The other evening there was a knock on our front door after dark. We’d ordered a pizza not more than 10 minutes before, so I figured it was the delivery man and thought perhaps I’d called the wrong Papa John’s: not the one down the street, but the one in the future, which already knew our order before we’d even placed it and was able to deliver in less than 10 minutes.
Even though I didn’t see the standard markings of a pizza-delivery driver on the young black woman standing at our front door, I remained unconvinced she wasn’t harboring a half-pepperoni, half-cheese pizza on her someplace, or alternatively, from the future to kill us in order to prevent a nuclear apocalypse.
She introduced herself and said she was with a group called Guiding Light, or Guardian Angels, Grieving Hands, or some two-term phrase starting with a “G” that could have either been a hard-nosed biker gang or an inner-city youth organization, the latter of which she claimed to be a part. She also told me her name, which went into my left ear and directly out of my right, but I clearly recall that it didn’t sound - nor did she look - as if she was in a biker gang. I bought the inner-city youth group organization story, but remained hopeful that she also had some pizza in her knapsack.
She jumped into a chronicle about all the struggles she’d experienced through her life - hard times - and I believed her. In fact, I didn’t mind giving her a few moments to tell me her story. After all, I had nothing to do but wait for our pizza, and to obtain the pizza I would’ve had to step out onto the porch to meet the delivery guy anyway, and I was already out there, so I may as well listen to a stranger talk about her hardships growing up in the projects. But if the pizza arrived during her monologue, I’d have probably cut her off. “Pizza before some stranger’s hardship stories,” as grandpa always taught me.
She told me she had dreams of becoming a teacher. I think. Or was it “barista?” Maybe she said she wanted to be a pizza-delivery man. I’m not entirely certain, as I was pretty hungry and thinking mostly about the pizza en route to our house on the edge of suburbia. And I was tired, and it was dark outside, and I didn’t know this person’s name even though she told me. But mostly, I’m a horrible listener. Also, did I request an extra garlic sauce when I called Papa John’s? Was I going to have to share one little cup of garlic sauce between two people? Because sharing a single garlic sauce, even with one person who you’ve sworn to stay with until you die, is complete agony. Continuing to carry on about her hardships, she then put the question to me.
“Could you share with me the types of struggles you’ve been through?”
Now I was stuck. She’d just told me stories of witnessing drug deals and watching people she knew die from drive-by shootings. I couldn’t really compete. Going to high school in southern New Hampshire, I didn’t experience much gang-related violence or a single bullet through the front window of our Cape Cod style home. My biggest struggle growing up was the frequent blanket of white snow that shut down our quaint New England town and forced us to stay home from school and go sledding at the nearby golf course, oblivious to the realities of the less-fortunate. Several times I was bullied, but never with a weapon, and nothing so severe that I’m still haunted, even though I still think John Hames from 9th grade was a complete asshole.
I considered bringing some levity to the situation in order to get the girl to laugh at my own personal “hardships.” That morning, I’d forgotten my sunglasses at home and had to go through an entire day squinting, which gave me a headache. It wasn’t such a bad headache that I had to take aspirin or anything. I’d had worse headaches. Migraines when I was younger, even. Does a headache count as a struggle? Oh, and as it turned out, my sunglasses were in my car the whole time! I’d just put them in the arm-rest compartment, not the drop-down case in the roof where I typically store them. “Can you believe that?” I could have told her. “Times were tough.”
But I didn’t tell her that story, and asked how I could help out. Of course, help came in the form of giving my credit card information to her to write on a little form in her hands and take to a place I did not know. On my doorstep was a stranger who I’m sure had gone through many personal hardships, but she also told me she wasn’t from inner-city Richmond - five miles away - but rather, New Orleans. I apologized sincerely and wished her good luck, but said I could not in good faith just hand out a credit card number to someone I didn’t know. I mentioned I’d take a look at her organization and consider donating, but by the time the front door had closed behind me, I couldn’t remember the name of her group, or what her face looked like, but man, how I wanted that pizza. Plus, Seinfeld was on TV, and it was one of the few with David Puddy.
Inner-city life is tough. Mine is decidedly not, and to her level will never be. I didn’t blame her, just the questionably legit group that sent a struggling black youth out to a random middle-class mostly white neighborhood in the late evening, on the edge of suburbia, in a dark town that wasn’t her own, to ask a stranger anxiously awaiting a pizza for money. There’s a better way to overcome.