My Good Meal Hunting

As a young kid, it was not fun being good at math while also being poor.

A classroom lesson in division or fractions could easily trigger a dinner memory from the day before — which might be a single Nathan’s hot dog … served family style.

And if I ever felt blue about being a few cents short on lunch money, both decimals and scientific notation would put their arms around me and say:

“Don’t worry. It gets smaller.” 

This might’ve been a simple Pe^rt problem for our family.

Take some Principal, compound e by the Rate of interest, and then just wait for T–time–to come and rescue us. 

You know, save money, basically.

However, with no actual money to save, our Pert problems were Pert shampoo problems. On any given Monday, you’d have to ask yourself “was this the week mom adds water to the shampoo to extend its life?”  

We don’t have these problems anymore. But I dredge this all up now because five minutes ago my wife just said “yes” to something big.

“You’re sure, right?” I asked, taking out my phone slowly. 

“Yea, I mean, I’m obviously a little nervous. But it’s been really boring these past 2 months of covid. And you’ve been great. Let’s just try it.”

My heart started to race.

I was paranoid, but slowly slid my finger across the phone to unlock it. “This isn’t a trick, right?” 

“No.” 

“I just want to come clean, Mel. I used to do this while you were away on work trips to China. You’re sure it’s ok?”

“Oh I already knew about that. I’d see it on your credit card statement, clear as day.” 

I scrolled through my screen, page after page, until I found it. 

There, looking as patriotic as ever, was the Domino’s Pizza App.

2 pizzas, two toppings, $5.99 each. Seems simple enough, right? 

Wrong. 

I took a deep breath. Time seemed to slow down. I got to work. 

The app let’s you choose some other options for $5.99 instead of a pizza. Bread twists, 8 cubes of chicken, a salad that reminds you God probably doesn’t exist, and a bunch of other options with embarrassingly low CPD. 

CPD, as we all know, is calories per dollar. And, once you harness that metric, choosing pizza is not only the correct choice, but the only choice.

So I skipped past those inferior options, clicked on the scaffolding of the first pizza and went into a deep meditative state. 

“Oo, thin crust could be fun,” cuts through the silence.

A far cry. A voice that sounded like Melissa’s, seemed to reach from beyond with deeply inefficient thoughts, seemingly oblivious to CPD. 

I upgraded the pizza to ‘deep dish,’ which I knew would cost nothing. 

It cost nothing because this particular Domino’s was run by technologically illiterate but extremely attentive Egyptians, traits which made for this free upgrade and all other kinds of arbitrage throughout an order.

No changes for the sauce, that would come later. And so came the time for toppings. 

Because the app let’s you divide the pizza into two sides, I placed pepperoni and olives on one side of Pizza #1 and onions and a meat topping called “philly cheesesteak” on the other. Adding cheddar cheese to this side would have made an actual philly cheesesteak sitting atop my pizza, but then they win. Just one extra topping on one half is enough to raise the price by what could’ve been almost another pizza. 

For Pizza #2, Mel’s pizza, I should probably introduce another metric to you, CTD. As she’s vegetarian, the difference in CPD, calories per dollar, is negligible–how many more calories can you get from a diced tomato versus spinach, after all? And, so, since the toppings are already free, I instead look to CTD, Cost to Domino’s. What’s the biggest dent I can make in their empire?

This means olives and mushrooms on one side and convincing Melissa that jalapenos and pineapple go together for the other. 

After I put the order in, I call Domino’s.

Ali picks up.

I ingratiate myself to him, explaining these smartphones are too smart for me–that I made a big mistake and wanted to order three pizzas, not two. This add-on could have been done on the app, but ordering the third pizza this way gets me 20 rewards points instead of just 10. 

“Also, Ali, can I be honest with you?”

He replies with something or another. 

“This one time I ordered from you, there was no tomato sauce on my pizza. I don’t think it was Yasmine–she’s always been great. But could you make sure there’s sauce?”

You should know I am being honest, even though “that one time” was nearly three years ago almost to the date. 

“Of course, actually, is extra sauce ok for you?”

“You’re too kind, Ali. Shukran.”

I can almost hear this teenager smiling. So I know it’s time to go for it. 

“Hey, one last thing, this is going to sound stupid, but I thought the cheesesteak topping came with cheese.”

I savor the pause. 

3. 

2. 

1.

Three seconds should be enough. 

“You think you could throw on cheddar cheese on that side too?” 

I open up the Domino’s app to track this pizza. Ali has processed the order and Yasmine places the toppings. Step three is the oven getting “fired up” and ready. Ahmed boxes it and the pizza is off for delivery.

It’s all so efficient. The visual charts look so clean. 

But I imagine behind all that is a family.

Growing up. Hustling.

The same as me.

And at least a pizza is easier to divide than a hot dog. 

So, that brings us to right now. 

Melissa takes a bite of the pizza. I await her praise. 

“You know it’s obviously not as good as Il Forno, but this isn’t bad!”

“Isn’t bad,” I smiled.

I suppose she doesn’t need to know how an entire cathedral, a Taj Mahal, had been built in her honor inside that cardboard box. 

She had invoked Il Forno a Legna, our local pizza shop that only used the freshest and most traditional of ingredients. They also allege their forno a legna–or wood-burning furnace–had been shipped from Naples. How a brave little forno made its way across the world and why it decided to rest indefinitely in Rahway, New Jersey is beyond me. 

I began to bite into my Philly Cheesesteak frankenpizza, the pinnacle of CPD…

“I know these flavors remind you of your childhood, so we can enjoy it from time to time.” 

My brow furrowed as I attempted to digest her words as well as the low grade meat, paper thin onions, bright yellow cheddar, and “real” mozzarella cheese, a term Domino’s trademarked so that “real” could mean what they wanted. 

I don’t think I’d ever actually cared about the flavors at all.

And suddenly, I felt this strange feeling with each bite my wife took of her pizza. 

What was the point in her having to eat this?

Was this what guilt feels like?

This certainly didn’t feel like a win. 

The next week I insisted we order from Il Forno.

Mel surveys the menu and wants to share a $20 pizza and a $12 burrata salad. 

I was not at all excited about this healthy and pricey excursion. 

But then I looked at the menu. 

There, on completely different sides of the menu, lay a $3 side salad and a burrata pizza. 

Maybe there was a way to make this work.

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