Saturday, October 17, 2009

Here's A Tip, Oprah

By now, if you're in the service industry, you've heard about Oprah's recession-busting advice.

No, it has nothing to do with wise investment, or passing on that 52" plasma. Or cooking up your own crack rather than going out and buying that high-grade coke.

Her advice? It's simple. Don't tip.

Continue to go out to eat as often as you'd like, and spend as much as you'd like. But tipping? So 2007.

When in doubt, ask yourself: what would Oprah tip? WWOT?

Never mind that servers in many states make well below minimum wage from their employers. Somewhere around $2.13 an hour, last I checked. Never mind that servers are taxed by the IRS on their total sales, whether they make tips on those sales or not. Never mind that servers must also tip out bartenders and hosts, and sometimes bussers and cooks, out of what they make on a given evening.

Never mind that if the US decided to legislate a mandated minimum wage for the service industry, restaurants would be forced to raise food and beverage prices dramatically to compensate for all the additional payroll costs.

I think it's great that someone has finally spoken up and said "enough is enough." Servers should make less money, and Oprah should make more. Nothing does one's heart more good than to take money from the working poor simply because Oprah said so.

It's almost the holiday season! Homeless servers can still have Christmas trees; they just have to leave them where they found them, in the city park. Oh, and they can't decorate them, either. Presents? Well, finding that half-eaten donut in the trash is kind of like a present from a stranger. Wrap it up in Big Mac paper, and you've got yourself a regular Christmas!

What's that? You celebrate Hanukkah? You're going to have a harder time finding latkes, those traditional potato pancakes, in the dumpster. Would french fries count?

Look what you've done, Oprah.

There was a time when Oprah worked for a living. A time when she brushed her own teeth, wiped her own butt.

Now, there are people for that.

That's why her advice, to me, seems so paradoxical. Once upon a time, Oprah was pregnant at age 14. Once upon a time, Oprah was a local news co-anchor in Baltimore. Once upon a time, her last name was Winfrey. Oprah singlehandedly created the overarching media empire she presides over today. It seems that private jets, the highest-rated show in history, and gracing the cover of your eponymous magazine every month have a way of smashing those early memories into a Million Little Pieces.

I've heard it said: Every time you don't tip, God kills a kitten.

Oprah HATES kittens. When was the last time you saw one on the cover of her magazine?

She also owns at least nine houses, including a 42-acre oceanview estate in California, purchased solely with all the money she's saved on gratuity over the years.

It's so simple! Don't tip. Buy a mansion. Gain 400 pounds.

Let me clarify two things: First, this blog is not meant to be an exercise in Oprah-bashing. While her statement on tipping showed incredible ignorance and callousness, she has done a lot of philanthropic good with the wealth she has amassed. Oprah's Angel Network has raised over $51 million for underprivileged individuals. She personally donates more of her own money to charity than any other show-business celebrity in America. Fact.

Second, I'm not suggesting that you tip 30 percent across the board whether you felt you were adequately serviced or not. Without getting into specific numbers and percentages, though, I do believe that a good tip is always appropriate, unless the server gave you herpes during the course of dinner.

Listen to Oprah. She has a lot of good things to say.

But ignore, if you will, her advice on tipping. Not to mention her advice on weight loss.

People in the service industry work hard for a living, and few outside of the industry really understand the ins and outs of sub-$3 hourly wages, tipping out, and overtaxation. Servers and bartenders survive on tips. Just the tip. Just for a second..just to see how it feels.

Here's a tip, Oprah: I'd advise you to stay silent on issues you don't fully understand. And furthermore, I wouldn't eat out for awhile, unless you genuinely enjoy the taste of spit.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I lost my microphone.

It's an Audix OM7. Nothing special, but it's a pretty good mic. It's Absolut, but not quite Belvedere. Pippen, but not quite Jordan. Dog, but not quite cat. Nonetheless, it's my mic, and I love the way it sounds.

I lost it at a festival in Portland ten days ago. Taken by another band? Perhaps. Why a singer would would want to make out with a black piece of
man-plastic that has been all up on another dude's lips is beyond me. To me, my microphone is like my earwax: meant for my mouth, and my mouth only.

Just for the record, I don't actually eat my earwax. I broke that habit six weeks ago.

In any case, I've been forced to use my backup EV microphone at my last three shows. Making the switch has been like switching from wearing underwear to wearing bubble wrap: it still works, but it's kind of noisy at inopportune times.

I've sent out emails to every staff member at the festival, every sound person, every other band. I've even put up "Missing" signs on area telephone poles, and I roam the streets at night calling its name.

I have a sinking feeling it's not coming home.

My devastating loss, coupled with some other pressing matters involving aspects of my career that are beyond my control, was weighing on my mind as I checked my email yesterday afternoon. I was bombarded with the news of a second, 6.8 magnitude earthquake that had just occurred in Padang, in the wake of yesterday's first quake. 467 people are dead, and thousands are trapped beyond fallen buildings. Come on, world, I'm trying to have a pity party here. Who invited Indonesia?

I have to be honest: nothing puts a missing microphone on the back burner like the tale of a mother desperately searching for her missing 12-year-old daughter, using her bare hands to pull apart the wreckage. The woman told TVOne that her daughter's face and voice kept appearing in her mind constantly throughout the night.

A couple months ago, I wrote a song called "Sound Of Your Voice" for my next album. I've lost way too many people that I love, including an uncle to cancer a couple years ago and a college friend to suicide last year. My fondest memories of the loved ones I've lost often involve the sound of their voices: they way they laughed, the way they said their trademark jokes and phrases.

A line from the song's first verse: "Silence is waiting, reiterating that life and loss are one."

Somewhere in between the story of the earthquakes and that of Tuesday's killer tsunami, I stopped thinking about my microphone. Sure, I'm bummed about it. But in the grand scheme, it's a pretty nominal thing to lose.

It's as if the server forgot the artichokes on my pizza. Do I love artichokes? You bet. Will I stand up on a table in the middle of the restaurant, rip my shirt, and fling soup spoons at the server? Definitely. Will I drench a hapless onlooker at a nearby table with Cabernet because THEY got artichokes? Of course!

Did that really happen? I probably shouldn't say.

But in the end, artichokes or no artichokes, I can still sleep at night. Even if it's in jail.

Everyone I know has misplaced something at least once. I have a friend who lost a shoe in Vegas somehow, and another who to this day doesn't know where two of her teeth are. I realized recently that I've been keeping the spare set of keys for my car in my car. Not my best work.

And let's not even get into those parents who keep their otherwise healthy children on leashes.

It's tempting to regard trivial loss as more than it is. Microphones can be replaced. Children cannot.

Some questions don't have easy answers.

Reach out to someone who has lost someone or something important. Spend some time with them. Say a prayer, give a hug. Ask them what you can do to help them make it through.

In the midst of loss, help someone gain a lasting friendship.