As I was searching through a bunch of old documents to find sample papers for my graduate school applications, I stumbled across this little gem. It's a short piece I wrote for my creative non-fiction class a couple semesters ago. Some of you have probably seen this before, but humor me... it provided a moment of reminiscent laughter in a week that has been otherwise characterized by bleak and dull studying. Amusez-vous bien, mes amis.
The heat in my car didn’t feel oppressive that day. I made my way to a little side street... what was it called? Lincoln? Jackson? Washington? It was the name of a president anyway. I turned up my music and inhaled the overwhelming scent of pizza. For some reason, delivering pizzas in your car day after day renders the “pizza” smell different than when you are actually eating the pizza. The “I deliver pizzas” stench is more like cardboard, old cheese and olives—whether or not there are any olives on the pizza, incidentally enough. The smell mingled with the scent of Victoria’s Secret Pure Seduction body mist, with which I had drenched my car seats in an effort to mask the aforementioned Hungry Howies’ Pure Repulsion.
Though I had only been working at Hungry Howies for several weeks at that point, I felt like the routine was old, worn-in, comfortable. When I first applied for the job, I never imagined myself being “at ease” with delivering pizzas. The enterprise is often viewed as “man’s work,” much like plumbing, carpentry, or growing facial hair. Initially, all of my co-workers scoffed because, in their minds, my femaleness somehow prevented me from delivering as quickly, driving as adeptly, or navigating the local maps as proficiently as their male selves were inclined to do. I couldn’t decide which was worse: their taunting about my perceived weaknesses or their unrelenting reminders that my long hair and curves would produce more generous tips from the male clientele. From my perspective, the Hungry Howies uniform produced more of an androgynous appearance than an attractive female one. Every day I wore beat-up sneakers, khaki pants, an oversized maroon polo shirt that proudly bore the Howies logo, and a baseball cap with matching insignia: a blond boy whose head pops out of a pepperoni pizza, licking his chops in anticipation of the mouthwatering “Original Flavored Crust Pizza.”
In spite of the adversity I faced in the form of frumpy outfits and grumpy co-workers, I managed to prove myself as a pizza delivery girl. (At this point, it would be entirely appropriate to imagine a Mulan-esque montage in which I am trained to fight as a man.) When work was slow and I was stuck folding boxes at headquarters, I let my eyes wander over the giant map of Coldwater that Spencer, my boss, had laminated and taped onto the wall. I came to learn all of the street names and I even gleaned an idea of which were the “best houses”—a title earned purely on the basis of high-end tipping. Likewise, it was also important to know about the “bad neighborhoods.” In some cases, all that denoted was dysfunctional families, yipping dogs, and the likely appearance of a mullet or two. Other times, the area was intimidating enough that I allowed my male co-workers the satisfaction of taking the route for the sake of my safety. I didn’t play the “damsel in distress” card too often, though, for fear of tarnishing the image I had worked so hard to build.
I squinted to see the house number on Lincoln... Jackson... Washington? street and pulled my car over the crunch of a gravel driveway. I walked up to the door, tattered black pizza bag in hand, and knocked.
I knocked again.
“Pizza!” I said, as though the word alone would be enough to excite someone off the couch to answer the door.
After several minutes, I began to wonder what to do. The house was old—splintered wood that had been painted a heinous color like olive green or cadet blue. I couldn’t tell exactly which because all that remained were the pallid chips of color that represented the house’s former glory. The windows were covered with the fading pastels of old Care Bear comforters and the rickety swinging doors were all shut and locked. I looked back at the ticket to insure that I was at the right house. Yep. 378 Linjacksington. Looking around to see if there were any signs of the family’s presence, all I saw were broken beach toys lying in the driveway and a variety of worn-out furniture, plastic silverware, and old magazines strewn haphazardly across the porch. I truly began to wonder if the customers were home, but then I heard voices coming from inside the house and I saw a pair of eyes peeking through the make-shift “curtains.”
“Okay, I know you’re in there!” I yelled, feeling like one of the detectives on Law & Order coming to arrest the suspect. I Mirandized the best I knew how: “I’m not sure what’s going on... but I have your pizza. And pop. It’s root beer.” I waited. No response. I guess the promise of impending soft drinks didn’t do the trick. Unsure of what else to say, I finally pleaded, “I need to see you so you can sign for your food!”
Confused and frustrated, I trudged back to my red Subaru Forester and grabbed the cell phone my mom let me borrow while I was on the job. The initial idea was that the phone would serve as a safety precaution for dangerous night routes. More often than not, the small blue device was used to hold lengthy conversations with my boyfriend in New Mexico during “boondocks” deliveries, or to ask a customer why 122 Park Drive didn’t exist, only to find that it was Park Avenue, not Park Drive. This time, I was calling my supervisor at headquarters.
“Hey Doug... yeah, listen. I’m at the house with the pizza and they won’t come to the door. What should I do? … Yes, they are here. … I have no idea why they aren’t answering… Of course it’s weird! ...Okay. I’ll be right back.”
I glanced back at the house and re-adjusted my cap. Just before calling it quits and hopping back into my car to bring the pizza back to Howies to sit in the heat-box, untouched all night…
“They’ll never come out.”
The mysterious voice came from a man who was casually sitting on the neighboring porch. Dressed in slacks and a Banana Republic sweater, he seemed very “out of place” in this area of town.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“They won’t come out,” he stated matter-of-factly as he leaned back and clasped his joined palms over his knee. “I’m their landlord and I came here to evict them. I left the porch as you drove in so that you might have some luck getting them their pizza. They’re in there all right, but it looks like they’re not going anywhere for a while.”
“Umm, okay. Thanks.”
Stunned, I hopped into my car and drove back to the store. Upon telling my co-workers the story, they all laughed and gleefully proclaimed, “Well, that’s a first!” I seemed particularly prone to having “firsts” at my job. The entire scenario might have been worth it if we had been allowed to split the unused pizza, but Spencer firmly upheld the policy that unused pizzas go straight to the trash. Supposedly, this rule kept the pizza-makers from intentionally “messing up” so that we’d all get a free lunch, but we all knew that Spencer just liked enforcing arbitrary mandates in order to produce an illusion of control in his life.
An hour later, we got a call from Mrs. Care Bear Curtains.
“Where’s our pizza?”