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PART ONE

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.

I 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 revenge.

PART II

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?

ANSWER: I appreciate your concern and emphasis on the interconnectedness of things.  You are one bright blinking LED bulb, aren’t you?

I eventually 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 dining experience.

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.

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