Like What You Like, a Pirate Taught me That

I don’t know why I was thinking of this earlier today, but I’m glad I was. And don’t get ahead of me thinking there was some clutch moment where that life lesson of self-acceptance saved the day. Nope, just a mundane day at work where the thought caught me and it made me smile. In fact, with this lengthy preamble, I’m already treating this nugget of life advice like it’s some unknowable secret I’ve mastered that you probably haven’t figured out yet. Psh.

It was a scholastic book faire, circa 2006. I’m in middle school, and I should preface (some more) that I went to a tiny, tiny Lutheran private school – and yes, it was about as cool as that sounds. It wasn’t because of any sort of privileged position, either. Just that it was right by our house and my mom wanted to do her best as a parent. In truth, I would now as I would have then traded in my time for the same years spent at a public school where I could have begun cultivating meaningful friendships sooner.

At the Lutheran school I attended, it was Kindergarten through 8th Grade with around 120 kids – total. TOTAL. That meant that if you didn’t fit in with your 15 or so classmates, it was tough nuts, because you were stuck with those same 15 kids your entire time there.

I did not fit in with my classmates.

By my memory, their interests largely ranged between baseball, horror movies, Top-40 pop music, none of which interested me. Baseball? Not a sports guy. Horror movies? I’ll take a comedy, thank you. Pop music? I like Metallica. And I played D&D and read manga, things that only nowadays are sniffing “cool” territory (except you, manga, you’re still a pariah from what I hear).

So yeah, book faire.

We peruse the pencils, browse the books, and excavate the piles of colorful erasers looking for favorites, and exit into the gymnasium. Two other boys, we’ll call them Jimmy and Timmy, are poring over their haul, namely a couple of sports magazines. They ask what I came out with, and I show them: an issue of Shonen Jump with Monkey D. Luffy on the cover.

For those not in The Know, One Piece was a cartoony pirate adventure, and that grinning doof in the middle is Luffy, the happy-go-lucky pirate captain protagonist

I still remember the looks on their faces and the sound of them laughing at me. And especially as an eleven-year-old, I’d been defensive and embarrassed before. I knew the reflex to hide it in my backpack and say, “Yeah, no, it’s kinda dumb. It’s for my-” blah blah blah.

But today was different.

I don’t know where it came from or why, but a muse of some kind came out of the ether, broke into my thoughts, and said, “You know what? No. Fuck these guys. One Piece is cool, and I like this.”

It wasn’t anger behind the thought, either, just complete and total dismissal. Their thoughts and opinions on my interests could NOT bother me one bit. And I credit Luffy’s dorky grin, now that I think back on it. He felt like backup, telling me it was totally alright to enjoy the things I found enjoyable, other people’s thoughts on the matter be damned.

And good goddamn am I ever grateful that lesson occurred to me as a kid. I think we all know someone who – or maybe ourselves struggle with this – lets the opinions of others dictate their interests and pastimes.

Bottom line is this: Like what you like, be secure in your opinions because your the one who they’re for. Try new things, sure. And if someone wants to disparage your interests, like your an adult who likes video games and cartoons or someone in a biker gang that enjoys crochet, just realize it’s the limitation of that person’s worldview. Take pleasure in the things you like.

Or else, hell, what else are we even here for?

Ciao for now.

Tenacity is the Key to Arm-Wrestling a Giant

I’ve mentioned once or twice the life-changing trip I was lucky enough to make when I was sixteen, a student ambassadorship program called People-to-People. It was a mashed together group of about thirty of us Californian kids with another gaggle of maybe a dozen Texas teenagers, and all in all we traveled across six countries around Western Europe: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. We were escorted by several chauffeurs who were part of the program, a couple tour guides, and our mainstay coach driver: Bjorn.

Bjorn was a big Austrian guy. Stout, dense with muscle beneath the padding, tall, and I’m sure his damn bones were heavier than a normal man’s. As a rambunctious sixteen-year-old, I knew a trophy when I saw one. So while going about our way in the U.K. (rhyme like that deserves a song, I think), I challenged him to an arm-wrestling match. His reply? A big, jovial smile and a bellowed, “Heh-heh-heh. No.”

Was that enough of a signal for me? Of course not. So for weeks, literal weeks, I pestered him. We saw the Louvre, the Palace at Versaille, the famous Dutch windmills and fields of tulips, Bonn, Germany, and so many other sights, and every step of the way I’m bugging Bjorn: “How about now, big guy?” “Aw, what? Scared of me? Weird, but probably good.” “Come on, I’ll make it quick. I promise.”

I carry on so much, so loudly and consistently, that over the course of the trip it becomes a point of interest for the rest of my travelmates. But every time, his answer is the same: “Heh-heh-heh. No.”

Finally, we’re at a hotel in Switzerland for our last night celebrating with a big old dinner and dance in fancy clothes. It was great! We had food, friends, music, some memories we’re already reminiscing over, and others being made that night to last a lifetime.

It was only missing one thing…

So I found Bjorn sitting by himself enjoying a book in the hotel’s rather sparse lobby. I approach, confident yet almost pleading, and ask again. “Bjorn. Man. It’s our last day. Can I finally crush you in an arm-wrestling match?” Around me is a small group of friends who’d heard I was going to pester him again. He looks from me, to the others, to his book. With a short sigh, he fits in the bookmark and sets it down, then with a big, beaming smile says, “Okay.”

You’d think he told us we’d won the lottery. We explode with excitement, and my buddy Peter runs off to grab a camera (phones didn’t have reliable cameras by default, back then – Christ that ages me some). We find a suitable table, a ring of spectators encircles us, Peter starts rolling the camera, Bjorn and I clasp hands and set our elbows, and with a nod show we’re ready. We get someone to referee, and they wave the flag (<ahem> napkin <ahem>) for us to start.

Immediately, I lean in full-bore. I’ve talked this up for weeks and poked the bear, I would not be made a fool of so easily now. So I throw my full weight and strength and strain into beating Bjorn. I will not let up, I will not give in, I will not allow myself to lose. And to my utter astonishment, I’m actually holding my own. Obviously I’m not demolishing him, but I’m actually being competitive. Our clasped hands are wavering at high noon, neither side able to gain ground, but also not losing it. This is amazing!

Then I see his face…

He…he was so calm, it was like he was holding the door open for a nice lady rather than arm-wrestling for life and honor.

So I ask him, my voice straining as I blink away the sweat, “Bjorn, are you even trying?”

His response? “Heh-heh-heh. No.”

At which point, he slams my hand back onto the table so quickly and with such absolute power he might as well have thrown me out the window.

If someone only tells you stories about times where they win, it’s an almost sure mark of insecurity and they’re almost certainly lying. With that understanding in place, let me tell you with utmost confidence that Bjorn kicked my ass that night. And you know what? It was awesome.

Circus Throws and the Value of Perception

Being a kid in high school means being an idiot, or at least it did in my case. You do dumb stuff, and you’re supposed to. Most will say that it’s because it’s for the experience of growing and becoming wiser, but that’s only about half of it. The main reason is because, if you survive it, you should come out of it with some funny stories to tell people later. Yes, of course, you should learn from them too, but they should also be good at parties.

This one was sort of a lesson in what happens when you give power to those who aren’t ready for it, kind of like teaching an unstable person forbidden martial arts. You’re arming them with an ability they aren’t otherwise fit to use. Such was the case when some poor idiot taught two other poor idiots how to perform what they called a “circus lift.”

Basically, you grab your left wrist with your right hand while standing opposite someone else doing the same, and then you each grab the other persons right wrist with your open left hand. What you should have between you when you’re done is basically a net of your arms. We were told – unwisely, as time would show – is that you can toss willing participants really, really high when you have them sit on your newfound arm-net. Just bend with the knees, count to three, and launch them.

And you know what? It works. It really, really works.

My buddy Peter and I became a regular sideshow attraction most lunch periods by the Senior Steps, taking volunteers and hucking them up into the air. We got good at it and an eensy, teensy bit famous for it. So it just became what we did for a few weeks. Then we had That Day happen. You know the one, the one that earns those capital letters, and the fateful dun-dun-duuuun piano bass.

It had rained pretty heavily the night before, and our usual launch pad was the grassy slope next to the Steps. As you could imagine, it was still slick and muddy by the time lunch came around, and that should have given our regularly schedule launches cause for postponement. But this wouldn’t be the Tale of Two Idiots if we did that. So of course we kept throwing people that day. (And in our defense, it should be The Tale of About a Dozen Idiots given how people kept stepping up, despite the slippery conditions.)

It comes to our last throw of the day, and a friend of ours steps up – we’ll call her Ana, for the sake of this. So Ana sheds her backpack, takes a seat, we do our countdown, we launch her, and…well, you know those times you get a feeling? A Bad Feeling? It’s the moment directly after doing some irrevocable that forces you to raise your eyebrow a bit and think, “Uh-oh. That might have been a bad idea.”

Right away, you can see that Ana’s trajectory and mid-air balance are off. She went pretty high, too. The way she hit her arc and is on her way down doesn’t look too promising, but there’s nothing to do but cringe and see how she ultimately sticks the landing.

She does not stick the landing.

What happens is she breaks her damn ankle. It was a loud, pretty sickening cracking sound that I can still hear pretty clearly in my head when I think about it. I remain pretty proud of my instincts, because I didn’t waste any time in acting. It was pretty clear precisely what had happened, and I’m off to the nurse like a lightning bolt. I’ve always been a tall kid, and as a seventeen-year-old Energizer Bunny, I made really good time. I get to the nurse, quickly explain what’s happened, and lead her to the site of the accident.

The only problem is that I didn’t tell anyone I was doing that. So to everyone else, I just threw this girl in the air, heard her ankle break, and Usain-Bolt’d out of the scene like a complete a**hole.

Things wound up alright in the end, and I’m a lot better at communication nowadays.

Little Surprises

Who doesn’t like little surprises now and then? They’re good for a little spice to keep life interesting, to break routine, or to provide a serendipitous little boost when you might not have known you needed it. It can happen when you see a friend you weren’t expecting to, get some good news, find those five dollars in your wallet you forgot about, or happen to come across a box of .45 calibur magnum rounds of ammunition in your mother’s kitchen cupboard.

Yeah, that sh*t happened as we moved her out of her last house, the one she’d lived in for sixteen years. Turns out we’d been keeping the plates and cups within inches of what is technically a tiny box of controlled explosives for almost two decades.

Got them turned in/disposed of at the nearest police station, but just…damn. It’s food for thought, you know? Never know what’s in the walls, n’ stuff.

My First Encounter with Cannabis

I’ve become a pretty reliable user of edibles at this point in my life. Not constantly, or even really all too often, but I do enjoy that it’s a regular, easy part of life now. And, as with anything, everyone has their first time with it – “it” being whatever is in question, not just cannabis. Mine was in probably the best of all possible circumstances: it was Game Night at my aunt and uncle’s house, and it was enchilada night. D&D was the game, and Grognak, the Ghostblade was my name.

To that point, I’d never tried cannabis, period; and I think this was within a year of its full legalization in California, so dispensaries were popping up all over the place. My aunt Steph had come home with a number of baggies of cannabis cookies which was, just as a concept, entirely new to me. I didn’t even know you could do that sort of thing with weed. Cookies? F**kin’ love cookies.

So at some point in the night, I wander into the kitchen to re-up on enchiladas, and Steph enters to walk over to the refrigerator. I look over to see her grab the baggy, take out a cookie, nom on said cookie, and then look over to make eye contact with me. Without saying a word, she holds the bag out to me by way of offer. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any heavenly idea why, but I took it as a challenge. There in that moment, she didn’t actually think I’d accept a cookie and she was betting on it. (She totally wasn’t, but that’s how my brain chose to interpret the moment.) So, while maintaining eye contact and just as wordless, I reach my hand into the bag and draw out a cookie. Her eyebrows shoot up (which is the lone thing supporting my it-was-a-challenge theory), and she watches intently as I pop it into my mouth and chew. Then, still a mute, she shrugs her shoulders and leaves the kitchen.

That felt weird, to feel like I won a chemical game of chicken without even a word between us, but I took it as a win, gathered my enchiladas, and went back to the gaming table.

Here was where I began to really draw on what knowledge I had of cannabis experience from the things I’d heard. I was sitting there, hacking apart harpies or whatever our monster of the evening was, when I had the passing thought that maybe I was immune to THC, because I wasn’t feeling anything. So then, naturally, it was precisely then that I noticed the leg warmers I had on my calves.

For the record, I wasn’t actually wearing leg warmers (duh). But it felt like my legs below the knee felt slightly, comfortably compressed, like I was wearing socks made of Heaven’s light; which, actually, is how I picture it too, like my calves were glowing a pale golden color. At the same time, I fell the halo that’s formed around my head, like I’m wearing a headband of the same light, and a number of other sensations all hit my perception at once.

First, do me a favor, and think about where in your mouth your tongue is right now. You know how when you think about it, you can suddenly feel the boundries of your tongue? The grooves of the roof of your mouth, the edges of your teeth, and all that. Mmhm, I had that with my brain. I suddenly felt, in strange detail, the boundary of my brain within my skull. And as I noticed that, it felt like it was subtly waving or pulsing, like a fish splashing out of water, but in super slow-mo.

There was also a bit of sensory overload besides my sense of feel. Colors seemed brighter and more vibrant, smells and tastes were deeper, and I felt like my range of earshot had gained ten or so feet to its radius. It was like my perceptions had all gone up a tick on their respective dials.

But the “paranoia” was where I was glad to have heard about it before. My breathing had quickened and my heart rate was noticeably up, and I could feel all the physical sensations of a mild panic attack, though none of the associated panic or thoughts. It was like my mind was taking a back seat to my body freaking out a bit and thinking, “Huh, is this what people mean when they say they get paranoid?” Some self-conscious thoughts hit me too, like what I must be looking like and a pressure to act normal; but it was like my awareness watched those thoughts float by from an exterior point of view.

By the end of the night, the sensations calmed down and everybody made it home safe, but I always kind of relish that that was my first encounter with the Devil’s Lettuce.

In freakin’ cookies!

Why I Can’t Watch Hockey

Unlike what the misleading title might have you believe, I have an enormous respect for hockey athletes, and this story has almost nothing to do with that anyway. In fact, I don’t even write that “enormous respect” thing lightly, either. I mean it. It’s mind-boggling to me the way they can coordinate movement on the ice and the incredible dexterity of handling the puck all with the tactics of play with their teammates and opponents.

Insane.

ANYWAY, I know a bit of this because of one time Amanda, Pierre, and I went to a hockey game being hosted at an ice skating rink near us. It wasn’t a pro league, obviously, and in fact it was a bunch of seniors – which made for a really easy sell even to me, a non-hockey fan.

“Hey,” Pierre pitched, “you want to watch a bunch of old guys play hockey? There might be a fight.”

I was in.

So we’re sitting there, watching the game, when I try to point out something regarding one of the players. I think he’d done some fancy skating I wanted to call out, I don’t remember- doesn’t matter. The point is his jersey number was #78, and I tell them this to try and identify him, to which they say, “Who?”

“He’s number seventy-eight.”

“Where?”

“Right there.”

“Where? I can’t get a clear look at his jersey.”

“He’s number seventy-eight,” I say, beginning to get exasperated. “There, by the other goal. He’s wearing a green jersey and red shorts.”

“Who?” says Pierre.

“The motherf**ker in red shorts, by the opposite f**king gate now,” is my reply.

He looks at me, confused. “Evan, they’re all in black. No one’s wearing red.”

I’m shocked. Never before in my life did I think my eyes would deceive me such that I confused black fabric with bright-ass, unmistakeable red. I look back to the players.

“He’s…he’s in a green jersey…”

“Yeah, I see the green jersey, but his shorts are black, dude.” He taps Amanda on the shoulder for back-up. She nods and reinforces his assertion that Red Shorts was, indeed, wearing black shorts.

I stammer, watching the players now with a bit of existential dread. Is this what color-blindness is? I thought. That is so surely scarlet red, how am I seeing that if it’s black? Uh-oh. I don’t know all how, but this will definitely affect a bunch of things in life. Ink choices, traffic signals maybe, for sure my fashion sense. Am I-

Then I see them snickering, and I’m finally allowed to have it dawn on me: I’m being gaslit, and my gullible ass bought that fable hook, line, sinker, the pole, the fisherman, and the whole damned boat.

We like to think of ourselves as mentally secure, most days. We may have our baggage, sure. It comes with life. But we see or hear stories of people that believe outlandish things, simpletons that throw in behind transparently deceitful cult figures. They’re like goldfish, with the sphere of their beliefs visible from the outside in its entirity, and we can laugh at how foolish the fish must be fore believing their bowl to be the extent the world.

But really, these situations deserve more empathy. They ought to be approached with a mindset of “There but for the grace of God go I,” for any one of us is capable – within the right circumstances, upbringing, environments, or pressures – of believing what is antethetical to that which is before our very eyes. It should be a lesson of how malleable we can be, how vulnerable even the sanctity of our own minds can be, of fatefully temporary we all ar-

Ahem. Yeah. Anyway, um, yeah. I don’t really watch a lot of hockey. Cool sport, though.

A Real Love Story

You know those dreams where you’re fall or trip, and the shock of that is enough to jolt you awake so you wind up really trying to catch your balance? Yeah, I’m pretty sure most of us have.

But have you ever hurt someone doing that?

Technically I did, when I was nine. I was travelling up to Oregon with my uncle, aunt, and two cousins. I was the runt while they were both teenagers, so I sat in the bucket seat. I had some sort of falling dream, woke up flailing, and smacked them both symmetrically in their respective groins. I still remember my cousin Kacy’s response, a remarkably calm, “Okay, man. You alright?”

<sigh> Good role model, that man.

But that’s not really the thrust of our anecdote here today. This one is goofy, not really something anyone should be proud of, but also one of my favorites. For it, we hearken back to circa 2012, Amanda and I are early-twenty-something’s that have just started dating, and after a month or two start regularly sharing a bed most nights.

When you start sleeping next to another body for the first time when you never in your young life have before, some funny things happen. All that rolling around you’re used to just doing without knowing you do it suddenly encounters obstacles, like odd elbows and knees. I’m a sturdy Stomach Sleeper, but more than once inside our first couple of weeks sleeping beside one another, we’d bumped foreheads and woken up from it.

Why do I bring this up? After all, these things happen.

Simple: context.

So, I’m having this dream, right? I’m a counselor at some kind of summer camp for young tykes, and for unknown dream reasons, I get into a fight with another counselor. Obviously, it’s my dream, I’m on Home Turf, so I’m going to kick his ass. But our fight takes place next to a set of stairs, and I guess my subconscious was more accurately in-tune with my real world Dexterity Score than I am, because I go to throw a punch with my back to the stairs and my foot slips off that top step.

Cue muscle impulses to punch- oh, and now you’re falling.

So I wake up mid-punch.

Remember how I mentioned I’m a Stomach Sleeper? Well that means I sleep with one arm under my pillow to support my big-ass head, and this particular night, that happened to be my left arm. That left it perfectly cocked back when the Whoopsie Signal left my dreaming brain to punch poor Amanda squarely on the forehead, who was asleep facing me on my right.

Poor thing. She trusted me, and she never stood a chance.

Now, hear me out, I knew right away what I’d done. I was wide awake the instant my knuckles connected between her sweet, innocent eyes. But when she sniffed loudly, demonstrating she’d come to a bare, drowsy sort of consciousness, I absolutely squinted my eyes and strained my voice like I was in the same way.

“Oof, are you okay?” I half-chuckle, half-whisper. “I think we bumped heads,” I lie.

“Oom,” she replies sleepily. “Sorry. You okay?”

We trade tired yes’s and goodnight’s, and lay our heads back down on our pillows, me pretending to fall “back” asleep. But make no mistake, my eyes are wide open, fixed on her, watching her reaction. When she settles back into softly snoring, I doze off too, grateful to have gotten away with it scott free.

The next morning, I come clean. I ask if she remembers anything from last night and she sheepishly goes, “What’d I do?” because normally that’s how I would introduce telling her she snored or tooted or something. When I tell her that what she thought was a bump of heads was actually me punching her in the face, she – shockingly – was less than thrilled with it.

“You let me fall back asleep??” she chided. “I could have had a concussion.”

Weirdly, one of the best compliments I’ve been given, to think I’m strong enough to deliver a zero-wind-up knockout punch in my sleep.

That’s love.

A Snowball Fight in Summer, and the Fart that Started It

It’s a useful talent to be able to turn an awkward mistake into an opportunity to make it funny, or at least to find the humor in it. If you can’t laugh at yourself, what’re you gonna do, right?

I thankfully had an example of the lesson early when I was ten. I’d just taken a shower – like a big ol’ boy – and was coming downstairs, making a show of swiping my hairless armpits with deodorant, to see my mom sitting in her chair watching TV.

She worked night shift at a hospital as a nurse, but would spend her mornings this way at the time. I made some joke to get a laugh (duh, what jokes are for), and she replied with a dull, tired stare. When I plum asked her for more of a reaction, she looked me in my eyes and ripped a big ol’ fart.

A cheek-flapper.

A real Blue Ribbon winner.

A serious fog horn in a bear cave kind of sound.

She then of course starts laughing hysterically at her own fearsome flatulence and I, being ten, begin comically swiping the air in front of me with my deodorant stick in lieu of a proper air freshener. That’s when the white, chalky stick flies free from its plastic pocket and slams up against the television screen and splays in all directions like a synthetic snowball.

I think it’s further hilarity, but the abruptness with which my mom’s laughter suddenly stops could have halted traffic.

“Oh, come on,” I say wisely, “you have to learn to laugh at these things.”

Deadpan, my mother stares at me for a hard moment before dryly exlaiming, “Ah-HA-ha…”

Which of course gets her to crack up at her own funny all over again.

I blame the sleep deprivation.

The Laundry Disaster of ’05

I’ve alluded before recently that I can take instructions a little too literally at times, and that that’s had a history of getting me into funny spots. As I’ve thought on it, I’ve come to realize that’s actually been a bit of a longtime habit and not something I’ve just started doing in recent years.

One occasion that is a favorite of my mother’s to bring up was a time I ruined an expensive household appliance as a kid.

The year is 2005 – got up to a lotta sh*t when I was twelve – and I’m upstairs in my room. I’m probably playing PlayStation when my mom calls up the stairs, “Hey Evan, make sure you do your laundry.” I probably make some complaining, groaning sound, to which she out-groans me and shouts, “Just take all of your clothes and do a load, okay?”

Well’p. You heard the woman.

So I do. I take all of my clothes, jaunt down the stairs, start the load with an indeterminate amount of detergent, and bound back upstairs to get back to my game. About thirty minutes later, I hear my sweet mother’s voice again screech, “God DAMMIT, Evan!”

Hmm, can’t be too good news what follows, me’thinks.

I peer around the corner of the top step to see the door to the garage open, light spilling from the doorway, and a ton of smoke. Thin, white smoke, so not a huge fire or anything, but still: a lot of smoke. I run down the stairs, look in the garage, and see the dead, fried up remains of what used to be the washing machine, choked to death by an <ahem> unknown assailant. She asked me what I did, and I told her: I took all of my clothes and did a load of laundry.

All of my clothes, a load of laundry.

What she didn’t care too much for was the way I’d taken all of my clothes – dirty ones, clean ones I thought I’d “freshen up,” snow pants I’d worn once a year ago and no longer fit, a sweater I’d worn last Thanksgiving that had gum on the sleeve for some reason, a dress shirt or two that was hanging in the abyss of my closet, everything – and stuffed it all super-pack style mercilessly into the yawning pit of the twenty-year-old appliance.

That poor machine died a thankless, inglorious death.

I’m not saying that I stand by the actions of my twelve-year-old self, but it does make me think I might be part genie for the way I can happen to find any possible Monkey’s Paw approach to requests.

Take THAT, Ancestry.com!

Why You Should Tip Big

I once heard somebody say, “Everyone needs to work a season of retail during the holidays so they know not to be disrespectful,” and I respectfully say, “F*ck that.”

Not because I don’t think people need better manners on the whole, mind. In fact, most definitely the opposite – all too common nowadays is it for people to feel insanely entitled – I just really don’t want to work a season of retail. Rather, I don’t want to work any retail, if I can help it, precisely for the above reason.

But that’s one of two occupations that experience a ton of entitled crap from a largely unforgiving public. The other, of course, being restaurant staff. (And yes, yes, before we go any farther, clearly there are other jobs that have to endure this too, but let’s focus here for today.) From complaints, to demands, to unreasonable privilege-seeking, Martha who grooms dogs or Bruce that manages a car lot seem to suddenly find a gem-crusted crown atop their domes the moment someone shows them to a booth at an Applebee’s.

And even setting those cultural, societal, (dumb) norms aside for the moment, working for damn-near free/”grovel wages” would be reason enough for the title. So yes, tip big if you find yourself able.

I tip between 20%-30% on average regardless of the bill for a number of reasons that will soon make painfully clear that those figures are in no way some sort of ‘humble brag.’ The first being that I can never remember what’s proper: Is it 15%? 18%? Is that with gratuity, or without? Was there a gratuity this time? I don’t want to leave 15% when 18% is the norm, and now that person thinks I’m stiffing, them or making a negative comment about their help, or something. So, if for other reason than laziness, err on the side of a touch more than a touch less.

Another shade to that reason too, actually, is embarrassment. Not at my powers of retention regarding customs, but at…hmm, expectation? Let me put it this way, if it’s Valentine’s Day and your classmate (pretend for a moment we’re in grade school, it makes the mental exercise work) gives you a Valentine’s Day card that states simply “Will you be my Valentine?” is that a sincere gesture, or just witnessing the fulfillment of a perceived obligation? Right? So if you’re given that card, it doesn’t say anything special and isn’t really even for you, it was just done out of tradition, but now you have to thank them or you’re the turd; but if you aren’t given a card, oof, well now you’ve been snubbed. Ouch.

But if you get a card from a classmate that goes a little above a beyond…? Oooo, that’s kind of sweet. That card has some hand-drawn glitter art? Got a little chocolate that comes with it? A personalized note? Oh, lawd, well now it’s kind of touching.

I don’t see how tipping is really all that different in form from the above situation with Valentine’s Day cards. It’s a win-win, too. If the service was great, the bonus tip sends the message, “Hey, you there, for real, thanks for taking care of me today.” And even if the service was awful and the person was kind of a butthole about the whole thing, you leave with the satisfaction that that person is probably going, “Aw, jeez. Well now don’t I feel like a rube…”

Moral victory secured.

But really, even all of that is just because I enjoy crafting a torturously long wind-up to my real point. And what I really draw from when I press this, is the following experience.

There was a time I went out to lunch with a friend (shocking, I know – I have FRIENDS), and I covered the bill. My memory’s a little fuzzy on who it was with, I don’t quite remember where we went, what we ate, or even clearly how many years ago this was, but I do very clearly remember what happened as we were leaving. I left a pretty sizable tip for all the above reasons (maybe closer to 30-35% this time; I was doing alright), and did so in cash just because it was what I had on me. As we were walking to the door, the fellow who’d served us ran interception and asked me if I’d made a mistake. Honestly perplexed, I just raised an eyebrow, smiled, and said, “No. No mistake, that’s yours.”

Now, there were no tears. No heart-pouring tales of hard times. But there was an indescribable look in his eyes that I didn’t know at the time I would one day understand intimately well. On the surface, he was just really grateful, and a bit surprised, so I took it that way. It was nice. Put a pep in my step, and I got to be That Guy (the good kind, not the bad kind) to somebody that day.

Fast forward a few years to Fall 2019, life’s gotten pretty hard. I’d left my job somewhat ambitiously only to wind up pouring most of myself and my worldly goods into a family emergency (Don’t regret it, do it again in a heartbeat only smarter), dropped classes I’d promised myself I’d finish that semester, had maxed out credit cards, and had $1.63 in my checking account…

It was rough.

I had a job lined up, but it didn’t start for another week. So I was taking a walk to a local deli, and I was going to put that last dollar and sixty-three cents to work (technically, I also had a paper dollar and two quarters in my pocket, as there’s a debit card minimum set above $1.63 at most places) on a cheap roll and a mini cup of salad dressing, which I knew to be a $1.25 in total. I get to the counter, and I guess prices had gone up, because the register rings me in at $1.89.

I stare at the numbers. My stomach drops out, anxiety and embarrassment prickle my scalp in turns, and I start muttering to myself about how it’s okay, I’ll just put the cup of dressing back. The fellow behind the counter waves it off after a moment with a smile. “You’re in here all the time,” he jokes. “Let me cover this one.” He presses a button on the machine and the balance goes to $0.00. I don’t know precisely how I must have looked to him, but in that moment it occurred to me with a painful lucidity that I must be giving him the same stare that waiter had given me years back. I choked out the same, whispered “Thank you.”

I barely made it to the door before I was bawling my eyes out.

So there you have it. You never know where someone’s at, and there’s no risk in being kind. Not just nice, but kind. Really, it’s a “There but for the grace of God go I” type of tale, a reminder to be kind in all those ways that can help even if you aren’t around to see it and it costs you next to nothing, because you could very well at some point wind up desperately grateful to be on the receiving end of a token like that.

Throw in that extra two bucks, Money Bags. You could make someone’s day, or leave an impact so deep and meaningful someone will preach about it online years later.

Ciao, everybody.