The Art of Tipping and Loneliness

I saw him come in every day. And every day he ordered the same thing and sat down at the same table. He’d eat his slice of veggie pizza and drink his Coke and smile at customers as they passed by him on their way to the counter. Sometimes, if someone sat at a nearby table and said some pleasantry to him, he’d get this joyful look in his eye and take a breath as if about to speak. But he’d always let this breath out in an almost imperceptible sigh, and smile or nod before turning back to his pizza—as if the pizza and he had been in the middle of some thoughtful discussion.

This would have made sense to me if he was a bit weird looking or if he brought a book with him or even a newspaper. But he wasn’t and he didn’t. The other cooks had theories about him. About why he wasn’t in class during the day or at least typing out some term paper like most of our customers.

He always ordered politely, “May I have a slice of veggie pizza and a coke?” he’d say. He always put a dollar in the tip jar but he’d wait for the cashier to turn around to put up the ticket before dropping it in. I got the feeling, watching him, that all he wanted was a friend. But I never could bring myself to approach him with anything more than his freshly-baked slice.

I too am made uncomfortable by tipping eye-to-eye.

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