advancing years had made him more invisible, and how he had quietly accepted his lot.
I took in many details in five seconds: his unsmiling face, the way he hid his eyes beneath sunglasses (it was a sunny day, but not that sunny), the white flecks settling into his dark hair, a torso neither muscular nor paunchy, but perfectly nondescript. Did he have a wife and kids? What were his hobbies? Did he have a second job? Did he have health care?
I thought of the pizza delivery man when I stood in line for lunch. And I fell quietly into line with the rest of the suits. I was an utter hypocrite. And there were more people there, paid to service us, with soft lines beneath their eyes and fabricated smiles to last the afternoon. I couldn’t eat easily. Because I kept thinking to myself: at what cost this food? Not the monetary cost, but the price I had paid in basic human decency. “Thank you” and brief pleasant talk didn’t cut it. This was the current economy. This was the human food chain.