Saturday, October 20, 2012
The Pizza Diaries, Part 9: Reality Bites
I never told anyone at my day job about my pizza delivery gig. I don’t think they would have understood my motives. Most of my co-workers live high on the hog, and don’t seem to mind being in debt. I work a few hours per week balancing the books of an attorney who’s been practicing for over thirty years. When I see his credit card bills, it makes me cringe. He basically spends $3,000 a month on crap, and he still has a huge mortgage on his home, even in his sixties. A co-worker and her husband recently borrowed money from both of their parents for a down payment on a condo. And yet another co-worker makes substantially less than everyone else in the office, but has a remarkable shoe collection nonetheless. How could I possibly make these people understand my fear of bending over for Sallie Mae every month for the next twenty years or so?
Driving around under the dark cover of night had given me a false sense of security. Leading a double life had been fairly easy up to that point. I simply didn’t tell anyone about my night job, except a few people. I sometimes worried about having to deliver to a co-worker’s house, but I told myself that if such an occasion should arise, I would find a way to trade deliveries with another driver. Most of the people at work were off bread anyway (they’d all been reading that book Wheat Belly). I knew I’d be safe, at least until the next diet craze stormed the office.
And then one particularly rainy night in March threw a monkey wrench in the works.
Reed, a fellow driver and disgruntled former Papa John’s employee, forecasted doubles the second I walked in that night.
“Dude, tonight’s gonna suck, but I know I’m gonna make a hella lotta money in tips. All doubles, that’s my prediction.” Reed’s goal lately had been to have a hundred dollar night. Making that much just in tips during one shift had been a regular occurrence, pre-recession, he claimed.
It was a little after 5:30 and the tickets were piling up one after another. In ten minutes, the drivers’ area would be a ghost town, save for one frazzled expediter and a string of drivers who would run in and out, one by one, with their black thermal bags.
As Reed predicted, my first run was a double. The first delivery went to a new subdivision which I had trouble navigating. Finally, I found the house and ran back to my car with a wad of cash, cursing the ten minutes I had lost while driving around, squinting my eyes in search of numbers in the rainy darkness. I hurriedly looked at the second ticket to punch it into my GPS, and my stomach sank.
I thought maybe I was seeing things, but after staring at the ticket for what felt like an eternity, I realized my secret identity was about to be revealed. In my haste, I had forgotten to check both addresses prior to leaving the pizzeria.
The ticket listed my aunt’s address at the top.
“Shit,” I muttered. I sat there, wondering if I should just go home and never go back to the pizzeria again. Which would be worse, the humiliation of family seeing me drive up with a magnetic topper on my car, or getting fired for abandoning my shift?
Even though my heart pounded as I weighed the decision, I chuckled. What an absurd situation. I had labored under the delusion that I had everything figured out. But I had forgotten that, even worse than co-workers seeing me in my pizza delivery uniform, would be family seeing me in my pizza delivery uniform. I had forgotten that even though my husband and I moved across the country a year ago to an area where we knew practically no one, I still had one family member in the area who could report back everything she learned about me.
I finally decided to just suck it up and take the delivery. I wish I could say I drew on some inner strength, but really, I drew on some words of wisdom I had heard Dave Ramsey speak on his radio program: if you want to get out of debt, you have to stop caring about what other people think of you.
As I walked up to my aunt’s house, I self-consciously fixed my hair and prepared myself for the inevitable awkwardness. Exhaling deeply, I rang the doorbell.
“Hi!” she greeted me in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“I heard you ordered a pizza,” I said, laughing self-consciously.
“No, really, what are you doing here?” She asked, puzzled. “How did you know I ordered a pizza?”
“This is what I do part-time, seriously.”
She backed up and opened the door to invite me in.
“When did you start doing this?” She prodded in amazement, following me into her kitchen in a nightgown and long cardigan sweater. It was only six o’clock, and apparently she was in for the night.
Now, my aunt’s not one of those stereotypical sixty-something busybodies with nothing better to do than gossip. She has a great career in technology (which started during a time when the industry wasn’t exactly crawling with women) and she was unhappily married to a man for many years before finally coming out of the closet. She blazed the trail for other gay people in my family by unapologetically introducing her girlfriend Beth as her partner at Thanksgiving, rather than as her “roommate,” as some curmudgeons in my family would have preferred. Plus, she has reasons for living thousands of miles from family (she can actually be herself, for one). So she does have a life.
But she also keeps in touch with everyone back home, and seems to always get the inside scoop before anyone else does. If you’ve got something juicy, she’s got something even juicier:
Me: “Did you hear about my sister? Apparently, a bill collector went to Uncle Frank’s house looking for her. She’s been using his address to dodge them! What do you think that’s about?”
My Aunt: “Oh, it gets worse. You know who it was? Finger Hut. Apparently she’s got a scented votive fetish, poor thing.”
Plus, she always knows who’s gay (in the family anyway) even before they do. No one “comes out” to my aunt. They simply confirm what she’s always known. I knew I had to play her carefully. Asking her to keep things quiet would guarantee a string of phone calls between all kinds of extended family regarding my ostensible plight. So instead I kept things casual.
“Um, I started a few months ago. You remember when I told you my husband and I are doing the Dave Ramsey plan, right?”
“Oh, yeah! And this is part of it?”
“Yeah, for a little while anyway. The money’s good. It’s really helping pay off debt. You wanted to start doing that, too, from what I remember?” Good. Turn the tables a little.
“Definitely. I think it’s a great idea," she replied absently while opening the box and inspecting her pie. "You probably make good tips, a cute girl making deliveries." My aunt is ruthless when it comes to sending back food. I once saw her give a waitress what for due to the chef’s disappointing layering of her lasagna. (“I thought it was going to go pasta-cheese-sauce, not pasta-sauce-cheese. Never mind, I’ll just order something else.”)
Thankfully, the kitchen had gotten her pizza just right.
“Where’s Beth?” I asked, looking around and not seeing any sign of her.
“Teaching a career development class at the community center.” Beth was a management coach and often taught at night or had to travel for work. “So, what do people usually tip around here? I always worry I’m not giving enough.”
I thought back to that episode of the Wonder Years when Kevin delivers Chinese food and convinces a stoner to give him a twenty dollar tip (skip to 2:57 to find out how). Could I be so unscrupulous with family?
“Mmm…depends. I think it’s a matter of how someone’s night is going.” I shifted the weight of my thermal bag from one shoulder to the other, trying to maintain whatever modicum of dignity one can while tiny slivers of pizza box cardboard dangle from the front of her polo shirt.
I watched as she fished a five from her purse, then thought better of it. She finally pulled a ten out and handed it to me. I guessed her night was going pretty well. As they say, one man’s tragedy is another man’s comedy.
“Thanks.” I smiled and jammed it into my pocket.
“Hey, what about brunch tomorrow? I wanna talk shop with your husband a little.”
My heart finally stopped pounding as I pulled away from her neighborhood. It wasn’t until I arrived back at the pizzeria that I realized I hadn’t even asked her to sign the credit card slip. No matter. What could they do, fire me? It seemed like just my luck to get canned immediately after being outed to my family.
I couldn’t help but laugh in relief that it was all over, but slowly, worry crept into the back of my mind. What if she told my dad, or one of my siblings? I ducked out of the kitchen for a minute to call my husband. Surely, he’d have some pearl of wisdom to share. No answer.
By the end of the night, I felt a little better after giving myself a pep talk. What did it matter, anyway? As an old philosopher friend would have put it, we’re all going to be dead soon. And the fact of the matter was, I was making good money and it was really putting us in a good financial position. Lather, rinse, repeat. The platitudes served as a boxer’s block, fending off each mental image of my aunt phoning my sister-with-the-scented-votive-fetish to unload the latest round of family news.
I wished I didn’t care so much about what people thought of me, particularly my family, but the truth was, I did. I suppose it’s because my family doesn’t know the real me, and I didn’t want them getting to know a fake me on top of it.
As closing loomed, a few more tickets popped up.
“Next driver!” the kitchen summoned.
A fellow driver, Carlos, ran to the back and grabbed the order. He took one look at the ticket and sighed.
“Hey, you wanna take this one for me?” He asked.
“Why? If it’s a bad tipper, no way,” I warned.
“No, it’s just that I used to work with this guy,” he replied solemnly. I knew Carlos had a day job in addition to the pizza gig, but I didn’t know where or what he did.
I thought about it for a second. I felt a hint of resentment that no one had been around to rescue me from humiliation a few hours earlier. I could have simply told Carlos that it didn’t matter what people thought of us. Who cared if his old co-worker found out he delivered pizza on the side? Couldn’t we all just get over it?
I also knew the truth, though. Sometimes it mattered, and we all had our reasons for why it did.
“Sure,” I said, taking the pizza from him. “I completely understand.”
I never did find out if my aunt told anyone back home about my pizza career. Sometimes I wonder, but I don’t bring it up to her. Maybe because I don’t want to know the answer. What guarantee is there that she’d tell me the truth anyway? My one consolation is that if anyone in my family is ever “concerned” enough to ask me about my pizza delivery days, I will have some ammo for my arsenal:
Sister-with-the-Scented-Votive-Fetish: “What’s the deal? Aunt Sue says you’ve been delivering pizzas.”
Me: “Oh that? Just doing some investigative journalism . Thinking of selling my story to Dateline. You haven’t heard the half of it, though. When I walked into Aunt Sue’s place – it’s only six o’clock at night, mind you – she’s in her nightgown already! Not much of a social life, poor thing.”