Saturday, December 6, 2014

Glamorous Pizza

One of the many misapprehensions that characterizes the Stupid Intellect/Neutral Morality spectrum's take on capitalism is perceived merit, or perhaps perceived responsibility. This plays out in the marketplace in interesting ways, where different levels of supposed players--individualized economic actors playing their own micro-game theory of rational self interest--act in ways that (as so very many parts of the real world do) demolish the horse-blinders style economic rationality as any kind of basis for predicting human behavior.

Pizza Economics

For a hypothetical illustration, presume that I used to deliver pizzas six or seven nights a week in a very ritzy, cosmopolitan area, exposing me to a pretty good spread of actors. In the first corner: minor politicians; semi-retired second-tier financiers and real estate developers; post-heart-attack corporate lawyers and administrator-slash-doctors; the occasional lotto millionaires or rich twentysomethings three years away from bankruptcy; and, the kinds of insurance agents who have insurance agents working for them who have insurance agents working for them, which latter group rents storefront offices and sells actual policies. You know the crap; everyone has at least one BMW no more than two years old, which they actually drive, but they've got a "project" car in the garage, like a 1960s Ferrari they've been "working on" for the past few years, and maybe a "special occasions" car, like a Maserati with 3,000 miles on the odometer that they drive when they're going out to eat. And Jacob Junior has his lifted truck or his Corvette that he always parks in the traffic circle next to the fountain by the front door (which no one ever uses except guests), and little Sarah has her boutique Jeep for a slutty image, or possibly just a new Honda Civic for a modest, ordinary-folk, "not until you get into Vassar" one.

And there are trees, and putting greens, and occasionally a tennis court; little comm systems outside the driveway gates, and special tiled seating areas built apart from the pool, so that once or twice a year you can have a drink and watch the sunset or the ocean over the hills, and talk about how wonderful it is here. You know; all that shit.

In the second corner: the apartment-dwelling scum who helps rich elders toilet; the apartment-dwelling scum who bags groceries and delivers pizzas and counts deposits and helps read you the form over the phone. And the working class families who think they're middle class because they own a heavily-mortgaged wood-frame home that isn't prefabricated, and work in a place fifteen minutes down the road where the walls are glass and the boss makes a lot and if I keep trying hard I'll eventually be something like the boss by the time I hit retirement age. And they shop at nicer supermarkets that are catering to Terri Leigh Hargrove-Frankfurt when she swings her daily BMW by the grocer's to pick up a single tub of that newfangled Greek yogurt. Seeing Terri makes them feel good, like it's all a community of shared prosperity. On their way home from work, button-shirt sagging, they see Terri in her latex capris, her freshly permed shoulder-length doe-brown hair covered by a non-ironic black baseball cap with an art gallery logo on it, silicone Ds testing the limits on a $65 sports bra as she forgets that she left her racket in the cart and breezes out the sliding doors, a hapless bagboy running after her to hand it back like a knight taking knee before the queen. You know, all that shit.

If I'd been some kind of academic from the right kind of place, delivering so many pizzas to the lot of them would've classified as quantifiable field research, but apparently I never got the right kind of grants. Studies suggest...

Subject: Retired MLB player, white, a little rednecky, early forties. Quote: "Here ya go, sweetheart." Location: boringly token mansion, $2-3M 2014. Weather: beautiful sunset. Tip: A crisp twenty plus the change off his round-up on the last dollar his pizza cost. Security: none.

Detail: Nice guy, wearing his old team hat, wouldn't've known who the hell he was if Boss hadn't told me ahead of time. He's out by the garage working on his stunt car project with a couple obviously low-class friends, who obviously know more about mechanics than he does, and whose damaged older cars are parked farther up the drive. When he pulls out his wallet, his friends protest, "No, no, you got the last one," but he ignores them and pays and winks at me.

He doesn't particularly know or care what money is, except to the degree that he covers the buddies who help him feel like he's a car guy, too. Good show. He worked hard to do his stuff and wants to pass it around. Other drivers report he's a regular and always gives a twenty or higher, and that he gives away signed crap if you care about that sort of thing. Great guy, but I bet an investment firm somewhere has been raping him in the books for the past couple decades. Unfortunately, when you have to pay someone to be trustworthy, they know you think they're trustworthy.

Subject: Lonely, aging, but practicing surgeon, early fifties, white, maybe Italian or Jewish, no strong accent (e.g. California). Quote: "Hey." (nervous eye-shift). Location: undeservedly postmodern house covered in untended landscaping, $850K 2014. Weather: last vestiges of twilight. Tip: Four dollars precisely. I carry the extra change back to the shop. Security: His community's gate was left powered off and open.

Detail: Sleepy, unshaven guy who doesn't turn on his lights when he's alone in the house at night ordering pizza. Stethoscope and a bunch of dirty (but no, not bloody) blue latex gloves literally left on the end table in the foyer--an end table, like his house, that someone else must've told him to buy, since other nearby indicia of taste proves the table is an aberration foisted on him unwillingly by an interior decorator.

He knows people know he's a doctor, so he's expected to tip high, which to him is four dollars. He's also expected to own an attractive home, but he couldn't care less about it as long as pizza sometimes shows up. He's probably going to eat a few slices and then fall asleep in the dark in those soiled once-white sweatpants he's got on. His dentist is going to feel secretly triumphant over MDs when the guy's teeth are next examined.

Patient: Harried mother of four, mid thirties, white, messy brown hair, cheap golden cross necklace. Quote: "Oh, oh, I'm so sorry!" Location: fourth story of an apartment building that is sort of new and even relatively nice but already has stairs out in the stairwell by her unit, despite the immaculate exterior landscaping. Probably $1,100/month 2014. Weather: Late afternoon cloudy but warm. Tip: $8.50, counted carefully. Security: community callbox skipped because some lady was talking to her friend through the security door downstairs.

Detail: You dear fool, I felt bad for you and wouldn't have minded a lower tip. Don't tell me how much daycare costs for that many kids, you're scaring me. Yes, I'm sure your husband's a jerk, wherever he is.

She answers the door in a frenzy, having arrived home from work less than a minute before I got there. Fussing extravagantly, she tries to put the kids in various mismatched chairs while apologizing to me for letting the pizza get cold. She drops her phone in the sink and doesn't notice. Thank God she doesn't hit the disposal switch while she's getting her purse. She confesses that she is very sorry for bothering me while she counts change and dirty bills out of her purse. One drifts into the sink. I consider the finer aspects of morality before warning her. She flushes as she notices the phone and money, apologizes for the dishes, and knocks several plates and last night's greasy chicken bones out of the sink and onto last night's grocery deli case sitting open on the countertop.

I notice the child care learning exercises in the colorful binders stacked on the floor by her door. If she really does pick her kids up from that place, she's about two streets over from the pizza place. Why is she going to tip me for driving the pizza here when she was just by it? She goes up to $8.50, starts adding nickels and pennies, then gives up and sticks with $8.50. Oh, bless your heart, lady, first call of the evening and going above and beyond. I promise her I'll spend it on college or something, and she gives me a six-second hug before letting me escape with my thermal bag.

Subject: Black guy, early thirties, sad, drooping eyes. Quote: "Yeah." Location: Exterior ground floor apartment. Probably $700/month 2014. Weather: Cool evening. Tip: $5. Security: none.

Detail: every sixth job. Hey, hi, here, thanks, night.

Subject: Retired Jewish woman, pretty damn reasonable guess at a New York accent, mid-to-late forties, conflicting brown dyes in bouffant. Quote: "Thanks." Location: modest big house with two guest houses and unused greenhouse, $1.2-1.5M 2014. Weather: Torrential downpour. Tip: About eighty cents ($13 for a $12-and-some pizza). Security: gate with guard, two minute check-in process with a line forming behind me.

Detail: I ring the doorbell. Half a minute passes. A minute; two minutes. I abandon the shelter of the entranceway and turn back to the car. Down the lane, through the sets of pillars, go I.

A door opens violently behind me. "Oh, you're the dinner?" I raise my sodden eyebrows and turn. I walk back to the little front patio area, expecting her to come to meet me. A pregnant moment passes.

"You're the pizza?" she asks, keeping the left side of her body behind the really impressive nine-foot solid wood door with complicated designs on it.

Another moment passes. She leers at me like I'm here to rob her, and even though she mentioned the pizza, I wonder if she's holding a phone or a gun behind that door. I work up the gumption to take the remaining steps to the door. (I was never again to presume someone would come on out.) She takes the thermal bag, and I help her get the pizza box out. She reaches into a dish on an unseen table and hands me thirteen dollars. "Thanks." Door shuts. An outdoor light comes on between the pillars--I hurry to my car. Halfway there, the light shuts off. Undaunted, I make it there.

(*&@#(*&(*&#$#$ not even a dollar?!) A familiar refrain.

Subject: Brassy woman, some kind of midwest, 5'11" and pushing 225, and not all fat. Mid fifties, white bouffant that's not offering much coverage anymore, used to be white but now tanned to hell and back. Quote: "Come on in!" Location: Ridiculous mansion with a view not entirely ruined by a trendy new commercial development about half an acre away, $6-8M 2014. Weather: same torrential downpour as the last one. Tip: five bucks. Security: According to the warning to residents posted by the automatic gate, when the lady gave the manager the gate code while ordering her pizza, she was violating her community's safety policies.

Detail: She's waiting for me with her door open when the car pulls up. Rarely a good sign. I hurry around these pretty-crappy statues of dolphins leaping through a fountain that has nothing but rain inside. "Watch out for the tree!" she says, and I realize that one of her trees is somehow letting more rain through than reaches un-shielded areas of ground. Ducking and dodging, I make it to the lovely overhang and open the bag. "Come on in!"

Suddenly, she's taking me through a lovely tiled foyer, past an almost-grand white staircase, and into some kind of media room that smells like dog breath, fresh cigars and wet pussy. A couple big TVs hang on the wall; three scary-looking guys are spread out on cheap couches watching both an action movie and some kind of smooth-jazz saxophone concert at the same time (shit you not), and this huge old lady is telling them the pizza is here. They mumble incoherently and hold previously-used paper plates over their shoulders. One, a bald one who looks like an utter perve, smiles at me. I notice he has a dog in his lap--in fact, there are dogs everywhere. There might be six dogs in just this room, and now I realize I walked by a different one out by the staircase and never noticed it. It's completely black all around the rest of this giant place and its sprawling grounds. The only lights are from the TV and from the spa on the patio outside, where some semi-cute redhead in a bikini is stewing herself. Under an umbrella. If she had sunglasses on, it would be Kafka, but she didn't, so it wasn't quite.

Why the hell am I here for the eating part? The lady is offering me slices as she sets out their four larges on the wetbar that might've made this "media room" look classy if it weren't full of dogs and perverts and discount couches with stains on the vinyl backing. Whenever I try to slip out, there's either an excited dog or a big brassy lady blocking the door. I'm smiling, no, they give me pizza for free at the end of the night, I've got another delivery on my front seat, maybe Mom was right and going to people's houses at night isn't the safest job. Oops, did I start to say that out loud? Well, no one noticed, at least. Jesus, how long is that saxophonist going to keep repeating the melody? Finally, finally, the lady looks like she wants to sit down on the ottoman-thing and eat her pizza. She says the money's "in the kitchen." I step over a very friendly Labrador, scanning the haunted caverns beyond for a kitchen. Twenty steps. Oops, a bathroom. Around the corner, nope, a bedroom. Shouldn't they keep the dogs out of there if they were just painting? Not my business. A hallway, back to where I started, oh, there, the kitchen was right by the front entrance. What the hell? This place has all these rooms, and the kitchen's right off the front? No, where's the fridge? I find the lights, and it's a kitchen, but this perfect, untouched kitchen, with a sink too small to be the real one. Money on the counter, thank God, off lights, outta here.

Final Subject: Tanned, graying, deceptively-fit-looking old white dude and his nearly-identical friends. Expensive polo shirts and hilarious half-thigh summer shorts. Late forties/early fifties. Quote: "Her tip'll depend on..." Weather: sunny later afternoon. Tip: $20. Security: Several layers of flamboyant resort staff; one layer of beefy, asexually-aggressive resort staff.

Detail: After I get past the front desk people, the pool people, and the paranoid manager who wished he hadn't been cut from the police academy, I find Mr. Special and his friends having drinks in plastic cups by the pool. Boss had pre-warned me it was some former Congress-guy and his friends who aren't from here but are staying at the resort. Seven of them, no girls, seven pizzas. Boss had given me an extra sack of stuff to carry--napkins and plastic knives and forks and packages of "Parmesan" cheese. I hand over all the stuff, and the lead guy has me stand there for several minutes while he checks each and every one of the pizzas over. "Her tip'll depend on..." After the pizzas, he discovers the bag with the supplies in it, and counts out the utensil packages, the napkins, and the cheese. When he's done, he gives me a nod of condescending approval. "You remembered to put it all together." I get a twenty and suddenly I'm not there anymore.

The bastard--great tip, but what if the kitchen guys had messed up one of the toppings, or the boss had forgotten the extra forks? They had the pizza money--the boss' money--all counted out ahead of time, but the tip money was dependent on me having shown up with stuff the boss and/or kitchen people had to prepare, which I hadn't even known about. I was adjudicated by a communist standard, but rewarded on a capitalist standard.

Pizza Analysis

What did pizza teach this one? Diminishing marginal utility exists, in the sense that "the rich" get no additional satisfaction out of their money-compressed minutes inside rich bodies, but diminishing marginal utility doesn't adjust behavior in a correspondingly rational way. Over years of glamorous pizza, I tended to get smaller tips from wealthier people and bigger tips from poorer people. And no, that's not "why" the rich people were rich--we're talking differences of a few bucks, here, amounting to less than a thousand dollars a year. So the poor people weren't poor because they were overtipping, nor the rich rich because they were hoarding. The rich were more often willing to use their time--even if they were guys who made a thousand dollars an hour, or who'd graduated from high school with millions already in their trust funds--to count out coins and one-dollar bills.

Which latter result is a weird one, given that if they'd spent one day more at the office in their late twenties, before retirement, they could have saved probably twenty days of their mortal lives by not thinking about tips at all. By death, they'd end up with more time, more money, and less mental exertion on a task made pointless by that single additional day of sitting at the office signing the occasional piece of paper. Compared to people who got paid five bucks an hour, the rich guys and gals were willing to spend a substantial portion of their lives counting out change to pizza vendors, waitresses, cashiers, etc. Their return was probably to save a grand or so over the course of their lives: a pile of sweaty old twenties, mangy pennies and quarters, representing all they'd "held back" in exchange for thinking really hard about the extra off every non-electronic transaction. That's the decision of an irrational economic actor, and it destroys game theory, as nearly every real-world occurrence does.

As to tipping specifically, the rich suck at it. The rich with some kind of public image, like really minor politicians, or B-list entertainers, tip well themselves, but the really big dogs have staff or junior family members order/pay for things on their behalf, so that cheap tips can be blamed on the doorman rather than the guy who actually ordered the food.

"The poor," or rather, the laboring class one medical bill from bankruptcy and homelessness, tend to be better tippers; not only tippers, but customers. The poor don't whine about the quantity of the toppings the kitchen guys put on there, and they do things like walk out to the parking lot to meet you, and call you "ma'am" or "pro" and stuff, without any hint of irony. When gas prices are higher, they lament the state of your job and throw in an extra buck, and they apologize for not having gotten the door right away, rather than give you a foul grin/sneer when they finally hear you knocking because someone went inside during the backyard party to restock the poolside cooler.

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