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Oh, Joy

Public notice: This article has nothing to do with economics. Regular economic posting will resume shortly. I'm just trying something different and more personal because the #1 item of feedback from people who used to be on my e-mail list is that they miss the more personal stories. So here's a personal story. It's about psychology, if you have the urge to connect it with something academic.

I went to Pizza Hut tonight, as I'm prone to do, planning to order a pizza and then pick it up on my way back from the grocery store. It didn't go quite according to plan.

Joy was working there tonight. She used to work at that same restaurant about 5 years ago when I was just in Oregon as an intern. By the time I moved to Oregon permanently she was no longer working there. Several years passed, and then about a month ago she started working there again. I came in one day and we immediately recognized each other — well, mostly she recognized me, and I just thought she was sorta vaguely familiar.

Short digression: I do not understand why, but for some reason I'm very memorable. People readily remember me and call me by name, even if by my estimation we barely know each other. (That always puts me at a disadvantage.) For example, I get my hair cut at a small shop with a small staff, but very infrequently — only about twice a year. By the third or fourth time I went there, they recognized me as I walked in the door and commented that it must be time for my six-month haircut. They were absolutely right, of course, but I was dumbfounded that they would remember the habits of one infrequent customer who never talked to them very much. They must have so many regular customers, I don't know how they remember me.

When I saw Joy several weeks ago she reminded me that she used to work there, then my brain clicked and I remembered too. She said I should dine in sometime (that day I was just picking up a carryout) so we could chat and catch up on things.

I had been back to that Pizza Hut several times since then (could you tell I eat a lot of pizza?) but hadn't seen her in many weeks, so I assumed she quit and I wouldn't see her again. Then, tonight, she was there.

I was making my usual circuit (order pizza, buy groceries, pick up pizza, eat at home) so when she asked if I was dining in I said, "No, not tonight." Then she hunched over and let out a melodramatic sigh, then looked at me with sad puppy-dog eyes. Unable to resist — I am powerless against puppy-dog eyes — I said, "Oh all right, if it means that much to you…" and changed my plans.

It had been an unusually busy day and they were running out of pan crust dough. I later learned (not from her) that she stole the last pan dough from some other customer's order so I could have it. That's good service! :)

The restaurant was very busy, but she was eventually able to steal away a few minutes to chat with me. The time was interrupted by her need to go around and do her waitressing thing a few times, but I think we talked for a total of about ten minutes. I learned more about her in that ten minutes than I had known and forgotten from five years ago. I thought this was a little odd, because people are usually more reserved than that. Knowing a person from five years ago is not the same as knowing a person for five years, but she was totally comfortable telling me details about the sorts of things people normally don't talk about in public, much less to someone you barely know and while you're at work.

I'm either very disarming, or she really needed a sympathetic ear. (I do have a history as a sympathetic ear, but there's no way she could have known it.)

When I was getting ready to go, she quietly said that she couldn't "let me leave" and that we would "have to" continue talking outside while she went on break. I had to suppress a grin because that's such a wonderful line — it's a way of asking a question from a dominant position, making "yes" the default response, but asking it so innocently! I said, "Sure." I'm jealous. I recognized what she was doing, but don't know how to do it myself.

Clearly she has excellent interpersonal skills. She's great with children — there were a few in the restaurant and they liked her immediately — and she told me she's been getting a lot of positive comments from customers. I watched her interact with everyone else during the breaks in our conversation, and she's definitely well-suited to working in a customer service role. (She'll be asking for a raise soon, and she's worth it.) She knows how to pull all the right strings, mine included of course, and I enjoy watching a master practice her craft.

We talked outside for an extra five minutes or so. That wasn't very comfortable because I wasn't dressed for the weather. Thin people like me tend to get cold easily (we have a large surface area for our mass), and I was already cold from drinking the ice water that was part of my meal. Standing outside in the wet cold, I shivered a lot. It must have been distracting, but she didn't mention it. (Well played…)

Psychology has been one of my minor hobbies for several years, so it was fascinating for me to observe how she interacted with people with such ease. She seems to be the kind of person who could get whatever she wants from others, despite the details of our conversation demonstrating that this hasn't been true in practice. I don't know if I could eventually learn her techniques simply through observation, but I doubt she's consciously aware of them enough that she could teach me. I intend to try, though at the same time I need to figure out her unstated motives. Too much was unusual, I don't remember her being like this five years ago.

I love research. And I'm obligated to add, "…for Science!"

UPDATE 2003-12-08 04:32:19 UTC: Fixed a typo and improved some phrasing.

Tiny Island