The tipping gods must be crazy

I was among the first people in my circle to tip the carhop at Sonic. I’ve also given gratuities to my mail carrier, garbage man and the delivery guy who charged me exhorbitantly for filling my propane tank after hours. Once, I was even accused of being gauche for tipping $10 on a $20 haircut.

In full disclosure, I’ve also left pennies and a coarse napkin note for a server who seemed to require intense therapy and anger management classes.

The common denominator in all of those events: the tip happened after the service was rendered.

During the past few weeks, we have patronized three restaurants that request tips upon paying the tab — before the meal is served. All three businesses employed a counter ordering system in which customers pay in advance via a crowd-visible iPad. The system is similar to ordering at a fast food restaurant, except I’ve yet to hit up a McDonald’s or Whataburger that puts the patron in such a precarious position.

Have we really arrived at such preposterousness?

During my vent to a longtime friend recently about this advanced tipping thing, he abruptly cut me off. “Hate it,” he twice repeated as I started to explain why such a practice is just … backward. This old friend, by the way, very much lives by the same gratuity code as Lawrence Tierney’s mob boss character Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs.

Mr. Pink: “I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, I mean I’ll tip if someone really deserves a tipping, if they really put forth the effort, I’ll give them something extra, but I mean this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. I mean as far as I’m concerned they’re just doing their job.”

A little later in the scene…

Joe Cabot : “He don’t tip? Whaddaya mean you don’t tip?”
Mr. Orange : “He don’t believe in it.”
Joe Cabot: “Shut up!”

Just like Joe Cabot, my friend always seems to think that everyone should throw their share in the tip pile. But advance tipping?

“It’s an age-based thing,” he told me. “It’s much like these fucking kids who don’t understand that ‘No problem.’ is not the proper way to respond to someone who says ‘Thank you.'”

In her Wall Street Journal article You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin? The Awkward Etiquette of iPad Tipping, author Jennifer Levitz writes: Tip jars have long sat on counters, but consumers have all sorts of viable excuses for avoiding them or tossing in just a few coins, such as not having the right change, according to Michael Lynn, a professor and tipping expert at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Not so, he says, with the electronic tip prompts that explicitly require consumers to opt out of gratuities. “You can’t even pretend like you forgot,” he says. “It clearly ups the social pressure to tip.”

Though my experiences occurred long after Levitz’ article hit the pages, I totally concur.

My first experience caught me way off guard. It was advertised and reviewed (by the Houston Chronicle) as a higher end eatery. It never occurred to me that such upper scale restaurants usually employ waitstaff who wear ebony-colored slacks and bow ties. Here, I read my order from a chalkboard while standing at a counter. The polite lady, after asking me if I’d like dessert, directed me to the 12.9-inch iPad screen to settle up.

Because it was dinner and because there was a line in my rear view mirror, I tapped the 20 percent button — $10 for a $50 order that I ordered no differently than had I been a Dairy Queen patron. Just as important, I was responsible for filling my tea glass and selecting my flatware from cafeteria-style compartments. Indeed, someone delivered my meal to the table, and someone was nice enough to reappear halfway through my meal to inquire as to whether I might want to change my mind about dessert.

As delicious as the food truly was, the apparent tip-shaming left a layer of rancidity on my taste buds.

Tipping in advance is nothing new, by the way. But the rules have changed over time. Historians have pretty much proven the TIP acronym To Insure Promptness as lore. Still, the practice hasn’t always been the exception. My friend pointed out to me that his father regularly offered a portion of the gratuity up front so that servers and stewards weren’t always “betting on the come.”

I’m curious though what his reaction would have been had the advance tip been requested via an iPad in the company of onlookers.

No problem? No way!

Quit bitching and wear the damn mask!

Face masks.

If I’d told you a year ago that masks would be the poster … thing … for human, constitutional and even abortion rights, you’d pass me off as crazy. Perhaps I am, but I would’ve been spot on.

It’s true that protesters of face masks have used the battle cry “My body! My choice!” while others have hung their hats on the First Amendment (free speech) in their disdain for a five-inch-square cloth that was designed to cover to the nose and mouth. There are numerous accounts out there of people who are abusive in their attempts to shop and dine in businesses that require face coverings.

Just this week, a bar patron in Houston caused the barkeep 10 stitches and a concussion by smashing his forehead with a glass. The reason? The bartender reminded the customer that masks were a requirement in the county and establishment. No word yet on the attacker’s excuse for such a violent assault. My guess: He’s a narcissist … with some psychosis thrown in.

Know that I’m neither a lefty nor a snowflake. I’m just a guy who prefers that everything makes sense.

I live in Texas, where I was born and raised. Not only do we own the record for capital punishment, we also get to drive 85 mph on certain roads, and many of us pack enough heat to rob a bank. These are our inalienable rights, after all.

Despite widespread belief, the gun thing here isn’t necessarily a Wild West fiasco.

I own a shotgun that resembles a pistol. It has a broom handle grip , and short barrel and a pump. When discharged, it can be heard half a mile away. Its appearance is mean. If you’re on the receiving end of it, this weapon most assuredly will maim you — if not send you into the afterlife.

Having this weapon, according to the Second Amendment, is my right. But the constitution does not preclude me from qualifying to own this deadly piece of machinery.

In fact, I’ve never been arrested. Neither have I received a traffic citation. I’m an Eagle Scout. I have a master’s degree. Not to mention, I qualified once to adopt a child. Regardless, I was required to swear this and promise that — in addition to submitting to a federal background check — before I was able to walk out the door with my new gun. Interestingly, it was much the same as getting my first driver’s license, minus the 20-minute driving test with the overweight state trooper.

The masks though…

Truth be told, in my 50 years on this rock, I’ve only worn masks on Halloween and occasionally when mowing the fields during a drought. I despise them for many reasons, not the least of which is the coffee breath that causes me to replace my masks on a regular basis. Admittedly though, the face coverings have come in handy for days that I don’t feel like shaving. They also provide a built-in disguise for obscuring my occasional snarky facial expressions. But those are just personal observations.

While the average mask does not provide ironclad defense against spreading or contracting viruses, we do know that it improves our odds … just like an SPF 50 betters our chances of not getting sunburned on the lake or at the beach. Or, more appropriately, just as a seat belts improve our chances at surviving a car crash. Have I somehow missed the protests against sunscreen and air bags?

Where were the objectors when the government told us that cooking pork to 145F was safe? Were they too busy protesting the surgeon general’s warning that smoking causes cancer?

I have every right to eat raw pork or spend the day near the waves with nary a drop of applied sunscreen lotion. Those actions might result in unfortunate consequences — for only me. If I decide to speed through traffic or fire my gun into the air over my neighborhood, I’ve crossed a line. Yours.

Face masks are required but ill-enforced in most areas. In other words, they’re a choice with virtually no punishment for non-conformists, other than an evil eye here and there. When you refuse to wear one, particularly with the massive amount of information out there as to how they protect you and others, you’re just being a horse’s ass. Not to mention, you’re crossing my line.

You believed in science when you bought those hand warmers for your hunting trip or chose to have your children vaccinated on schedule. You certainly believed in statistics and physics when you chose the .40 caliber over the 9mm … or the eight cylinder engine instead of the six banger version. And, when is the last time you dined on medium rare pork chops?

Finally, if you believe that masks are an infringement on your rights, what are your thoughts about clothing? After all, if covering your nose and mouth with flimsy cloth is something akin to communism, I can only imagine your suffering because of shirts, shoes and trousers.

Double standards abound

I’m 50.

I am a lifelong asthmatic. That’s probably my mother’s fault, since folks didn’t know in the late 1960s that smoking a pack (daily) of Benson & Hedges might affect your unborn child.

I’ve lived with diabetes for a decade, along with high blood pressure and cholesterol issues for which I require daily medication. Those problems are my own fault. After all, I’ve always believed that fried is a food group. Not to mention, watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers and Lemonhead candies have been my go-to for longer than I can remember.

Yet, I go about my business — socially distanced and with a mask. I wash my hands too, but that’s nothing new since I’m a lifelong germaphobe.

Like most others, I frequent the local grocery store, gas station and my workplace. Despite the real statistics that involve diagnoses, illnesses and even deaths, I seem to see more and more people who appear to be in denial.

I’m not political in my beliefs and actions. In fact, I’m the most centrist person that I know. Yet, during a weekend visit to my local H.E.B., I noticed several people brazenly shopping with nary a mask.

“Trump people,” I thought. At some point, they were led to believe that masks were wrong … that the U.S. Constitution didn’t require protecting one’s inhale and exhale. And I was likely correct. It’s true that our president has effectively been in denial about this pandemic, if only because of the many gatherings he has organized in lieu of medically based warnings against such.

But there are others.

I work with people whose jobs require them to do their jobs in person. Most of them follow the rules by masking up, keeping their distance from others and sanitizing their hands to the point of being constantly chapped. Despite these preventatives, the risks remain.

Many of these same people take care of medically fragile elders. And though they seem nervously content about their own daily routines, they insist that their school-aged children play by different rules as virtual learners.

The statistics are real. Children who are being schooled virtually are failing as a whole.

Sure, some virtual students are passing their courses. Some are even acing their lessons. But many of them are also missing out on the all-so-important socialization that goes along with traditional school. So too are many children suffering mental anguish throughout this ordeal. Pick your search engine and source: depression and mental anxiety among children is way up since this time last year.

Where are our priorities?

Of course, most of us put health and safety and the top of our list. That’s totally understandable. But, if we are willing to follow the rules and work in-person, what do we expect to accomplish by not insisting that our children do the same — by masking up, keeping clean … and not hugging everyone during the passing periods?

Fact is, most of us are guilty of mingling with co-workers. We find their familiarity comfortable, after all. But many of us also rub plenty of elbows — as inadvertently as it may be — at the supermarket, gas station, and even at our mailboxes (When’s the last time you wore gloves to check your mail?).

The only way to be (arguably) truly safe is total solitude … all of us.

But if health and safety are your concerns in a world where co-mingling is expected, should you not expect the same from your children as you work to experience every day?

Do they not deserve such important life lessons from us?

Oh, how I miss my antagonists

I thought that I despised people … until now.

I’m a public relations practitioner by trade. My job is to help control the narrative. Our truth.

People are my number one enemy, with their doubt and dissension, despite that I provide our gospel. As a journalist-at-heart, I appreciate them. Still, they annoy me.

They ask questions that I’ve already answered. Often, they believe that I’m keeping something from them. Truth is, I’m the middle-man.

I craft the messages to be understandable by the masses. My messages are usually translated and disseminated within minutes. I’m not paid for.

Yet, they doubt. Disagree. Spew conspiracy theories of an improbable bigger picture at times.

I am a father, husband, friend and confidant. I lie only to myself … about things like my over-eating, over-drinking, and even my ability as a romancer. But it stops there.

People, as it turns out, are my number one enemy — and my priority.

I disagree with them and their popular opinions. I despise their lack of reasoning. I often think of them as lemmings jumping from a cliff.

But I also know that my opinion about them was way shortsighted. This pandemic and my lack of real contact have proven that to me.

I miss the quandaries they handed me. I lament their doubtful moments. The lack of questions from them has left me emptier than I would have ever expected.

I love them more than I realized and cannot wait for the dissension to commence once again.

Trapped in the COVID-19 thing?

Like billions of my earthly counterparts, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to staying at home these days. Our elected leaders are suggesting it, and my employer is requiring it. All considered, these are smart moves aimed at quelling a viral bloodbath.

Still, as a relatively healthy middle-aged guy, I must admit that grocery store lines and restaurant closings are … necessary inconveniences. Just today, for example, I stood in line to enter a regional grocery store; I was also forced to order my Saturday night Chinese food to go. If that’s not enough, I had to answer a handful of work emails, as we prepare to do our thing virtually.

Woe is me.

But there are so many positives that have arisen thus far during this imposed shelter-in-place. The following are my top ten.

No more dress code
Aside from about six years as the owner-operator of a tree nursery, my professional adult life has required button-downs, chinos, daily shaving, and the occasional tie. These days, I’m wearing flip-flops and athletic shorts. Oddly, I still abide by the daily shaving routine. I only wish our boy would submit to daily showering so easily.

Who knew my kid started puberty?
Admit it. Most of us are so committed to being pretty (and right) on social media, that real-life stuff tends to be put aside. I deleted my Facebook account months ago, but it took me a while to recover and rejoin the real world. It was not until the COVID-19 situation that I realized our son felt that water was merely for drinking. He’s a good — great — kid. Puberty though. It gets funky. To everyone at his school: I’m sorry that we didn’t insist on deodorant before this whole pandemic. Indeed, (Dad) spent his middle school years masking everything with Brut aerosol. My bad. Never again.

Baseball
First things first: I’m a lifelong fan of the Texas Rangers. My runner-up fave is the Philadelphia Phillies. As for you folks who have been calling out the Astros for cheating? Thank goodness you have something else to worry about. Truth is, COVID-19 is much more serious than a baseball team that banged trash cans to indicate pitches. Still, so many of you jumped on the bandwagon, as if your team didn’t attempt the same thing … and as if the player’s union didn’t arrange for immunity for those players who admitted the sketchy schemes.

Funky family tree branches
I’ve been an ancestry.com guy for a couple of years. I’m German. And I’m Jewish. During these weeks at home, my research has yielded some deep dark secrets about a couple of great-grandfathers. Nifty. Fun.

Television
Like so many other people, I’m catching up on some Netflix binges. Television is as good now as it has ever been, as far as production quality. Still, M*A*S*H, All in the Family and The Flintstones are among the best all-time shows for a variety of reasons. Thank goodness I can avoid The Bachelor and other so-called highly rated reality productions in my occasional escapes.

Finally, a clean freezer
By my count, we’ve already added more than $1,000 back to our budget because … drive-thru windows. Sure, I want to support local businesses. But it occurred to me the I have already supported many of them during a Saturday afternoon organization of my freezer. Just today, I went to slice a cured smoked pork belly for bean soup, before realizing that it was a brisket portion that I’d cured for pastrami. I bought all the ingredients locally. Because of my poor freezer organization, however, another $30 from our budget went into someone else’s pocketbook this weekend. We’ll organize before it’s all said and done, thanks to our recent purchase of freezer tape and a permanent marker. Thankfully, for our local restaurateurs, I have uncontrollable hankerings for hot & sour soup, chimichangas, and fried chicken.

Cleanliness … It’s about damn time
Barely three days into this situation, and I’m getting my ass jumped for leaving my coffee cup in the sink. I. Love. This. We are a dishwashing, clothes ironing, air conditioning filter-changing people. We also have a tendency to get sloppy. My bride has gone nuclear on keeping this place sterile. This dude will abide.

From the classroom
My wife is a second-career teacher. Back in the day, I heard all kinds of nursing stories. These days, I hear stories from the classroom. Though I’ve had my moments in politely maintaining (so many stories mirror the same stories from the day, week and year before), I found myself missing the daily sessions. Though the virtual sessions aren’t as personable, I think I’ll get my fill just the same. Particularly because we’re spending 24 hours a day together.

Honesty, at last
I’m an Eagle Scout. And, for those who don’t know, the first point of the Scout Law is honesty. So, being totally honest, I’ve lied for the better part of my life when I ask “How are you?” (C’mon. You’re just as guilty!) These days, though, my question is sincere. Some of us are suffering physically. Most of us are mentally fragile these days. I know that I am. So, when I ask, I really want to know. Perhaps we can help one another cope. Once this passes, however, I’ll be back to faking that question. (And so will you.)

Kissing the cook
I love to cook, and I have the tools to prove it. (Little known fact: My favorite lady married me because I owned a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.) I smoke, braise, fry, sous vide, and even reduce on a regular basis. Like many others, though, I’ve done more than my fair share of drive-thru windows. Admittedly, I’m a five-year Yelp elite member … with enough restaurant reviews to float a flotilla. Not these days, though. Just this afternoon, I made my own egg noodles. It’s not something I want to do every day, but they beat the hell out of the dried store version. Tomorrow — mainly because I don’t want to brave the store — I’ll be making my own chili con carne for Tex-Mex night. Fun.

It is my sincere hope that everyone can find 10 positives about being a shut-in and that they remain healthy — physically and emotionally — in the process.

Nature vs. Nurture — Part IV

October 2, 2019

Dear Child, 

You did it again, kid. My heart is broken.

It is the second time in as many weeks that your choices have widened the scars that already existed because of you.  You stole from me, and now you’re moving away.

If there were ever a person I wanted to hate, it is you.  It would be so much easier.

Your mother sent word of your imminent departure this afternoon, and I didn’t receive it until it was time to leave the office. My memories of you – us – nudged all other thoughts on the long drive home today. I cried through three cities.

Damn you for that. 

I entered your life when we were both much younger. Those early years were tough for both of us, and anyone who ever felt they needed to pick a side. But we grew. Together.

Remember our first Halloween together? We convinced your mother to dress you in a more traditional costume, versus the biblical characters that embarrassed you so much. I always thought young Moses, with the basket around your waist, was quite creative and fun. Still, I understood your desire to wear ruby slippers and braided pigtails.

Do you remember sitting in the backseat of the car and giving me directions to the store? They were nothing more than guesses on your part. Though that episode remains among my fondest memories, it was hauntingly telling.

You spin yarn.

The golden versions have happened here and there, such as the time you informed us that you were the only beginner clarinet player to make the All-Region Band, or when you more recently announced that you received a scholarship to attend a distinguished school for aspiring beauticians. Far more often than not, however, your yarns are hued yellow, which is the color of deceit.

I love you. I hurt for you. I’m afraid for you. I’m afraid for me.

I fear that you are beyond the grace of anyone who offers it. I hurt because you keep falling and don’t seem to care anymore about standing. I fear that you have only one more of these emotional blows in your arsenal … except, you won’t be here to recover.

I’m heartbroken, kid. Please don’t take you from me.

Love always,

Dad

Nature vs. Nurture — Part III

April 10, 2015

Dear Son,

You won’t remember today. You are seven. Your morning started as a disappointment because we told you that you’d have to buy lunch in the school cafeteria. I came to your rescue at 11:15, but it is you who should get the credit for rescuing someone.

When I ordered your turkey sandwich with lots of extra black olives and a side of oil & vinegar, I never realized that it would be the catalyst for one of my favorite memories. For once, I arrived at your school before your lunch period and made my way to the cafeteria with our lunches in tow. My timing rewarded me, much in the same way that Atlantic Coast beaches reward early risers.

Soon after I settled in and prepped our lunch spread, the first-grade classes began filing in. One by one I caught glimpses of the teachers leading their students into the room, each time feeling anxious and then disappointed. Until I spotted your teacher … and you.

By the time you read this I hope you will have experienced at least of few perfect moments in time, such as looking up at the sky at the exact point that a meteorite shoots across the horizon, or glancing out the car window just in time to see a whooping crane take flight from an obscure patch of grass. When you’ve experienced moments like these, you’ll know how I felt when I looked across that cafeteria today and made eye contact with you.

Your wide grin – with those two missing front teeth – was as cute as a litter of boxer puppies. When I waved to make sure we were actually looking at each other, you pointed then waved in response. When you broke from your line and headed in my direction your smile continued to grow. And so did mine. Most of the time it’s not so good to run out of sandwich bread in the middle of the week. But this week was different.

As a boy, my mom would sing to me ‘You are my sunshine,’ and I think I’ve finally realized why. I pray that you are able to find joy in the little things like I found today. I pray also that I realize more often that these really aren’t little things at all.

You won’t remember this day. But I’ll never forget it, Sunshine.

I love you.
Dad

Nature vs. Nurture – Part II

The author originally wrote and published this piece in March 2014. 

‘Mom, I’m glad I’m not adopted,’ the little boy said out of the blue.

‘Really,’ she responded. ‘Why do you say that?’

‘Because, if I was adopted you wouldn’t love me as much.’

It had been more than five years since the boy made the transition into his new family. He was about a year old when Child Protective Services placed him with his foster family.

He doesn’t remember the days of crawling around a small government-subsidized apartment as his biological mother and her guests — many of whom she didn’t know — lay sleeping on floors and couches. Though it was one of his earliest sensory experiences, he can’t identify marijuana smoke. Nor has he imagined that drinking straws are also used to inhale the poisonous vapors of scorched methamphetamine.

And he doesn’t recall the hours in court, where attorneys and social workers made their cases on his behalf.

‘Well, you know we love you more than anything,’ the mom said.

‘I know,’ the little boy responded, ‘because I’m not adopted.’

His young memory is instead crowded with Disney characters and Sunday dinners; a cruise ship that he refers to as the boat; a stuffed duck that was his Linus blanket; and pizza bites. Enough pizza bites to float a cruise ship.

The boy’s parents never considered having another child. In fact, they were done with diapers, well-baby doctor visits and school supply lists that included sleeping mats. All of their high-chairs and strollers had been given away or sold at a garage sale. They were ready for vacations and some weekends alone.

But they saw an injustice.

He deserved better than to be left alone or to witness his mother trade favors for drugs. Every child does. This boy, however, was one of the fortunate ones. For certain, his biological mother loved him. But her stronger bond was with her lifestyle. And he’d become a novelty.

‘You know, many people who put their children up for adoption love them very much,’ the mom explained. ‘And the people who adopt them really want them in their family.’

‘I’m just glad I’m not adopted,’ he responded. ‘And I’m glad you and dad love me more than an adopted son.’

In time, the boy will begin asking questions. His parents – my wife and I – will offer him answers. We will be forthcoming and matter-of-fact. That will include letting him know that life happens and that he is our grandson, but really our son.

We will also tell him that we love him with all of our hearts. Forever. And I suspect that he’ll believe us.