Tips for Tipping

Tips for Tipping

I don’t trust anyone, except for my hairdresser. I’ve trusted her since I was six, and two decades later that trust is intact. When I was in second grade my then hairdresser cut my hair shorter than I wanted it. She was, in fairness, following my mom’s directions. But I refused to set foot in her beauty station again. My mom only convinced me to go back by promising that a new person would be cutting my hair. She handed me over to Bonnie, and by the time Bonnie handed me back, with a lollipop of my choice, I had a sharp haircut and a steadfast bond. As I grew older, and my mom accepted that Bonnie was the only person I would allow to cut my hair, I went to the salon by myself. My mom sent me off with $15 and instructed me to come back with only $1. I explained to my mom that I’d come home with all $4, my math skills more than advanced enough to know the charge for an $11 haircut. No, my mom corrected me, I was to give Bonnie $3 for a tip.

I explained to my mom, who I thought also trusted Bonnie with her hair and her life, that the salon priced a kid’s haircut at $11. I’d stared at it for enough years to be certain. My mom broke it to me that while that was true, it wasn’t the right price to pay. I explained to her again about my trust in Bonnie. She told me that sometimes trust means paying more than what you’re told.

Hair dressers provide a personal service, my mom explained. They do something nice for you and they don’t get paid enough for it. She didn’t go into details about how some people are paid less than minimum wage – the tax rule that’s supposed to keep all of us out of poverty. She didn’t explain how those in the service economy who spend their day dealing with customers lack the infrastructure of organized labor to force work to a standstill until they are protected by the same privileges enjoyed by white-collar workers or unionized blue-collar workers. She didn’t explain how so-called pink-collar workers are unable to afford the means necessary to wage a campaign for better pay on a national-scale. Instead, my mom told me that some people do you a service and you pay them extra for it because it’s the right amount – no matter what’s written on a sign.

As one calendar year ends and another begins, we take the time to thank those in the service industry who work for us every day – our supers, maintenance staff, and the newspaper lady – by paying them a tip to make sure their pay fair.

Holiday Partying

Holiday Partying

For weeks beforehand, my office was abuzz with talk of the holiday party.

“Are you going?” asked the woman in the next cubicle.

“To the christmas party?” I asked. “Yeah.”

“You know it’s a holiday party not a christmas party?” she asked, gently. Sure, I nodded, taking in her ‘seasonal’ decorations of red and green snowmen which covered the walls of her cubicle.

At the party itself, I took in the red and green centerpieces and the playlist picked by someone with an overabundance of christmas spirit. I found myself a seat and leaned in to hear my coworkers gossip of parties past.When my group broke up, I got up to find a place to stash my coat.

“How’s it going?” asked my colleague, and our resident party planner, when he spotted me on my own. I was maneuvering between cramped tables in the basement of  a downtown bar, where people clustered awkwardly between the tables at which no one seemed eager to sit. The lighting was dim, the music loud, the ambiance uncomfortable – for those who were still sober because of those who no longer were.

“Good!” I exclaimed, my smile stretched to what I assumed he would take for an enthusiastic grin. In the fifteen minutes since I’d walked in, I’d checked my watch three times and was going for a fourth when the organizer had spotted me.

“Great!” he exclaimed in return, in what appeared to be genuine happiness. “Just remember not to have anything.” And with that he walked away.

Every year, my office has held a holiday party, organized and paid for by the staff. It includes a buffet meal and an open bar – as long as you’re drinking one of the four house specials. It’s heavily subsidized by the managers, so that everyone can afford the $25 to $35 cover charge. So, managers are put out by excessive expense they bear, staff are annoyed they have to pay, and people who keep kosher are allowed to attend for free as long as they don’t eat or drink, water included.

Happy holidays

Philippines, You Have Much to Teach Us

Philippines, You Have Much to Teach Us

The Philippines: an island nation. Known for its many islands, colonization by Spain, and champion boxers. And, apparently, an interest in American blogs. I can’t see what the overlap is, but there must be one – or why would so many Filipinos be reading this?

Hello, readers from near and far! Mainly near.

So, dear Filipinos, please fill me in on what it is about your country that has brought so many of you here. While you’re at it, any suggestions on what drew those two readers in Pakistan – or kept them from coming back? Of course, if you know that poor lone reader from the Netherlands, please give them my regards.


Keep Ya Head Up

Keep Ya Head Up

My teacher asked me to meet with him to discuss my midterm. While I found his grading, and class, absurd, I was happy to comply; I hoped to glean some idea of how to prepare for the final. The meeting was as unhelpful as his classes. He told me what he didn’t like about my answers and refused to address any questions. The only thing he let slip was that the final would be different from the midterm. I thanked him for his time, and was packing up my papers when he started talking again.

“I hope you don’t mind my saying this, and I assume you already know,” he began. “I’m sure you’ve been told this before, but in case you haven’t I thought I should mention it. You speak with confidence.”

I stared at him curiously. I generally speak loudly, but that’s more a reflection of my impaired hearing than confidence. He kept talking, so I didn’t interrupt to explain.

“You really shouldn’t speak so confidently. It makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about. You sound certain, and it makes people believe you. I believed what you said last class. I thought I was right, but you sounded so certain that I backed off. And you were wrong and now you have egg on your face.”

During the prior class the teacher had brought up the legal structure of a local government agency. Since I work closely with the agency I had corrected him and assumption of the article he’d quoted. I’m still pretty sure that I was right, since I’d discussed the exact issue with an employee at that office the prior week. But now – I’m questioning myself.

“You speak strongly. I can’t tell if this is intentional or not but the way you speak makes you sound dismissive of other students when you say things which counter what they’ve said. I’m only saying this to help you. You should find a way to say things so that when you’re wrong you don’t wind up with so much egg on your face and disregarding other people.”

Believing my teacher had his students best interests in mind when giving that rebuke, I took his words to heart. Once I was done crying, I told my sister the story.

“He would never have said that if you were a man,” she said bluntly. “Or if he did, it would be as a compliment.”

I’ve never felt anyone behaved criminally against me because I’m a woman. But there are actions more insidious than crimes. Actions which we must first recognize as wrong before they can be stopped. Circumstances can only change if we, as sisters and brothers, stand against them.

Because as 2pac – who, despite his gross misogyny, conviction for sexual abuse, and other crimes, had the occasional discerning idea – sings,

But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up/

Forgive but don’t forget, girl, keep your head up


Movie Night: Straight Outta Compton

Movie Night: Straight Outta Compton

I spent my childhood listening to alt pop, folk, and innumerable hours of NPR. I like background music at the grocery store, but that’s the extent of my taste. A movie of the band that popularized gangsta rap – the more violent and explicit cousin of rap – wouldn’t naturally be on my radar. But then the library recommended it. A recommendation I can now wholeheartedly confirm. Straight Outta Compton has brotherhood, betrayal, and the story of America’s transition from the violent 80s to the sanitized 90s. Not convinced? The following accurately describes my reaction to this movie of our times, a real time review for Special Correspondent Perel, written as I watched and my later commentary.

Watching Straight Outta Compton

Easy E isn’t going to make it, is he?

Actually no, but he will survive his days as a small-time drug dealer

Dr Dre looks so young

He was in his early 20s, so that’s an accurate portrayal

Things are not going well in Compton

Understatement of the 90s. Compton was a stronghold of the crack epidemic, used as a distribution center thanks to its proximity to the LA airport. In 1991, there were 87 gang-related homicides – about 1% of the population.

Ice Cube is so clean. Except for his language

Who is DJ Yella

Founding member of NWA

Is DJ Ren going to become part of Run DMC

No, wrong rap band

Oh, that’s who this movie is about!


Easy E is the money behind the operation

Being a drug dealer is lucrative, at least until you get shot or jailed

No no the subject of the movie is NWA

Yes, that’s the rap band you meant

I remember now because Dad initially couldn’t get behind them because everyone was saying the NWA was an acronym for No Whites Allowed and he couldn’t agree with the racism. But turns out it’s actually for Niggaz Wit Attitudes. So now we’re chill.

I think I may have confused Ice Cube and Vanilla Ice. Or maybe Ice T.

So close, but so far

One of them was The Dating Game and adorable. I don’t think Ice Cube was ever adorable.

Ice Cube is outta there

Ice Cube left the band over a contractual dispute but went on to have a successful and lucrative career. Especially impressive because he was still a teen and barely out of high school at the time. 

It’s like NWA leaves a path of violence. Or maybe they follow one?

Both. Their song F*** tha Police was a response to the violence perpetrated by the police in their hometowns of Compton and South Central LA. But the police aggression was department policy at the time given the nature of armed drug dealers who worked those towns. The gangs had enough firepower to overwhelm a small country, so police preferred to patrol in tanks rather than cop cars. The song, calling out the police for their aggression, is blamed for aggression and rioting against the police.

Snopp Dogg is here

Everyone who’s anyone in the West Coast rap scene worked with one or all of NWA at some point

Why is there a man eating a dog and a naked person cowering under the table?

Because Dr Dre got mixed up with Suge Knight after leaving NWA, due to a contractual dispute, and Suge encouraged such behavior

How do these rappers come off as so naive?

The hood gives you street experience but not business sense

Oh no Easy E is gonna die

Spoiler alert

I love that they made a movie and everyone is played by an actor who looks like a normal person except the guy who plays Dr Dre – who is helping run the project. Also, he discovered Eminem.

I just checked and Dre’s not that handsome in real life

Does anyone ever drink out a cup?

Not in this movie. It’s about rap, not manners.

They’re always swigging out of bottles. Though never vodka. Guys have got taste.

Interesting how the movie portrays all the gangstas as honest, if violent

Only the victors write history

But the white man is evil

Their manager, not all white men

How is everyone so knowledgeable about contacts and first amendment rights? This, they get from inner city public schools?

Someone is doing something right

He’s dead but trying to prevent HIV

Easy E: proving that being a rapper can be more dangerous than being a rapper who deals drugs

Dr Dre is taking a stand

Also, raking in the dough

How come I don’t remember the rap revolution

Because I hadn’t yet started kindergarten

I was confusing Cuba Gooding with Ice Cube. It all makes sense now.


They Live to Serve

They Live to Serve

I am American by birth. You wouldn’t know that from an American shoe store. The only shoe stores that carry my size put me in a European size 33 – the equivalent of a 2 on this side of the pond. So, to save myself from American salesmen and European prices, I order all my shoes online.

Even then, it’s hard to find a shoes that fits. So, I order a half dozen pairs at a time and return them all. And if you’re in the business of returning shoes, the best place to shop is Zappos. I would explain, but they do it so much better – like they do everything.

I bought shoes. They broke. I respect the fact that I wear my shoes hard, and didn’t think the company should cover because of it. So, I offered them a deal:

Hi –

I’ve had great experience with the quality of Zappos products but my most recent sandal purchase started coming apart – sole separating from the shoe – after two weeks. Could I return them or at least be refunded the amount I’ll have to pay the shoe repair?

The response came back like a slingshot – fast and reliable:

Hi there! My name is Kaden, Zappos’ known crazy dog lover! When I’m not at home taking care of my Golden Retriever Max, I’m at work helping amazing customers like yourself! I’d be happy to help you with your defective shoe question! I am sorry to hear that the Sandal you purchased from us is defective. That’s definitely not something that we like to hear about our merchandise, and is not indicative of the high quality of service and products we strive to provide our customers. I am glad that you wrote us right away so we can immediately address this situation. Before I assist you, I just want to make sure we are talking about the same order. Your message made it seem like it was a shoe YOU wear, and the most recent order you have is for a pair of kids sandals. So, if you can please contact us by chat or by phone to confirm, we can get this all taken care of for you! If it is the kids pair of sandals, we still have the same item available in Tan, 1 little kid, and we would be more than happy to send a replacement out right away as an exchange. If you would prefer to order something else, please provide us with the SKU number, size, and color for the new item. When we process an exchange, the funds are transferred from your original order to the new order; this is so that we do not need to charge your credit card a second time. We only ask that your return order is received within two weeks of the exchange being shipped. For your convenience, I have emailed you a prepaid UPS return label. You will receive two emails regarding your return; one will be the return confirmation and the other will have the label as a link. Please keep in mind that the exchange request must be made prior to your return reaching our warehouse. Lastly, if you choose to return this item for a refund only, and do not want to process an exchange, our return time frames are super fast! Once you drop the package off at UPS, it will take about one week, for the entire return process to be completed and your refund to be issued. We will send you an email confirming that your return is complete. Please keep in mind, you’ll be refunded within 2-10 business days once the item makes it back to our warehouse. I hope I was able to cover everything for you today. I apologize again for the inconvenience. I do have everything on your order notated, that way the next Zapponian you speak with will be fully educated on everything we discussed!

You have an amazing rest of your day, and thank you so much for emailing in here at Zappos! Again, my name is Kaden, and if you need anything at all, we are here 24 hours 7 days a week!


Kaden Keys Zappos Customer Loyalty Team

I appreciated the email and made a mental note to deal with the exchange as soon as I had a chance. Three weeks later, I still had not made it to the post office. But Zappos didn’t let subpar customer response interfere with their superstar customer service. Instead, they took it one step further and sent me sandals before I’d sent in my return.*

Because they’re that good.


*I did return the shoes.