Put A Kitten on the Tip Jar (Unsolicited Advice)

As I may have mentioned, I once worked at a venerable* two-screen independent cinema, where the popcorn was fantastic — literally, the best ever; you will seek in vain its equal  — and the lamp house in the projection booth caught fire at least every other week.**

I cycled between box office and concessions, so I got to know about 2/3 of the non-managerial side of the business*** — the other component was being a projectionist, a job that everyone knew was well on its way out, which is why I didn’t actively push for “promotion.” Yeah, the extra dollar an hour made it a promotion, technically. People may stop making and watching movies on film, but I swear to God, they will NEVER cease to pay cash money for crap OR to cram food in their faces; some gigs truly are recession-proof.

Also, it wasn’t the 90s, which is probably the last time a person could take an offbeat, obsolete niche job and still be considered cool and edgy, as opposed to idiotic.

Anyway, at the concession counter, there was a glass tip jar. At some point, perhaps during an especially tedious matinee, some enterprising soul had flipped through our local independent weekly for its Adoptable-Pet-of-the-Week, clipped a photo of a tiny, adorable kitten and then taped it to the tip jar.

"the importance of tips"

When you don’t tip, KITTENS DIE.

Tips increased exponentially.

Why? I don’t know. People like kittens, I guess.

Logically, there’s no reason to put more (or any) money into a jar just because it happens to have a picture of a cat on it. I mean, it’s not as if we pooled our tips at the end of each shift and collectively gifted it to “Pepper Potts,” the fluffy, 12-week-old tortoiseshell scooped off the mean streets of, um, Saxapahaw (?) by the Animal Protection Society.

There was absolutely no connection between the kitten and the jar. But it didn’t matter. When the picture eventually fell off the jar, the money slowed to a trickle. When the picture was reattached, people once again started shoving dollar bills into the cup as if Pepper’s very survival depended upon it — and, honestly, it might have. This state has a lot of high-kill shelters. But let’s pretend that Pepper found a safe, loving “fur-ever home.”

If I’d been earning more than $6/hr and living on more than stale popcorn****, I’d have tried my hand at a bit of “citizen economics” to see if there were interesting patterns. The difference between, say, tabbies and tuxedos? Long-haired vs. short-haired? Male vs. female? Missing parts or all limbs present and accounted for? What about extra toes? Was there was an optimal age range for tip jar kittens and could this be reliably plotted on some kind of graph? Did life circumstances play a role — i.e. would the skittish ginger tom rescued from the storm drain beat out the serene single mother who, herself little more than a baby, given birth to her brood under someone’s porch during a hurricane?

Obviously, someone could still do this study. Not me, but someone.

And so, this might sound like a weird piece of advice, but…if you work at an establishment that has a tip jar, put a picture of a kitten on it.

I swear, it works. I don’t know why, but it works.

And that’s your free, unsolicited advice for the day. Use it well and you might be able to buy an entire burrito.


*Walker Percy, author of The Moviegoer, actually watched movies there. Wrap your mind around that.
**This place had film projectors! With giant reels of film, on platters! Which were dropped off and picked up by a distributor’s representative, always with the urgent (and completely unnecessary) cloak-and-dagger secrecy of a hostage exchange or a drug deal.
***Listening to my boss complain about how operating an independent movie theater was the most expeditious route to penury in existence taught me the rest.
****Still the best, even past its sell-by date.
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