The Tip

An unusually large squirrel chased an averaged-sized squirrel around a towering oak tree; Leland Jenkins got his three letters out of his mailbox, but forgot to close it; a white, teenage male was still asleep, and would be for quite some time due to alcohol poisoning.

Bernard drove past it all in his silver ’98 Honda Accord.

He’d call it an ordinary afternoon, in a fairly ordinary neighborhood, but ordinarily he didn’t deliver large pizza orders this early in the day.

Hopefully, the tip will be good. There’s nothing like starting off the day with a nice tip.

Every time he thinks about quitting, to move on to something better—more lucrative—he gets a large order, and a large wad of cash to go along with it. It seems as if every tip slightly surpasses the last, right as he’s teetering on the edge of jumping into the unemployment pit, teasing him into staying on just a little longer.

He loves the moment when he hands the customer the pizza and he gets a few bucks back. It’s utterly simple, yet beautiful. He loves how most of the time he doesn’t have to make eye contact with the person, or even smile, and he’ll still get a solid tip.

The tip is preconceived. It doesn’t change because of a mediocre performance on the handoff, or a mispronunciation of the customer’s surname. As long as he delivers the pizza at a reasonable time, with an okay attitude, and doesn’t forget anything, the tip is either good or bad, based on the customer’s conscience.

And that’s the way he likes it.

He doesn’t have to mask his true character in a superficial aura of bullshit, like a drive-thru attendant at Chick-fil-a.

All in all, Bernard enjoyed being a pizza delivery man. But, from time to time, a little voice in his head would tell him to do more. It’s usually just a faint whisper and he ignores it, but it will call back, slightly louder than before, so he puts on his headphones.

But, Bernard’s driving now, and he vowed he would never drive while listening to music on headphones. A lady once swerved out in front of him causing him to slam his breaks and lay on his horn, but she couldn’t hear him because she was listening to some Pitbull song probably, which infuriated him.

So, as not to be a hypocrite, he had to listen to the voice inside his head telling him to be more than be a pizza delivery guy:

Nothing great—just better, Bernard. Just marginally better than what you are now. The process can be gradual. But come on, Bernard, don’t fight the process forever.

Fuck a Bern-lard. Be a Bern-star.

But like a C-list star. You can be a B or D on any given day, which would be ideal.

Trust me. I know you.

The day kept getting a little less ordinary.

*          *

When Bernard pulled up to the customer’s home, coming to a stop beside the mailbox numbered “2001”, he sensed an aroma of revitalization. He’d be a new Bernard for this one call—just to try it out.

He walked up the cobblestone pathway to the front door, being careful not to drop the mountain of pizza. As he reached the door, he set the pizza on the doorstep and froze for a moment.

He knew how it was all going to go. He was going to smile, and probably say something witty or clever or interesting, just to try it out. The little voice inside his head said:

Bernard—the C-list star!

He rang the doorbell, and heard the muffled sound of a siren inside. Nobody came. He rang it again. More siren, and then, silence.

Finally, as he was preparing to ring it a third time, the door swung open.

In front of Bernard stood the mountain of pizza, but in front of the pizza, stood a tall, wiry middle-aged man, garbed in a white lab coat. His graying hair was slicked back, held down by round, unusually shaped goggles, which were pushed up above his eyes for the moment.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked Bernard, as he anxiously tapped the side of the door. He slid his goggles over his eyes.

Bernard forgot all about smiling, or saying something interesting. Instead, he muttered, “Pizza delivery.”

“No. I asked who you were.”

“Bernard. Pizza delivery driver.”

“Is that how you describe yourself, Bernard? Your personality and character, your sense of morality, your emotional and intellectual intelligence, is all wrapped up in the phrase, ‘pizza delivery driver’?”

The day was now far from ordinary, and Bernard knew it.

“Um,” stuttered Bernard.

He couldn’t think of anything witty or clever or interesting. He just wanted to take the money and leave, all while avoiding eye contact with this strange old man. What was this about emotional intelligence anyway?

Before Bernard had a chance to continue the conversation, saying something either unintelligible or embarrassing, another man in a white lab coat approached. He looked a little more ordinary. If it wasn’t for the lab coat, and the inch-long scar below his left eye, he could pass for a middle-aged suburbanite. He pushed the slim man with the goggles out of the way.

“Sorry, about him. Theodore’s just a little pretentious. My name’s Dr. Rutherford. But you can call me Ford,” he said.

He reached his left hand out to Bernard. He awkwardly grabbed and shook with his right hand.

“Bernard. Did—um—you order these pizzas, Ford?” responded Bernard, partially confused.

“Indubitably. Would you like to step in for a moment? I must collect the money from the others.”

“Others?”

“Well, yes, Bernard. Did you assume Theodore and I were going to eat all these pizzas between the two of us?”

“Um—I guess not.”

As Bernard followed Ford through the doorway and into the brick, suburban home, he surveyed the odd interior. He was in a large, open room. But instead of furniture and lamps, there appeared to be work stations full of test tubes, machinery, and various scientific apparatus.

“If you’ll excuse me for a moment, Bernard, I will go collect your money,” said Ford as he walked off.

Bernard usually hated when customers didn’t have their money ready. He’d let it slide this time, though. He was too frozen in wonder and confusion to care.

A chalkboard was nailed to the wall at the opposite end of the room, marked with a collage of numerous words and phrases. Bernard could make out a few of the scribbles. He noticed what looked like world domination, destruction, and annihilation.

More old men in white lab coats moved around the home, each looking slightly different than the next. Bernard could only tell them apart by one or two unusual features, but it was enough. In the corner of the room, a chubbier man with a tribal tattoo around his neck tinkered with a gun-shaped device.

He pointed it at a beet and pressed the trigger. The beet morphed into a gelatin substance, but quickly reformed. Now, there were two beets.

Bernard wondered why anyone would ever want two beets? Whatever the reason could be, he was fairly certain it would be tough to dominate the world with only two beets.

Ford came back with a wad of cash and Bernard snapped out of his trance.

“What is this place?” asked Bernard.

“An alliance, or a council, or even a conference. Whatever you care to call it,” responded Ford.

“An allia—”

“—The Honorary Alliance of Mad Scientists.”

“HAMS?”

“Well, I guess it does spell out HAMS,” said Ford, “I honestly never noticed.”

Bernard looked around the room again. He looked beyond the strange old men, and their odd inventions, and their two beets. On the surface, the room held a bunch of old men coming together to toss some ideas around to fulfill a lifelong dream of a new world order; one in which mad geniuses thrived.

But Bernard could see the the disorganization. He saw their side glances and frustration when one mad scientist accidently spilled a drop of toxic acid on another’s lab rat, or forgot to wash a beaker he borrowed.

The little voice inside Bernard’s head was back:

Okay, Bernard, scratch the whole C-list star idea. This is better. Trust me.

You’ve been thrown into a job interview—you got it? You could organize these mad fellows. Introduce some creativity to their strictly left-brained minds.

Get what I’m saying, jackass?

Bernard heard the little voice loud and clear.

“Okay, I get you, Ford, but you have to change that name. You guys want a new world order, right?” he said. Bernard wasn’t sure where this assertiveness was coming from, but he liked it.

“Well, yeah. New world order. All for it,” replied Ford.

“Who’s going to fear, or even respect you guys? You’re a group called HAMS.”

“Maybe—um—vegans? I don’t know. We haven’t really gotten that far, I guess.”

Bernard had Ford’s interest, now. He had him hooked and all he had to do was get the attention of the others. He needed to start a real conversation about their future.

“Is there a place we could all talk, Ford? Like a large conference room? I think I could be a real asset to your alliance, if you all have the time to hear me out.”

“A pizza delivery driver?”

“What did Theodore say, now? I can’t let a single phrase like, ‘pizza delivery driver’ define me. I see a room full of intellectual intelligence, but where’s the direction? Where’s the creativity and passion?”

“I guess the guys wouldn’t mind at least listening—to see what you have to say and all.”

“That’s all I ask,” said Bernard as Ford led him to the conference room.

Bernard was ready to make the day, which took a turn to unordinary, ordinary again. Bernard was ready to make a change.

He will apply for the position of Creative Marketing Director for the Honorary Alliance of Mad Scientists (or HAMS).

*          *

Bernard and the many mad scientists met in the conference room for hours. They discussed changing the name of the group, finally settling on the Coalition of Honorable and Exceptional Mad Scientists (or CHEMS).

There was no confusion about their direction anymore. They hatched out a plan, which would begin on the Pacific Northwest coast and Northeastern coast simultaneously. They all agreed they wanted world domination, but conquering a country would be the way to start out. It’s important to get your feet wet first, which they all agreed upon (even the ones who didn’t know how to swim).

Their organization changed for the better, as well. They now had a clear power structure, from lowly henchmen to the council of elder scientists. They all agreed they wanted a new world order, but placing all the power into one mad scientist’s diabolical hands was dangerous. In the back of all their minds, they all knew they would be the one to assume power once they were done conquering.

As for Bernard, it didn’t turn out as well as he hoped. He was left without a job. On his way to the conference room he called his boss, cussing him out, telling him he’d never deliver another pizza again.

The little voice inside his head got ahead of itself it would seem.

The mad scientists didn’t hire him, obviously. They were the Coalition of Honorable and Exceptional Mad Scientists, not the Coalition of Honorable and Exceptional Mad Scientists and a Creative Marketing Director.

They took all his ideas, though. So there was that.

Then, after Bernard stumbled aimlessly to his car, and sat down inside, he began to count all the cash Ford gave him for the pizzas. Sad and frustrated, he put the car in gear and drove off.

No tip.

He gave them a plan to conquer the continental United States and establish a new world order, and they couldn’t even give him a damn tip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Incredibly Impressive Skill

Ronald always hit bull’s-eyes. It didn’t matter how much grub he gobbled, or how many stouts he downed. He always hit the little red circle in the center of the dart board. Everyone loved him at Chester’s Grub & Pub.

Most nights, some of the regulars would challenge Ronald and try to get him to slip. They’d give him shots of tequila (without lime & salt), cover his eyes with a blindfold, move the dartboard across the room, but he always hit his mark. One time someone called him out for having loaded darts, as if that was even possible. Ronald got Jean, one of the bartenders, to kick the naysayer out of the pub.

They all truly loved Ronald for his improbably accurate darts.

But on a summer night, the longest day of the year, in fact, Ronald wasn’t the only one in the pub with an incredibly impressive skill. Over in a corner booth, Damon sat, and finished off a tall glass of the bar’s cheapest IPA, which really wasn’t all too cheap. He asked Jean for another.

Jean placed another glass in front of him, and Damon gave her cash for the drink, plus another dollar for a tip. He only ever paid in cash, claiming the best bank was under his ass at night.

“Say, who’s that guy in the other corner playing darts?” Damon asked Jean.

“Oh, that’s Ronald,” she answered.

“Don’t think I’ve seen him miss the center.”

“Yeah, he never does. It’s fucking crazy.”

Damon leaned back in his booth, sipping on his IPA, as Jean walked back behind the bar. Foam covered his upper-lip, and for some odd reason he refused to wipe it off until all the beer was gone. It would have been quite hilarious if he wasn’t so big and burly.

He slammed the empty glass onto the table, and left his booth. A regular was shooting pool at the pool table opposite where Ronald was throwing darts. Damon walked over to join him.

“Hey, buddy, mind if I join?” asked Damon. The regular nodded, holding out his hand to shake.

“Willis.”

“Let’s play, Willis.”

Minutes later, it was apparent to everyone in the pub that Ronald was no longer the only one with an incredibly impressive skill. See, Damon never missed a shot in pool. Like Ronald, he could drink and drink, or eat and eat, but would never miss a shot.

Sometimes he was humble and only made one ball at a time. Often, though, he enjoyed knocking a few in on the same shot. It was his incredibly impressive skill and he liked to show it off from time to time.

Obviously, Willis lost the game, and the next one, and so did everybody else that challenged Damon. They all regretted having wasted four quarters.

Ronald soon noticed nobody in the pub was paying attention to him anymore. He thought he wasn’t the jealous type, but the fellow playing pool taking his spotlight was making him feel funny.

He never felt this feeling before. It was rage—no, hatred. How could there be another as skilled as him at Chester’s Grub & Pub? Of all the places in the city, it had to be Chester’s! He had been coming here for years, showing off his dart throwing, getting laid from time to time because of it, and never had there been anyone else as impressive as him.

But now there was.

He had to confront him. He had to hear him speak—to see if he truly was as impressive as himself.

Ronald walked over to the pool table and pushed his way through the crowd. Everyone cheered as Damon defeated his latest opponent, Arnold. An old lady went crazy, lifting her pint up as the eight-ball fell into the corner pocket, splashing the beer on Ronald as he passed.

“Ay—who do you think you are?” yelled Ronald.

“Damon. And you?”

“Ronald—what of it?”

“Well you asked for my name it’d be rude not to reciprocate.”

Ronald didn’t appreciate Damon hurling fancy words like “reciprocate” back at him. Maybe he really was more impressive than him?

No, he couldn’t be, Ronald thought, nobody could be.

“You want to cut out the pool? You’re causing quite the commotion,” said Ronald.

“Not particularly,” Damon responded.

Ronald couldn’t take it anymore. He looked Damon in the eyes and he understood. He was impressive, and he knew it, and there was nothing Ronald could do about it. He couldn’t be more impressive than he already was. He’d tried before but concluded that his impressiveness was maxed out.

“You need to leave—leave now,” Ronald ordered.

Then, Damon responded with the vilest, most demeaning phrase that could ever be uttered in Chester’s Grub & Pub that summer night, on the longest day of the year:

“Am I just too impressive for you, Ronald?”

Nobody actually saw what happened next.

Many claim they did, but it would have been impossible because of Ronald’s dart throwing abilities.

All the patrons in the pub saw, after Damon uttered his terrible insult, was two metal darts stuck into Damon’s eyes, and then Damon on the ground jostling in pain like a dying beast, and Ronald walking slowly over to him, and Ronald pulling the darts out of his eye sockets, and Ronald walking out of the pub one last time, dropping the darts behind him as he left the room.

You see, Ronald always hit a bull’s-eye, and this time he got his chance to hit two. Ronald, the dart-throwing bull, might possibly be more impressive now than Damon, the pool-shooting bull.

They probably shouldn’t have ever let Ronald into the pub.