Meditations on a Pizza Delivery Man

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.

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2 Comments

  1. Good timing to read this bit of writing. I just watched “Fast Food Nation” last night, which illustrates “At what cost this food”?. It’s a good movie, you should check it out – it’s a dramatic adaptation of the book. As a film, there are flaws, but the messages in the movie make it well worth seeing.

    I read an article the other day for one of my classes (chemical dependency w/multicultural populations), and remember a line about how in Hispanic culture, your self-esteem and status are not measured by your job. What’s more important is family, what kind of person you are. In the U.S., one of the first things we ask each other is “what do you do?” . In some European countries (and many other places I’d guess, I’d be interested to know) it’s impolite to ask what a person does for a living. Our self-worth and how we view others is very wrapped up in what we do. We spend most of our days working. Depending on the background of the pizza guy, he may have a completely different perspective about his job that we might have trouble comprehending. Here in the U.S., those that will take the jobs that are considered undesireable (increasingly first and second generation immigrants) are taken advantage of – poor working conditions, lousy pay, lousy or no health care, etc. This may be partially because jobs are just a way to earn money. Those born here that end up in these jobs (despite other aspirations) often end up feeling miserable. We want more than money from a job, we want our lives to be validated.

    I’m aware I’m speaking rather generally here, but I think this view of work may be the fundamental reason we’re all caught up in this horrible corporate machine.

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