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.

Have You Ever Been Arrested?

 

“Have you ever been arrested?”

This was one of the first questions my friend’s date asked him as they were headed out for dinner. Andrea rested her hand languidly on the steering wheel and looked at my friend expectantly.

“Um … no,” he said, glancing at her. “Have you?”

“Of course.”

Of course. Ben shifted slightly in his seat.  His friend had insisted he would like Andrea, even though Ben had sworn off blind dates for eternity. His last blind date had been a disaster, the girl (Dina? Diane? Dana?) sat silent and looked petrified, her eyes widening in horror when the waitress approached their table. 

But after seeing pictures of Andrea, he caved. Andrea was attractive, in a wholesome, all American sort of way. Her honey-colored hair, freckled nose, and brown eyes portrayed something light and airy, almost refreshing.

Now here they were, encapsulated in Andrea’s Honda Civic heading north. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, her being arrested. Maybe she was protesting for an honorable cause and was taken into custody for trespassing. Or perhaps she took the heat for a friend, allowing them to escape while she stood there bravely, letting the cops slap handcuffs on her dainty wrists.

Ben cleared his throat. “What were you arrested for?”

Andrea glanced at the road before resting her gaze on Ben’s face, unwavering. “Vandalism.”

“Vandalism?” Ben repeated. “Like, graffiti?”

“Nah. I keyed my ex boyfriend’s car.”

Ben wasn’t certain, but he thought his heart stopped beating for a split second. 

“You keyed your boyfriend’s car? Why?”

Andrea shrugged, staring ahead. “He broke up with me.”

Shit. This date had to end fast. The last thing he wanted was anything to happen to his BMW. His BMW was his baby, his pride and joy. This was the very reason he insisted Andrea drive. Their lunch destination was located on a road that hadn’t been paved in decades. Ben didn’t want to take the chance of pebbles or debris scratching his Beemer’s freshly waxed exterior. Now that paled in comparison to what Andrea could do.

“Wow,” was all Ben could muster. He frantically made plans. Act like a jerk, so she’ll never want to see you again. No … no. That may piss her off. She’ll track me down and disfigure my car. Boring! Be really boring so she’ll never want to see you again!

So Ben tried to be a dud. He sat stone-faced, like Dina (Dana? Diane?) and said very little. Andrea didn’t seem to notice. At one point she reached over and stroked his hand with her thumb, announcing how happy she was to be there with him. A sense of dread engulfed him. 

Driving home, Andrea started to plan their future. Ben panicked.

“I don’t think this is going to work out,” he said. Silence. He watched Andrea’s fingers tighten on the steering wheel, her knuckles turning a shade of white. “It’s not you. It’s me. I’m just not ready for anything …” 

Ben stopped talking. Were they going faster? The scenery flying by Ben’s window was gathering speed. He grabbed the edges of his seat. Andrea was facing forward, her foot gradually pressing down harder on the gas pedal.

“But I know someone perfect for you!” he blurted out.

He could feel Andrea’s body relax. Her foot eased off the accelerator. “Oh yeah? Who?”

“My buddy.” Frantically, Ben thought of his friends. Who would be attracted to someone like this?

“Which buddy?”

And then Ben thought of Doug. Doug who was always kicked out of bars for crazy behavior. Doug who just took it one step too far. Doug and Andrea would be perfect for each other.

“Doug.”

Doug?” she repeated. “What kind of name is that?”

But she was satisfied and dropped my friend off in one piece, but not without the orders of Doug contacting her immediately. On impulse, Ben went into the garage to check on his BMW before calling Doug.

“I’ve got a girl for you. But I’m warning you -she’s crazy,” he told Doug.

“Niiiice,” Doug said, “You know what they say. Crazy in the head, crazy in bed.”

And so, Andrea was handed off to Doug, who decided that even she was too nuts for him. But Ben’s BMW was never touched.

 

 

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 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.

Carly

 

He didn’t mean to like her as much as he did. After all, he was drunk when they first met. Very drunk. Besides, he never went to strip clubs. He knew how his wife felt about them. They agreed strip clubs were in the category of cheating, and his wife had that big, annoying squishy heart of hers that felt strip clubs were demeaning to women.  

Yet, here he was again with her. She went by the name Raven. It wasn’t her real name of course. Her real name was Carly, and she swore him to secrecy. No one knew her real name but him. She never told anyone, she said. And she liked being a stripper, he could tell. She really got into it. Plus, she was an afternoon/early evening stripper. Not like those trashy nighttime strippers. Carly was different. 

He tried not to think about his wife, who was home with the kids. In fact, his cell phone kept dinging with texts and pictures of the kids from her. He slid his hand into his pocket and turned the volume off. The time in the city was his time. 

His wife thought he kept returning to the city for business. She was so trusting and gullible that it was ridiculous, making it way too easy for him to hop on the train and see Carly. Every time he came home, he’d rush his suits to the cleaners, saying they got dirty on the train. And his wife would agree, saying MetroNorth needed a good scrubbing. Could she make this any easier for him?

Carly was small with caramel colored skin. Her hair was black and long and smelled spicy. Her breasts were obviously fake, but they felt good in his hands. His wife’s breasts were too small to get a full handful. Ever since her pregnancies they went from nice firm peaches to droopy little pears. Oh, how he had missed the feeling of his fingers wrapping around full, round breasts.

The lap dances, my God, the lap dances. So many of them. The way she moved on him was insane. She was like an exotic drug. Plus, her brother had died, she said. Committed suicide and she was stricken with grief. He listened to her, then she offered another lap dance as a thank you for listening. How could he say no? Her brother had just died.

Now, don’t get him wrong. He knew his wife was pretty with a nice shape. She didn’t let her body go like other dudes’ wives. She was still petite and thin – maybe even too thin. And their sex was great (even better when he pretended it was Carly). But his wife was too good, so run of the mill. Plus, she tended to argue with him sometimes. There was always something his wife needed to discuss. 

Carly always listened. She never argued with him. Granted, Carly was a little dumb but he liked that, it made him feel even more intelligent. Conversations with Carly were simple, yet somehow deep. He loved when he ordered food for them to share. It felt good to eat with her, like she wasn’t a stripper but just some really hot girl who was totally into him; who would climb onto his lap and take off her clothes and put his hands all over her body. Her skin was softer than silk.

When he walked into the club, the managers and bouncer knew he was there for Carly. He chuckled to himself, it was like ordering his usual at a coffee shop. Everyone knew what (or who) he wanted before he even opened his mouth. In fact, he had started reserving Carly in VIP rooms. Sure, it took some finagling with the credit card company, having to raise his credit limit and all. But having Carly (his usual) all to himself? He felt like a king.

Plus, then other dudes didn’t have access to her. He admitted he had become somewhat possessive of Carly. He didn’t want other guys watching her pole dance. He was possessive of his wife too, and now Carly. It made sense – he was a sensitive guy. He cared about both of them. 

Sometimes when he returned home his wife seemed extra annoying. Granted he was always hungover and his head throbbed. He would tell his wife he had a headache and she was compassionate, giving him shoulder massages. But then there was all that shit she asked him to do the next day. Pay the bills, help fold the laundry, run to the store for groceries. She didn’t work for Christ sakes. Why did he have to do everything?

Carly understood. She always did. He tried not to talk about his wife, but when he showed her pictures of the kids, sometimes the topic of his wife would come up. He didn’t have a lot of pictures of his wife on his phone. In a sense, it was like she was fading. She had lost that spot in his heart. Anyways, his kids were his pride and joy. 

Sometimes he worried his wife would find out about Carly and the club. It would destroy her, that he knew. And let’s not to mention the money he was spending here. He had maxed out a few credit cards, and that stupid savings for a new kitchen his wife wanted. That was long gone. His wife was so needy. Their kitchen was fine. Sure, the oven had broken and she was using the microwave and some little indoor grill to make meals, but life wasn’t easy for him either. 

So yeah, he spent their money on Carly. HIS money. His wife certainly wasn’t contributing financially. So maybe he was having trouble paying some bills. He told his dad he was having some financial stress, and that it was because his wife refused to work. He also told his dad that he met someone too, another woman. (He didn’t tell his dad that Carly was a stripper, he wasn’t that stupid.) His dad understood – his dad always understood. Anyways, his dad gave him money to get out of trouble, and he shared that he too had been involved with someone during his marriage to his mom. His dad was best the man he knew.  If his dad could have an affair, then anyone could. 

But he was also a good man, a good father, and a good husband. He knew he should stop coming here. He just couldn’t.