After my daughter started playing soccer on Saturday mornings, we quickly settled into a little routine. As soon as the game is over and the soccer moms and dads finish stowing their foldable living rooms into their SUVs, I take Natalie to Panera’s for breakfast. She always orders a strawberry smoothie. Me? Coffee and a breakfast wrap. This past Saturday, however, as I gave my breakfast requests to the cashier, I noticed she was nervous and hesitant inputting my order into the computer.
“What size coffee again?” she said.
“Medium,” I said.
“And what kind of smoothie?”
Pursing her lips, she ran her finger along the touchscreen, looking for the correct icon. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “It’s my first day.”
“It’s right there, Crystal,” the manager shadowing her, said, pointing.
“Take your time,” I said beatifically, “We’ve all had a first day once.” Behind me, a customer grunted.
After a while repeating what I wanted and watching the manager guide the new hire, my order was complete. Pulling some bills out of my wallet, I stuffed them into the tip jar. “Have a nice day, miss.”
“Thank you, sir,” the new girl, said. Then I grabbed my cup and headed for the bank of coffee urns behind me. “Go wash your hands, Natalie,” I said. “They’re sticky with Gatorade.”
After watching my daughter toddle to the restroom, I went to fill my cup with Mountain Roast. The customer who had been behind me, however, was making a bit of a scene.
“I don’t have time for this,” the man – an expensively dressed fifty-something with perfectly coifed hair he probably spent all morning blow drying – snapped. “Why is this taking so long?”
“I’m sorry,” the new girl said. “It’s my first day.”
“You should have thoroughly trained her before you let her wait on customers,” the man told the manager. Poor Crystal’s lip began to quiver.
The manager, a middle-aged woman who looked like she’d just been transferred from corporate, tapped the new girl on the shoulder. “Take a break, Crystal. I’ll get this.” Then with speedy efficiency and a pasted-on smile, she entered the man’s order. “I’m sorry for the delay, sir. Your order will be up soon.”
The man harrumphed and walked away – leaving no tip. Walking up next to me, he looked at the expensive watch on his wrist and shook his head. “People have gotten so used to that easy unemployment money,” he said. “That they don’t want to work. Now businesses have to hire anybody.”
Boy, did he pick the wrong guy to talk to.
“Yeah,” I said. “They should all be happy running back to jobs that under-employ or overwork them, don’t give them sick days, health care, vacations, overtime, mess with their schedules and pay them next to nothing. What ingrates.”
“Whatever, pal,” the man said, realizing he had not been communing with a kindred spirit. “A job is a job. You don’t always have to like it.”
“SINNER!” I shouted.
“What?” the man said, backing away, frightened.
“Thouest harangueth a new server on her first day and then placeth no gratuity in the proffered jar?” I bellowed, draping the priestly stole I always carry in my pocket over my shoulders. “I hear the jingle jangle of a million stolen tips! The cries of a million severs bereft of wages! Repent! Repent! For the Day of Judgement is at hand!”
“Hey, all I wanted was a muffin and some coffee.”
“Thou walketh into a restaurant and treat servers like chattel? Have you no compassion? No decency? Dost thou treateth everyone this way?”
“Uh, someone call the police.”
“Wait!” I said, slapping my hand to my forehead. “God has blessed me with a vision! I see people gathered around a casket and, instead of shedding tears of grief, they are bitterly saying, “Now departeth a man who always took but never gave.”
“Now wait a minute…”
“There goes a man who cared naught if people noticed his rapine parsimonious! There goes a man who treasured lucre over the human heart!”
“Can I just get my coffee please?”
“The man in the casket is you, brother!” I said, jumping onto the counter. “And woe unto your wretched soul, because God sees all and knows all. He knows when the smallest sparrow falls to ground! He is more inward to you than your most inward part and higher than your highest! Do you think your stinginess and mendacity has escaped His gaze? It has not. God knows when you do not tip!
“Preach brother,” the new hire shouted.
“Woe unto you with hearts of stone!” I shouted, letting the Holy Spirit rock and roll. “For a man who does not tip is like a someone trying to thead the eye of a needle with a camel – and that shall indeed do a numbereth on your ass!”
“I…I…” the man stuttered.
“And saying ‘They don’t have to like their jobs?’ Thou placeth burdens on your fellow man, don’t raise a finger to lift them, and then tippeth not to boot? Instead of stiffing these little ones, it would be better for you if a BMW were tied around your neck and thoust sunk into the depths of the sea!”
“Amen!” a customer shouted. Then the air filled with the sounds of a gospel choir singing “Highway to Hell.”
“Change your ways!” I roared. “Repent or you shall be cast into the fires of hell where for all eternity your flesh will be ripped from your body by grotesque serpents with razor sharp teeth! Where for all eternity, your blood will boil, your bones will burn, and your barrel will be reduced to a putrid black slime! And for what? Not tipping because your muffin did not come fast enough? When people throughout the world do not have enough food to eat?
“Hallelujah!” my daughter yelled. “You tell ‘em preacher man!”
“Cheapness is the way to the City of Woe!” I cried. “Tight-fistedness the path to Eternal Pain! ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO DO NOT TIP!”
Then I began praying fervently over the man.“Demon of Entitlement, I cast you out! Beelzebub of Miserliness, I cast you out! Moloch of Insidious Indifference, I cast you out! Depart the soul of this poor creature and maketh haste to Hell!”
The man fell to the ground, his eyes suddenly flickering with yellow reptilian flame. “Your mother works triple shifts in Hell!” the exposed demon shouted. “If she doesn’t like serving, let her get a real job!” Then the possessed man’s head started spinning on his neck, spewing streams of green vomit like a lawn sprinkler.
“Gross,” Natalie, said.
Showering the man with coffee, the holy water of waiters everywhere, I yelled. “The power of love compels you! The Patron Saint of Waiters compels you! Our Lady of the Eternal Gratuity compels you!”
“It burns,” the demon screeched. “No, it’s coffee – it really burns!” Then, slimily oozing out of the man’s mouth, the devil plopped onto the floor, grew a thousand legs, and skittered out the door like a perditious centipede on crack cocaine and into the Trader Joe’s parking lot.
“Oh, sweet Mary,” the newly exorcised man sobbed. “I didn’t know.”
“Now, do you finally see the light?” I asked.
“I didn’t know they lived on tips….”
“Do you see the light?” I shouted.
“I didn’t know I’ve treated people so badly….”
“HAVE YOU SEEN THE LIGHT?”
“Yes!” the man said, leaping to his feet. “Yes! Jesus H. Tap Dancing Christ! I have seen the light!” Then he started somersaulting down the length of the restaurant while all the people in Panera, swept up in the Spirit, began dancing, leaping and spinning through the air – their voices mixing with the choir as they joyously belted out, “Let Us Go Back to the Old Landmark.” Natalie was especially into it. She loves to dance.
“Another lost soul saved!” I shouted, gyrating on the counter. “Hallelujah and Glory Be to the AutoGrat in the Highest!” Then I felt something tugging on my pants.
“Daddy,” my daughter asked. “Is my smoothie ready?”
“Whah?” I said, shaking my head. From the moment that disgruntled hair product junkie finished saying, “Now businesses have to hire anybody.” I was lost in rapturous reverie. I never said a word to him.
“Are you okay, Daddy?”
Smiling, I patted my daughter’s head. “I was just daydreaming honey.”
“Sometimes, Natalie,” I said. “You’re Dad likes to think he’s on a mission from God. Now let’s get your smoothie.”