“No dessert Waiter,” the man on Table 32 says, reaching for his wallet. “Just bring us the check.”
“Perhaps some coffee, tea, or cappuccino?” I ask, trying to add another dollar to my tip.
“No thanks,” the man’s wife says. “We’ve got to get over to our accountant’s office to review our return. We’re gonna owe this year.”
I look at the wife, surprised she divulged so much information. On closer inspection, I notice her face is a taut mask of anxiety. She’s caught in the grip of a stress that only comes from worrying about money.
“Hard to believe it’s time for the taxman already,” I say, for lack of something better to say.
“We don’t know how bad it’s going to be,” the husband says, speaking like I’m not even there. “Let’s wait until we review the return.”
“We’re not getting a refund like last year Herb. We’re just not.”
“Try and relax Phyllis.”
Knowing that I might as well be a mannequin at this point, I go to the POS machine, print up the check, hand it to the man, run his credit card, and return with a pen.
“Thank you, sir,” I say, placing the check presenter on the table. “And have a good evening.”
“You’re welcome,” the man replies.
“Did you do your taxes yet?” the wife asks me in a shrill voice.
“I’m all set,” I reply.
“I hope you don’t owe.”
Since I’m not discussing my personal finances with a customer I just shrug and say, “I’m looking forward to my $600 stimulus check.”
The man laughs ruefully. “That’s a drop in the bucket.”
The couple gathers up their coats and leave. When they’re out of sight I go to the table and open the check holder. My tip on a $63 check? Five lousy bucks.
I feel a white hot spurt of anger surge up my esophagus. This wasn’t a mistake. This couple is so anxious about money that they decided to stiff me on the tip. As I watch the couple walk down the street, I silently pray that the karmic hammer of the IRS falls on their heads with righteous fury.