December 29, 2008

Today: I gripe about poor people who have big televisions and don't tip

I want to share a story with you. But first, I should tell you that this whole post is nothing more than my complaints about people who don't tip. So if you don’t want to read it, you can stop right now.

There is no worse time of year for the pizza delivery driver than this, when the snow falls quickly and heavily and the plows can’t keep up and people don’t bother to shovel their driveways. And it has been bad lately. With all of the winter storms and lake effect snowfall, the drifts piled up high over the mailboxes, obscuring addresses and spilling over to block driveways and hide walkways.

Oh, and the economy has been bad too.

And so it was that I found myself one night last week, on an unfamiliar street just before my shift was to end. As I counted down the house numbers, I eventually arrived at what must have been the proper address, though I couldn’t tell because there was no light to illuminate the numbers above the door. It was (at best) a modest apartment building in a poor neighborhood. I saw no driveway, no pathway, so I parked my car on the street, beside a mound of snow that peaked just below chest-level. Snow had long since found its way into my shoes and through my socks and melted against my skin, so I simply stepped up into the mound, and the light above their door flicked on, and the door flew open.

A young boy stood inside, shivering, and behind him I saw the blue glow of television, illuminating the walls and shining through the blinds on the windows. Since I saw no pathway to him through the snow, I asked if there was a back door or another way. He said nothing, only stared at me, ogling the hot bag in my hands. So I trudged over the hill and across their lawn up to the door. Inside, one of the largest televisions I have ever seen stretched across one of the walls, showing the Pistons game to the homeowners and anyone within a two-block radius.

He had been charged with the duty of delivering the money to the pizza guy, and I could see the bills in his hand. Having done this for years, I know exactly what it means when you meet a child at the door: There will be no tip. Grown-ups, at least most of them, are aware of the unwritten rule that people who provide a personal service are to be compensated by the consumer in addition to the employer. Children are not aware of this. So people who are too cheap to tip take advantage of their kids and send them to the door as sentries of ignorant cheapness rather than confess their cheapitude to another working adult.

And so, with the bill for the pizza being $12.71, the kid handed me exactly $12.71. I handed him the pizza, thanked him, and checked the score of the Pistons game on their jumbotron. He walked away without ever saying a word to me.

This was a lower class neighborhood, and the majority of the people on that block were not in the financial position to tip their pizza man lavishly. But there is no excuse to ever stiff the pizza man, unless he’s rude or obviously incompetent or has big fat rims and neon under his car. I don’t expect big tips from poor people, and I know the economy is bad. But: If you cannot afford to tip, you cannot afford to order pizza. (Unless you’re an elderly shut-in.) And if you can afford to drop $12 on a pizza when you could get one from the grocery store for $4, you can also afford to pay your driver a few dollars more to bring it to you. And if you can afford a TV visible from space, you can afford to tip your driver. And if you’re going to ask someone else to risk their life on dangerously slippery, snow-covered streets because you don’t want to risk your own, you should compensate a little more.

December 22, 2008

Me and Santa

I’m not sure I ever believed in Santa Claus. At least, I cannot remember believing in him and I especially can’t remember a moment when I passed from Santa-believer to Santa-denier. And it’s not that I would consider myself skeptical or wise beyond my years - I don’t remember ever looking down on mistaken classmates, at least those who gave him up at a respectable age. Of course, if you were still telling people in middle school what Santa brought you, I would have been happy to ridicule you.

My parents never told us about Santa Claus. They still took us to sit on his lap at the mall, which was a not-so-covert way of getting us to spill what we wanted for Christmas. One time we went to Rogers Plaza, back when people still went to Rogers Plaza, and when I met Santa I told him I had seen him crossing 28th street a few minutes before. I was on to him.

I think we always knew that the presents under the tree were from Mom and Dad. (Probably because the tags said “From: Mom and Dad.”) And whatever shred of Santa-belief that may have conceived in me would have been quickly debunked by my older brother, with whom I shared a bedroom. He was happy to dispel rumors of fairy tales, introduce me to popular music, and write on my face with markers while I slept.

My parents always made sure we knew that the reason for the season –it should go without saying that the Easter Bunny never stood a chance in our house – was because Jesus was born, and it was cause for celebration. Dad still reads the opening chapter of Luke before we ever touch a gift. When you’re six, it’s agonizing because you know there’s a big wheel or some Legos under there somewhere and you’re dying to get at them. Now that I have all the Legos a man could ever dream of, I can appreciate it a little more. Even after I’ve heard it 23 times.

Still, I really like the Santa Claus story. There are lots of variations of it, but most of them have in common the idea of a guy, usually with a beard, who generously doles out gifts for good kids. Here’s a hastily compiled summary I gathered from Wikipedia: We call him Santa Claus, but he also goes by Saint Nick (Saint Nicholas, of Myra, put coins in peoples shoes). Or “Sinterklaas” is the Dutch variation – kids leave their shoes out for coins/candy/gifts, and leave carrots or hay for his horses (much more reasonable than flying reindeer). Then there’s Kris Kringle, which we got from Christkindel (“Christ Child”) the Austrian variation which has him as a shorter/younger person who gives gifts to the good kids and is accompanied by another guy who (yikes) beats the naughty ones or takes them away in his sack.

The good kid/bad kid gift ultimatum may or may not have been invented by parents, but I’m sure they helped give it wheels. Doesn’t matter where you live, Santa Claus/Kris Kringle/Sinterklaas/Saint Nick is an effective deterrent for naughtiness.

Beyond that, there isn't a whole lot to say about Santa Claus that hasn't already been said a million times before.

Merry Christmas,


December 13, 2008

Christmas and pudding

“We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
And a happy new year.
Good tidings we bring, to you and your kin
Good tidings for Christmas and a happy new year.”

What a nice song. It’s traditional, unassuming, gives a friendly and hopeful message. It’s a nice one for kids to sing, standard fare for Christmas pageants. But just as the first verse ends and the audience begins bask in the kind words and contemplate the good will bestowed upon them, the next verse begins. It says, in no uncertain terms, that the singers want pudding (and in some variations, alcohol), they want it now, or else they’ll never leave. See, you knew there were strings attached. No one offers good will like that for free. You welcomed their singing, and now they’ve essentially embarked on a pudding sit-in.

“Now bring us some figgy pudding,
Now bring us some figgy pudding,
Now bring us some figgy pudding,
And bring it right here [or, And a cup of good cheer]

We won’t go until we get some,
We won’t go until we get some,
We won’t go until we get some,
So bring it right here.”

Then, of course, they play nice and wish you a Merry Christmas again.

All I know is that if I’m making pudding-related demands, I'm aiming higher than figgy.

December 11, 2008

Chasing God

I was browsing the science section at Barnes and Noble yesterday, looking for books about brains. Deep down, I'm a nerd who happens to be no good at science. I got bad grades in all of my science classes, from jr. high through college. To hell with science. But the brain - it's cool. It's fascinating. There’s this wrinkly thing inside your head and it makes you think and feel, gives you real smiles and fake ones for photographs, remembers names and places and directions, keeps your heart beating, helps you swerve to avoid accidents on Tuesday nights when the roads are slippery and people run red lights. The brain gives you wonder, wonder about life and people and how your brain works and – and God.

As I was looking for brainy-related enlightenment on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, one book caught my attention because I saw the letters G-O-D. And since I happen to know Him, it piqued my interest and I picked it up.

The crossroads of God and science are fascinating. I don’t travel them very often, but it’s an interesting place. This book, however, was called “God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist.” Imagine my elation at finding a book about my creator, and the ensuing dismay at learning it was about how he isn’t. Doesn’t exist. Period. How you write a whole book about something that doesn’t exist, I don’t know, but this guy – Victor J. Stenger – seems to have done it.

I guess I always thought that if and when someone finally proved that there’s no God, there would be a lot of media coverage and lots of red-faced Christians. And Jews. And Muslims. And some very satisfied atheists and some relieved agnostics. I guess – if his proof is real - we just haven’t heard about it yet.

To make a good evaluation of the book, I would have to read all of it. But like I said above, I'm no good with science. And I'm not exactly sure how nature can be used to prove that something above nature (in other words, super-natural) doesn't exist. That's why I said, "to hell with science," because science, if it's used to deny God, is probably headed exactly there.

On the back there was a quote from Richard Dawkins about how great the book was. Part of it said, “Stenger drives a pack of energetic ferrets down the last major bolt hole and God is running out of refuges in which to hide.” It struck me how much effort people put into proving there’s no God, and how important it is to them to do so. They have to chase Him out of His hiding places. I guess they think they’ve got Him on the run or something.

Dawkins wrote one of many God-debunking books that has come out recently, his called “The God Delusion,” which I didn’t read (yet). And I didn’t read much of Stengers book. If I ever took either one of them on in a debate, I’m sure I would get schooled. And then I would go home and read my Bible and pray and go to bed.

Atheism isn’t new. People have always found reasons to object to God, and I understand that. There’s injustice in the world and God, it seems, remains invisible. History and the present are full of examples of hypocritical Christians and a church that did some nasty things. (Though, to be fair, Maybe God’s not invisible because there are lots of Christians fighting poverty and hunger in His name, and it never made sense to me to judge the merit of something based on those who do it wrong - its most off-base and hypocritical practitioners.) So I don’t blame people for objecting to God. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t blame them.

What I can’t understand is the vehement opposition to God from people who have decided He doesn’t exist.

I am an evangelical Christian. I believe God created the world, sin wrecked it, and that we’re reconciled only by Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection. I believe that when we accept that reconciliation, we spend eternity with God. If we reject it, we spend eternity without Him, the experience ranging from things still being broken to things being absolutely horrifyingly awful. You won’t blame me for trying to spare people from that.

But if God isn’t there, as they believe, then there probably isn’t much purpose in the universe. Unless you make some up for yourself. So I can’t understand the concern atheists have for Christians believing what we believe. Why the crusade to convert me? To help me out of my ignorance? Sounds like evangelism to me.

December 8, 2008

She was a good woman

Grandma’s funeral was Wednesday. I am slow to blog. I guess funerals aren’t necessarily things you blog about. Nevertheless…

I learned a lot about Grandma at her funeral. Just as I was growing up and beginning to realize that she was an invaluable window to history – my history, family history, world history – her age began to take her mind. One of the miraculous things about her, though, was that when her mind was going, her body stayed strong. Throughout her whole life, she almost never got sick. She had pneumonia once. She beat breast cancer in her old age, too. But she was spared lots of the other physical ailments that come along with getting old.

Grandma never did her part to keep the apothecaries in business. Most old people, it seems, endure a daily cornucopia of pills and capsules and tablets and elixirs and ginkgo biloba to keep themselves breathing for as long as possible. Grandma lived 96 years without them. I don’t know her secret; I hope it’s genetic.

A long time ago, she ministered in a women’s prison in Wisconsin, leading Bible studies and church services. One of the inmates attacked her once, beat her severely. When Grandma was healthy again, she went back.

When she was a child in Russia, the Bolsheviks took over. Grandma told stories, multiple times, about how they came and took her dad’s watch. When he protested and insisted it was his own, they told the family they “didn’t even own the leather on their shoes.” The communists, she knew, could give you a little but had to take everything first. They promised the people a feast, and when her neighbors all brought food, the soldiers piled it up and poured fuel on it and burned it in front of them. She never took anything for granted. She worked hard her whole life.

Her faith was intertwined in every story my mom and my uncles told. She shared it, taught it, lived it.

She was a good woman. We're proud of her, proud to know her and to love her, to call her mother and grandmother. She left a great legacy. I know she rests in peace.