Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tipping . . . the other way

Last year (or maybe it was the year before . . . or the year before that . . . I'm old enough now that it starts to blend together), around the holidays, NPR did a little human interest story on tipping service people during the holidays. They interviewed a number of New York doormen to see just how generous the tips were in the Big Apple. They were reported to be considerable -- some were pulling in ten to fifteen G's in December alone. It was a generally upbeat piece, marvelling at the fiscal generosity of a city otherwise not disposed to kindness to strangers.

This year, on American Public Media's Marketplace Morning Report, I heard them start into a tipping-during-the-holidays-in-New-York segment. "Jeez," I thought. "That was a tight news cycle, especially for public radio. Didn't they do the same story last year?" But this time it was a little different. They interviewed the people who gave the tips, just like they did the year before, and they said much of the same things: "When somebody has been here for a really very long time, you do have a kind of a family feeling, a rapport with each other. . . "

But then they went fishing for the dark side: "Are there some people you don't want to tip?" "Oh yeah, absolutely! We have a superintendent, who doesn't earn his tip. But it's almost like you tip just in case. You tip so that he doesn't do something evil. You tip as protection."

And the doormen were a little more forthcoming, too: yes, some guys who go the extra mile can make up to 15 grand in tips, but really that only makes up for what they're not making the rest of the year. And they definitely are not treated like family: "Twenty-six years here, family no, help yes."

* * *

I had a few thoughts about the piece. My first reaction was, "How very American Public Media." Marketplace is ferociously liberal, especially for a business news program, and it doesn't surprise me that they let the servants get the last word. And it seems especially vicious to take something as seemingly good as freely-given-gifts and turn it into a nexus for class warfare.

On the other hand . . . it was well done. It's not often that you have a reporter get on both sides of a transaction to show how both sides are seeing it. News often bifurcates coverage into "both sides of the story", but usually that's either two openly opposing camps who have marked out their positions, or two cooperating parties that have tightly scripted talking points. Some candid reactions to a daily ritual . . . that is actually something to think about. It made me start to think about myself . . . how am I perceived, when I toss down a dollar next to my Waffle House plate?

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