I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of more gun racks per square person than anywhere south of the Santa Claus Residence. Like most people that aren’t hippies or Rapunzel, at times I would get haircuts. I’d
typically do this whenever my mind was wooing a girl (note that mind
and reality are different beasts, a lesson I still haven’t internalized. Also note the irony in having to “internalize” the value of extroversion).
From almost birth through pubescence, my folks
lived in a former plantation house and I in the slave quarters, not
unlike most families in the Deep South. Maybe I’m kidding? I frequented
an old-school barbershop titled “Don’s” within walking distance from my
home. This barbershop was stuffed with old white men in
over-polished loafers and Duck Head polo shirts, a parking lot
conglomeration of pickup trucks, plywood walls mule-packed with tiny
framed photographs of hunting trips and football legends, conversations
exclusively about hunting trips and football legends, and a clock that
seems to move at a pace slower than time. And most
importantly, a Nike poster of multi-sport star Bo Jackson and musician
Bo Diddley that exclaims loudly, “Bo Knows Diddley.”
A quick side-note that begins with a dose of
context: Auburn University is the arch-rival of the University of
Alabama, the mega-school headquartered in my home town. There have been
murders over this rivalry. I once owned a shirt that screamed in bold
orange text, “Auburn Is My Team But Jesus Is My King”. Gosh darn it,
babe, I live to spark absurd controversy.
Being Jewish and as cheap as raining cats and dogs
in monsoon season and nonsensical analogies, my heart angrily skipped a
beat every two years or so as Don’s Barbershop would hike their price a
buck. Considering I lived in Alabama, off and on, from age 5 to 23, the
price went from $8 to $17. When I was 22, I discovered a different
barbershop across the railroad tracks, called “Ricky’s”. Ricky’s had a
sign out front that advertised haircuts at $6. Bling bling, I felt as
if I’d won the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory and then
proceeded to defeat the leprechaun guarding the pot of gold at the end
of the rainbow!! This is too good to be true, I thought. And it was.
walked inside and noticed two things. First, the Ricky’s Barbershop
interior was a splitting image of Don’s — the architectural layout was
a carbon copy, the framed salon style photo exhibition was there, and
even the Bo Knows Diddly poster made an appearance. But there was one
sizable difference: the barber, clientele and the people in the framed
photos were shades of brown. As I froze in confusion, my pale Caucasian
body became even whiter as blood rushed towards my face. I looked like
a freshly bleached mannequin with a maroon balloon head. My emotional
desire was to make my exit, but how much more rude and racist could I get? So
I sat down in the waiting area and everyone was as cordial and friendly
as can be. I was fourth in line, so there was some waiting, and, of
course, plenty of conversation about hunting trips and football legends.
Finally, it was my turn. “I’ve never cut a white
man’s hair before,” my barber said. “But I’d love to try.” I turned
even redder; my maroon balloon face was filled to capacity and ready to
pop. I learned that black barbers only use clippers and mine didn’t own
a pair of scissors. He buzzed my hair into a faux hawk, all the while
apologizing to me , just the sort of thing you want to hear when you
are getting your haircut.
He finished with, “This was an experiment. I can
do better. Promise me you’ll come back and let me try again?” A bit of
a nightmare question. I lied quietly to appease him. “Today your
haircut is free,” he said.
Truthfully, I didn’t mind the cut. I mean, it is
other people that have to look at me, and there weren’t any girls on
the horizon. But still, I would unwittingly and unintentionally get
At the time I was employed (enslaved) at Olive Garden serving over-salted minestrone soup and
diarrhea-inducing, bland-as-Indiana pasta to idioticos who, due to
effective brainwash tv marketing, honestly believe that corporate
scientifically developed assembly line food is somehow superior to an
independent, homegrown restaurant whose cuisine is made with creativity
and heart and whose staff have a sincere passionate stake in the
quality of the dining experience. And, personally, I prefer my
hard-earned dining bucks to hop inside the pockets of some local
high-rolling playboy chef, as opposed to boring soul-less investors
lazily carcinagizing their pale skin in the flaring sun outside their
Florida winter-homes, whose eventual skin cancer treatments will force
healthcare costs to pop up like a teenage boy’s boner. And these are
the same venomous “humans” that despise universal healthcare. But I
digress like a motherfucker.
So two questions remain:
QUESTION ONE: Considering my aforementioned disdain for Olive Garden, why in Atrayu’s name would I work there?
ANSWER: I wanted to be a server and Olive Garden
hired me first; other places wanted experience and I hadn’t even had
sex yet, much less served at a restaurant. From then on out, in all my
job applications, I’ve learned that lying gets you places, including
probably Hell. But anywho, it was that simple — I needed a job like a
cavity needs a tooth. Or something like that.
My initial week was lovely– I was trained in a
haze of booze, always downing glasses of wine and whiskey before
sampling all the culinary mediocrity on the menu. Drinking is part of
the process because, as the bartender/trainer/flamer told me while
putting his hand on my thigh (a benefit at this particular Olive
Garden), “Honey, when you are lit everything and everyone taste
fabulous!” As I sipped my third brown-sugar rimmed House Margarita, my
trainer winked at me and I winked back, and then we walked off into the
sunset, which is pretty hot up close.
QUESTION TWO: How inside Virgin Mary’s asshole are you going to return full circle to the barber revenge plotline?
I appreciate your concern and emphasis on the interconnectedness of things. You are one bright blinking LED bulb, aren’t you?
morphed into a quasily-competent Olive Garden server, mesmerizing
customers with nonsense banter, slinging plates of food with my eyes
closed, up-selling customers into buying appetizers they didn’t want
and house wine marked up 5000% (up-selling is an Olive Garden
regulation; employees who don’t are sent home).
Six months after my haircut on the other side of
the tracks, Ricky — my African-American barber — sat in my section with
his picturesque family dressed in their Sunday best. They were jovial
and I became nervous, because not only did I not keep my promise to
return, but I also had a fresh Don’s Barbershop $17 haircut.
“You didn’t come back,” he said with accusatory
sadness once he recognized me. “I’m sorry,” I muttered. “But I swear
I’ll make your dining experience a delight.”
Everything went wrong. I spilled half a tray of soft
drinks on the barber’s beautiful wife; we were out of fresh
breadsticks, so I gave them lukewarm stale ones; the minestrone soup
was not to their liking; the entire kitchen crew was out back smoking
cigarettes and pot so the main courses took infinity; I incorrectly
punched their food into the computer so instead of Chicken Parm the
barber received Veggie Lasagna; and the kids’ pizza came with the wrong
toppings — they specifically requested no onions or olives and lots of
pepperoni, but I heard it the other way around. I apologized
continually throughout the meal, just the type of thing to enhance a
After I brought them a complimentary dessert that
I personally paid for (Olive Garden locks their desserts and only the
Kitchen Manager has a key), I limped away to the kitchen and into the
walk-in freezer. As I began to cry, tears froze to my cheeks.
They left me a 20% tip.