“Don’t worry, it’ll just be a little tickle,” I promised my son Evan as he suspiciously eyed the buzzing implement of doom that orbited his ear.
He gripped the steering wheel of the Barbie Jeep and braced himself. He might have looked tougher if he’d chosen to have his haircut one seat over, in the little red airplane, but at that moment, he was the toughest person I’d ever seen driving a pink car with purple wheels.
“You’re doing great,” the hairstylist said as the trimmer began removing the traces of the proto-mullet that had been forming on the back of his neck.
I wandered into the mall for a moment and wondered briefly how the pizza parlor across the way went out of business while Radio Shack, the cockroach of the retail world, had somehow survived the recession. They must be coasting by on the profits from the VCR cable I bought there twelve years ago.
When I came back into the salon, pandemonium, as it has a habit of doing, ensued. Evan was wailing while my wife Kara was holding a tissue to stop the bleeding behind his ear. The hairstylist was running toward the back of the salon, perhaps to make her getaway out by the dumpsters.
“What happened?” I asked.
“She nicked him with the trimmer,” Kara said. Just a little tickle had turned into just a little trickle.
That’s when we noticed blood behind his other ear, too. In the ten seconds I’d been gone, the Barbie Jeep had turned into a triage station. Turns out, Evan had been right about the doom aspect of the trimmers all along.
“I’m so sorry. That’s never happened before,” the hairstylist said as she returned with more tissues. And it never will again, at least not with us. This hairstylist must have graduated from the same barber school as my Great-Grandpa Sweeney.
The nicks really weren’t that bad, and after the initial surprise and commotion, Evan’s crying, and the bleeding, stopped. The next day, you could barely tell there’d been a scratch. Evan even sat still for the rest of the haircut, but I think that’s just because he was trying to figure out how to throw the Barbie Jeep into gear so he could peel out of there.
As we went to pay, I cringed to see how Kara would handle the tip. Her cranial orifices were still billowing rage-smoke. Still, I get squeamish about giving bad tips, no matter how atrocious the service. I winced as Kara handed over the cash, sure that she’d stiffed the hairstylist. Then I did the math and realized she’d just tipped 25%.
“We sure showed her,” I said as we left, with Evan happily noshing on his post-trauma lollipop.
“Well, I felt bad for her,” Kara said.
Fortunately for truly awful service-sector employees, if they do a bad enough job, they generate the requisite sympathy to ensure that they don’t get Darwinned out of their jobs like they should. In fact, if they’re awful enough, they’ll make out better than if they were good. Being a little bit slow won’t do the trick, since that will just result in a pared-down tip. They have to go the full monty, dumping coffee on people’s laps or shearing their children’s ears to make sure they get their sympathy bonus.
As a busboy in high school, I benefited from this phenomenon, noticing that people seemed to leave better tips when you dumped glasses of ice water on them. That’s why we always gave our customers towels on the way in.
“Don’t worry, it’ll make sense later,” we’d tell them.
Of course, this is all just a long way of explaining Evan’s eventual ponytail to his grandparents.
You can take a little off Mike Todd’s top at firstname.lastname@example.org.