The Big Tipper
I had one of my more memorable "Costanza" moments the other day when I bought a computer at Circuit City. Along with the computer came a monitor and a printer. All in all, a great package, $300 for the whole deal.
So I pull out my credit card, sign on the dotted line, collect my receipt and no less than four rebate coupons, and wait for my computer to arrive at the customer service counter. In no time a goliath of a man appears with three large boxes stacked on his dolly.
“Where to?” he asks.
I led him to my car, which was parked right outside, and he loads the boxes into the back. While he’s doing this, I open my wallet. Four twenties and a single.
What to do? Must tip the man—but a dollar? Should I just give him a twenty? Ask if he can break a twenty? Give him a handful of quarters from the change compartment under the dash?
So I gave him the single with a nod that said, “Good job, ol’ mate!” pretending to be completely oblivious to the social contract I had just broken. I became, and will forever remain, in that man’s eyes: A Bad Tipper.
I have several vices but none of them so irksome—especially to people who land in the unenviable position of dining out with me—as my penchant for overtipping. Curiously, this habit was borne not out of magnanimity but out of fear—the fear of appearing cheap. Welcome to the wonderful world of Yarmulke Boy (a moniker given me by a Merrill Lynch stockbroker, who for no apparent reason felt the need to call out to me one morning, “Hey, Yarmulke Boy!”). Yarmulke Boy goes through life with the knowledge that every one of his actions—good, bad, or ugly—is a reflection, fairly or unfairly, on the Orthodox Jewish community.
And I want that community to look good. I want me to look good. So I overtip.
Some have argued that overtipping is as crude as undertipping, but I disagree. Having been a waiter myself, I know that the urge to say, “Look at that fat, lazy zhlub with all the money, throwing it around like it has no value,” is completely submerged by the more polite and heartfelt, “Thank you ever so much, sir. Please, do come again!”
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this practice is when it comes to taxicabs. Sometimes, usually late at night, I’ll take a cab rather than wait for the subway or bus, rationalizing that it’s worth a few extra bucks to get home a bit earlier and grab a few more minutes of sleep. But then I realize that the five-dollars-and-change cab fare swells to eight or nine based on my generosity. Suddenly we’re talking real money.
Just do the math: A $5.40 fare generates a 20% tip, which comes to $1.08, for a total of $6.48. But you can’t (you simply can’t) ask for change at that point so you round it up to seven dollars. Then Mr. Generous, Yarmulke Boy, comes along and says, “Hey, he’s a poor hack, out here late at night on a twelve-hour shift, with gas costing nearly three dollars a gallon. He’s trying to support a family. Probably has a dozen mouths to feed and an elderly mother who needs her medicine but has no health insurance. Give the guy a break. An extra buck won’t kill you, but it will make his evening.”
So you hand the man eight bucks. And there you have it: a 48% tip.
Bob Hope was a great comedian but a hopeless tipper. Not the way you want to go down in history. People explain away his behavior as a consequence of his going through the Depression.
Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, was, by all accounts, a monster of a man, but as great a tipper as they come. The story is told that Frank once walked into a hotel and asked the bellhop what was the largest tip he ever got. “One hundred dollars,” he replied. Frank promptly took out three hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to the young man. As he turned to leave, Frank stopped him. “Hey kid,” he asked, “who was it that gave you the hundred?”
The bellhop replied, “Why that would have been you, sir.”
So the next time I’m faced with a crisis like the one outside Circuit City, all I need to do is ask myself, “What would Frank do?” and the answer becomes obvious: give him the twenty.
Especially if I’m wearing a yarmulke.