Living in New York is different than living anywhere else in the U.S.  I don’t mean on a cultural level, of course there is that, but in an everyday sense.  Everyone living stacked on top of each other and an extensive public transit system makes owning a car pointless, most of the time.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  You save money on car payments and insurance (though, like everything else, it’s probably made up for in the cost of rent), you don’t have to worry about sobering up for the drive home from the bar, and you have a smug sense of self-satisfaction for being “eco-friendly.”  But sometimes, it really sucks.  You can’t jump in to your car and cruise over to a Wall-Mart or Target to pick a few things up.  You have to plan out what you want to buy, go to the different stores, and carry all that back to your apartment—and, if you’re like me (living in a walkup), up four flights of stairs.

So whenever they can, New Yorkers try to make things easier on themselves.  The city’s Chinese restaurants and pizza places employ an army of deliverymen that bring takeout to your door; any business that sells merchandise that can’t be easily carried out offer a complimentary delivery service; and one of the most popular grocery stores in the city is just a Web site.  If you’ve never heard of Fresh Direct, the concept is simple: order your groceries through their site and they bring them to your apartment. Yesterday, my roommate off handedly mentioned that it was how he would get his groceries from now on.  I had used the service years ago, but don’t anymore.  “What’s a good amount to tip the delivery guy?” He asked me.  “Do you think $5 is enough?”  I paused for moment to consider the question.  “Actually, I don’t think I think I ever tipped them,” I said. My roommate was shocked.  “Dude,” he said, “you have to tip.”

For the rest of the day, all I could think about was the act of tipping.  I kept replaying Steve Buscemi’s rant in Reservoir Dogs about throwing in a gratuity for your dinner.  In the film, Buscemi’s character, “Mr. Pink,” regales a table of career criminals just after breakfast on the morning of a heist on the inequality of tipping guidelines.  He points out that it’s good manners to tip a waitress, yet no one gives anything to someone working the register at McDonald’s. “I don’t tip because society says I have to,” he explains. “All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.”

Okay, I don’t know what it’s like to be Fresh Direct driver.  Maybe it sucks.  Maybe they pay next to nothing and you need tips to get by.  But in all honesty: the job doesn’t seem all that different from Fed-Ex or UPS and we don’t tip them.  Is it because they’re delivering food?   What if you’re a diabetic and UPS guy brings you a package with your insulin that keeps you alive in it, do you tip him then?

A friend once told me that you tip to ensure good service for NEXT TIME.  And I get that for certain situations—try tipping a dollar or too more the next time you order from your favorite pizza place and you soon get a reputation among the delivery guys and they’ll get your order to you way quicker….and probably won’t spit in your food. But it still bugs me that there is this odd dichotomy about tipping, like slipping your barber five buck but leaving the dental hygienist hanging.  The only remedy I can think of is to not tip anyone (people will think you’re a cheapskate) or tip everyone (they’ll think you’re an obnoxious big shot).  In closing: tipping is weird.

[Pic via]

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The scene: last week in my apartment.  I found the bright green plastic bowl underneath the kitchen sink, careless tossed into the milk crate that held bottles of various cleaning solutions and soaps.  A bulbous knob extended from one end with a smile, and eyes peaking from behind a thin red mask painted on it.  “What is this doing in here?” I asked my roommate.  “Oh yeah,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where to put it.  What is it?”  I looked down into its goofy painted eyes. “It’s my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal bowl,” I said.

Twenty years ago, when I first dug the bowl out of the bottom of a Cheerios box, I didn’t want it.   My TMNT obsessed kindergarten brain immediately recognized the red mask as the identifier of Raphael and no one wanted to be Raphael.  Whenever playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with your friends, you would want to pretend to be your favorite turtle. Young “type A personalities” were drawn to Leonardo (succinctly described in the theme song with “Leonardo leads”), while the more creative kids wanted to be Donatello (“does machines”).  A rare few even liked Michelangelo (“a party dude”).  But no one, not a singe kid, liked Raphael (according to the song, he was “cool but crude”); and some unlucky latecomer who didn’t call dibs to be one of the other three early enough was general stuck playing Raph.  His other option was playing April O’Neil and she was a girl which was way worse (though I now wonder why no one volunteered to be Splinter, the giant rat that was the group’s sensei).

“Aw man, Raphael.” I remember saying with disdain, then turning to my mother, trying to enjoy her first cup of tea of the day, and inquired if we could run to the grocery store before school and get another box of cereal that would probably have a Donatello bowl (my first choice, but I would have settled for either of the other two) inside it.  Without having to say anything, I could tell her answer was a strong and definite “No.”

And so I made due with my Raphael bowl.  Years after the Ninja Turtle fad had died out, I found it again and brought it with me to college (mainly for its kitschy throwback value) and now keep it at the office so I can eat cereal at my desk (I had brought it home to wash last week, which is why my roommate didn’t recognize it).  And you know something?  Raphael has really grown on me.  What I mistook for a grumpy cynic was actually the group’s speaker of truths, who never beat around the bush and always said what was on his mind.  And his hot-headedness?  While many will agree that it constantly brought the group into dangerous situations, it was also the acting force on most of their greatest adventures (many of which forged their strongest alliances).  In essence, Raphael was probably the best Ninja Turtle and I am proud to own his cereal bowl.

I hate current pop music.  This isn’t exactly a unique or groundbreaking sentiment; I’m sure many people agree with me.  It’s just that when you operate under the belief that quality popular music (with some exceptions) died in 1980, you don’t exactly keep up with what’s hip.  I tend to stick with stuff on my iPod and tune to NPR whenever I’m around a radio.  My girlfriend on the other hand likes current pop music and owns a clock radio.  So every time I sleep over, I’m blasted awake by obnoxious morning DJ’s and the latest hit songs.  Usually I just brush off these the chance encounters with the current music scene and go about my day.  But recently my brain has become infected with a particularly nauseating bit of modern musical horror that I’ve heard every time I sleep over and when I looked up the lyrics I found that they were bizarrely and comically nonsensical. So I decided to use my two English degrees to analyze it.

Before I begin, I want to be clear that just because a song is catchy (which this definitely is) doesn’t mean that it’s good (which it most surely is not).  The two are not mutually exclusive (something a lot of current songwriters seem to not be aware of); “Hotel California” by the Eagles, for example, is a good song that’s catchy, while Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter”  is not catchy yet still a great song.

The tune in question, “Tik Tok”, sucks.  The, um, “artist” is “Ke$ha”.  How you do pronounce that? Key-dollar-sign-ah?  Is that Dutch? As soon as I saw this young lady’s title spelling and grammar, I knew things did not bode well.  Though, oddly enough, while I was trying to clear my head of this song’s insipidness, sites like Gawker and The Awl pronounced her the new pop princess and “Tik Tok” to be her inaugural hit.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the song, consider yourself lucky.  But if you want to know what I’m talking about, here:

Ke$ha’s autotune-tastic song is a first person rhyming dictionary heavy narrative of her day.  I’ve gone ahead and mixed my comments in with her lyrics.  Mostly they’re just notes on how I was feeling while listening to it.  Let’s begin.

Wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy
[P Diddy speaking] Hey, what up girl?

Wait….is P. Diddy there? Is she waking up with him?  And what does it mean to say that you feel like him? You feel like a media whoring past his prime music producer who rode the coattails of his talented friend that was murdered?  I’m confused.

Grab my glasses, I’m out the door, I’m gonna hit this city
Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack
‘Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back

What? Leaving for the night?  She just said she was waking up in morning.  And shouldn’t the line about brushing her teeth come BEFORE the one about heading out the door?  Also, I’m pretty sure most dentists don’t recommend using Jack Daniels as tooth paste…bourbon has too much sugar.  Use Vodka, it’s the breakfast booze.

I’m talking pedicure on our toes, toes
Trying on all our clothes, clothes
Boys blowing up our phones, phones
Drop-topping, playing our favorite CDs
Pulling up to the parties
Trying to get a little bit tipsy

Whew, I love it when musicians blatantly explain what they’re “talking” about.  It saves me the trouble of having to try and understand the subtleties of suggestion or symbolism.  From this passage, we learn that Ke$ha (God, I think my IQ dropped just typing that name) is singing yet another party girl anthem (I’m sure that’s just what humanity needs right now), in which the priorities are partying, music, boys, drinking, and getting pedicures “on our toes” (as apposed to pedicures anywhere else?).  Thankfully we’re now onto the chorus.

Don’t stop, make it pop
DJ, blow my speakers up
Tonight, I’mma fight
‘Til we see the sunlight
Tick tock on the clock
But the party don’t stop, no [Yodel]

When did music digress to just singing orders?  Here’s she’s telling everyone to keep partying, the DJ to keep playing music, and proclaims that she’ll continue the struggle of whatever the hell her idea of partying is.  Did she take the room hostage? Is she holding a gun on everyone?  I’m sorry but this doesn’t make me want to have a good time.  Jesus, this chick makes getting drunk and dancing seem like working on a chain gang.  A sense that’s doubled by the fact that she immediately repeats the chorus.

Ain’t got a care in world, but got plenty of beer
Ain’t got no money in my pocket, but I’m already here
And now, the dudes are lining up cause they hear we got swagger
But we kick em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger

Wouldn’t having plenty of beer be the reason you don’t have a care in the world? Also guys don’t line up because they hear a girl has swagger (lets be honest, that’s a weird word choice), usually it’s because she’s easy and won’t reject them for not looking like Mick Jagger (which I’m going to assume means when Jagger was in his prime in the 1960’s and not now…that would be an old man.)

I’m talking about everybody getting crunk, crunk
Boys tryin’ to touch my junk, junk
Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk

The only type of person I’ve heard use the phrase “junk” are frat guys talking about their genitals.  It sounds like she’s admitting to being what the Internet is claiming about Lady Gaga.

Now, now, we go until they kick us out, out
Or the police shut us down, down
Police shut us down, down
Po-po shut us…

Goddamnit.  Now I’m just confused.  I thought we were going until dawn, now it’s until the cops shut us down.  What kind of party is this?  A meth party?

[Chorus] x2

DJ, you build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me

Why the fuck….


With my hands up
You got me now
You got that sound
Yeah, you got me

Am I listening…

DJ, you build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me

To this song?

With my hands up
Put your hands up
Put your hands up

Now, the party doesn’t start ’til I walk in

Oh, shut up!

[Chorus] x2

Thankfully, the end.

I created a chart so you can tell how I feel about you.  I think I’ll make it my Christmas card.

toiletRecently, I experienced a questionable situation that shook me to the very core of my being.  I’m a reader, folks.  I like to read.   I think that my Summer Reading List Project proved that. Anyway, one of the things that comes with actually loving to read books is that you become very well equipped at finding other readers, among your friends, at the office, wherever.  It’s the intellectually version of Gaydar.  So you end up chatting away about your favorite titles, authors, etc.  And eventually it leads to moment when the other person recommends a writer that you’ve been interested in reading, but just haven’t gotten around to yet.  “Go ahead and borrow my copy,” they’ll say and you do.

And this is where things get complicated.  Everyone treats books differently.  Some handle them with kid gloves, other like abused housewives.  I’m more like the latter.   Most of the books I own are battered—food stains obscuring text on tattered and dog-eared pages held together by broken spines.  Honestly: I should be the worst person to loan books to, but I’m actually pretty good about that which I’ve borrowed from others to read.  I catch myself just as I’m about to mark my place by folding down page corners or placing it facedown on my nightstand.  But then I discovered a new dilemma when reading a borrowed book.

A friend who happens to be a huge Chuck Klosterman fan was recently raving about his latest book.  “You know, I’ve never read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” I said to him.   To which he responded: “You should, it’s good.”   If you’re unfamiliar with Klosterman’s second book, which is considered his seminal work, it’s a collection of essays that humorously riff on a variety of pop culture themes with an intellectually critical eye.  While I appreciate Klosterman’s writing (I’ve read his stuff in the variety of publications he appears in), I’ve just always stayed away because he was a little too popular for my taste and I never really wanted to actually spend money on his book.  “Eh,” I said to my friend, “can I borrow yours?”

It was while reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs that I experienced my quandary.  I was at work and like most workdays, I needed to use the bathroom for an extended period of time just after lunch  (I’m trying to hint at what I was doing without being too graphic).  So I grabbed the book and strolled up to the eighth floor men’s room, to the stall I like in my office building.  And as I was sitting there, it hit me.  I was reading my friend’s book on the toilet and that was just not right.  I know people who get disgusted if you even call them on your cell from the toilet (okay, I may be referring to myself).  And there are many who think reading another’s book while going to the bathroom is a violation of personally hygiene.  Barnes and Noble won’t let you take any of its books into their store bathrooms.  Seinfeld did an episode about it. But did I do something that was really that terrible?  If I didn’t tell my friend, he’d never know. Still, it would gross me out if I’d found out someone I’d loaned a book to was reading on the john.

Racked with guilt, I confessed to my buddy.  Oddly, he didn’t seem that shocked.  “Doesn’t bother me at all,” he told me.  “In fact, I am delighted. I fully endorse reading in the bathroom, and if one of my books happens to be included in the process of someone enjoying a page or fifty (depending on the severity of the visit) then so be it. Read on my friend!”  He then added a little while later: “Just, you know, keep it clean.”

[Pic via]

discontentI’m an unhappy person.  It’s been said that I hate everything and one my boundless ire’s favorite targets is myself.  I am my harshest critic.  I dislike or find some fault in pretty much everything about me—from how I look, how I write, and how I think to my job, my apartment, and even my clothes.  Do I have issues? Yeah.  Should I be in therapy? Probably.  But recently, I’ve been thinking that maybe this dissatisfaction with myself is supposed to drive me and fuel my ambition to change and improve.  Maybe this popular notion that we should accept our flaws and be content with who we are is wrong.

The definition of contentment is to be happy with every aspect of one’s life, to be completely satisfied with your lot in life.  But would anyone ever really accomplish anything if they were happy with how things are?  Would perfection and quality in any field have been reached if people had just accepted mediocrity and didn’t push for something better?  Imagine Michelangelo settling for his initial attempt at the Sistine Chapel, or Shakespeare accepting the first drafts of his plays.

Discontent drives us to improve not only ourselves (If everyone just accepted how he or she looked, no one would get in shape and we’d all be cheery obese slobs.) but also the world around us (If we accepted the way things are and were happy just with what we have, society wouldn’t progress, which is great for us straight white males, but…).  So while self-help gurus preach loving-thyself and acceptance of the things we can’t change, I’ll be the angry dude in the back of the room mumbling that things could always be better.

Of course, this sense of never being satisfied can turn self-reflective and force me to ask, “Will I ever be content?”  I don’t want to be misanthropic my entire life, how could I?  I think there has to be a balance where you let your discontent drive you towards your goals and then, before it pushes you over the edge, accept where you’ve ended up.  But I could be wrong…I usually am.

[Pic, Discontent by Lasse Damgaard, via redbubble.com]