This piece was first published in Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and is still available to read on their site. Thank you again to McSweeney’s for giving this piece a home.
The best thing about the tipping industry is that it keeps us low-wage workers on our feet. Literally, because most of us work all day on our feet at our main job and then our second job and sometimes our side hustle, which even if it doesn’t seem like you’d need to be on your feet for that, you do. It’s also best because we spend our prime years pacing the same 200-square-foot floor for thousands of hours, developing varicose veins, flattened arches, and chronic back pain, which is great because, without a reliable flow of money, we learn what is truly nonessential—healthcare.
We are the starless-eyed poster children of American progress. Each 2% tip and personal insult and unfettered threat serves as the necessary memento mori of the messy performance piece that is our lives, so that Joseph Beuys could only be satisfied.
As baristas, servers, store clerks, and liquor store attendants, we are always beholden to you and the grand complexity of your life, because ours is a vacuum waiting to be filled. We are artists, musicians, writers, people with extremely specific talents that the world isn’t ready for yet. Despite this, we are more than willing to hear about your awful secretary, or your 20-minute lecture on the good, or the evils of non-dairy milk, or about your failing marriage and/or girlfriend. If our monetary worth weren’t dependent on us listening to you unravel your soul, what would happen? We would shun you, yes, but then what? You would hold it in, fester, until you exploded and fired your secretary, or set fire to an almond milk factory, or murdered your wife and/or girlfriend. If not for tipping, would not the fragile social system of our country crumble under our archless feet? We all benefit from such neutralization. Marx could only agree.
I ask you this: have you ever thought, Man, this barista is really hot? Sure, her shirt is stained in coffee and syrup, and she reeks of scalded milk, but underneath all that, she’s a babe? You are not alone. Such a steady stream of sexual innuendo, propositions, hand/arm/ass grabs, and stalking do nothing but enrich our sense of self. Think what would happen if not for tipping? We would set you aflame and devour your souls, yes, but would we not also weep from the loneliness of it? Your paid-in-cash flirtations provide both a lesson in letting boundaries untether and accepting that we will never be deserving of such endless affection. Our patrons are quick to remind us of this universal truth.
Speaking of: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a modest-to-respectable fortune must be in want of a service-industry wife. We are perfectly poised to serve as the ever-poorer romantic trophy by which he may show the world, “See? I, too, have forgone my immense privilege by way of a loving partner far beneath my standards.” And he will be relentless in his charities. “But don’t I love her? And don’t I treasure her? Don’t I let her sleep on my Kluft bed (when she isn’t tossing and turning from back pain — it was more than her annual salary, HELLO.), and don’t I let her sit in the backseat of my Tesla Model S when she isn’t covered in old coffee and bleach and scalded milk (which she always is)? Don’t I ignore her ugly, varicose-vein feet and damned prospects? I am the sole benefactor keeping her from a life of scrubbing public toilets. I am the sole angel protecting her family from ruin.”
And he will be right. Without him, we would fall from romantic heroine to tragic heroine, death and loneliness, and we don’t tell tragedies here. We marry him, and live on in endless gratitude for the economy which brought us together, so that Jane Austen could only be proud.