About a year ago I created a tiny picnic bench as a gift to my mother-in-law. The quick project was wildly successful, as demonstrated by this photo of it in action in her backyard!
But squirrel bench v1 had some design issues. The glue and brads holding it together were no match for the heftier squirrels, and it started coming apart. While my father-in-law fixed it with some strategically placed screws, I worry about the long-term durability due to the thin wood pieces.
I have a lot of wood scraps and cutoffs from a bigger (unfinished) project, so I decided the time was right to make a second attempt. Plus it was a great excuse to finally buy a drill press.
Squirrel Bench v2 has some serious upgrades. This time I ripped redwood to standard length on my table saw and rounded the edges at the router table to make the pieces look more like dimensioned lumber. The new design is heftier and uses screws rather than brads. The bench is a bit bigger and more uniform, so it should be easier to mount to a tree or post, and should stand up better to fat squirrels.
And I made five of them. That’s how much wood I had, so why not?
The whole project took about six hours of my time, plus wood, screws, and my fully equipped shop. A roughly equivalent made-in-China version on Amazon goes for about $20, so it is a good thing woodworking is my hobby and not my livelihood!
I think they would make good Christmas gifts, but it is only June! Fourth of July gifts, maybe. Anyway, I’m very satisfied with the result and can’t wait to see pictures of them in use!
For years I believed that tipping service staff was a “reward” for good service, good food, or a good experience. In 2003 I was shocked to discover that the federal tipped minimum wage was $2.13 an hour. After that I started being more careful to always include some sort of tip, even if service was terrible. But the fundamental idea that “tipping” is an add-on remained with me.
Nearly 20 years later, the federal tipped minimum wage has not budged from that absurd number. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more clear than ever how essential and how under-compensated service workers are.
My first job out of college was in IT support, and I made $17 per hour. On days when I solved a complex technical problem for a VIP and saved the day, I made $17 per hour. On days when I made mistakes or messed things up, I made $17 per hour. On days when I was feeling cheery and friendly, I made $17 per hour. And on days when I was feeling crabby or distracted, I still made $17 an hour.
Over time I learned, grew, got better at my job, got promoted, and got pay raises. When I did well I was praised, and when I did poorly I was given a stern talking to. But never once did it cross my mind that having a bad day would result in me getting paid less, or not at all.
For service industry staff, that is the reality every day, and it is absurd. Leave aside whether the waiter or bartender or Uber driver does a good job. There are a hundred things out of their control, like the kitchen being backed up, bad traffic, or someone else making a mistake. And yet we compensate people in these positions based on the idea that they have control over everything that happens.
Workers should be paid fairly for work performed. The idea that the customer should have any control over that just does not make sense to me anymore. If you are dissatisfied with a service experience, you can talk to the manager. If you are sufficiently upset, you can stop patronizing the establishment, or leave a bad review. But I no longer believe it is morally justifiable to deprive anyone involved with the transaction of their livelihood.
So here is my new philosophy on tipping: I don’t. I do not believing in tipping as a concept any longer. I believe we should pay for service, and if service is not included in the price of goods, it should be included as a service fee. And if the service fee is not a line item on the bill, it is my responsibility to provide it anyway.
What is a fair and reasonable service fee? I think the market has spoken, and made it clear that it is 20%. So I have started adding my own 20% service fee anywhere I see a tip line. It has felt weird at times, and it certainly makes things more expensive than I am used to, but I think it is the right thing to do.
When I order at a table I leave 20%, regardless of the level of service I receive. When I order from a counter, or visit a buffet, I leave 20%. Coffee shop? 20%. Order ahead and pick up? 20%. DoorDash? 20%. Taxi ride? 20%. Once you start seeing the 20% service fee as a standard cost, everything becomes simpler and less stressful.
Surely there are exceptions? Not really. When I go somewhere that adds on a service fee of any amount, I do deduct that from the 20% and leave the remainder. So if a restaurant has a poorly explained and unadvertised 3% service fee for employee benefits, I get briefly pissed off about the subversion, but then leave 17% as a “tip” to make the service fee what it should actually be. And when a delivery service includes a service fee that I know goes to the driver, I will deduct that. But in general I just default to a straight 20% and call it a day.
What about exceptional service, stirring conversation, free appetizers? Shouldn’t I, the customer, have the right to reward a server for their sparkling personality or pretty smile? In a word, no. I still leave the necessary and correct 20% service fee, same as always. But if I am feeling generous or grateful, I will add on a bit extra, and let myself feel like the patron of a quaint European cafe where service cost is included but Madame or Monsieur sometimes leave a few extra euros on the table to show their gratitude for the excellent espresso.
How do you tip these days? Have you reconsidered at all, in light of the pandemic and everything that has been happening? I have found since adopting the 20% service fee approach that I feel better, lighter, less stressed about tipping. Give it a try and see what you think!
In this pandemic time of isolation and loneliness comes a story of being alone while surrounded by people. Nomadland is a beautiful and poetic exploration of the wanders, the displaced – modern day hobos.
America is often described as the “richest country on Earth,” but a more accurate twist is that we are the country with the richest people. The Great Recession starkly demonstrated the radical wealth gap and the gaping holes in our frayed social safety net, as many older Americans became jobless and houseless. Nomadland explores the community of thousands of road wanderers in their assorted vans, campers, and RVs who crisscross the country in search of work, opportunities, and connection.
There is beauty to be found everywhere in this vast, amazing country and its varied people. But there is also sadness, and grief, and emptiness. With no fixed addresses, the nomads live on the edge every day – a flat tire or an unexpected health issue can spell disaster.
But there is more here than meets the eye. Are these displaced Americans on the road because they are broke, or because they are more deeply broken? And what does that say about our society, and the things we believe in?
I’m reminded of an article I read near the beginning of the last presidency, “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People“. We can quibble on the details, the policies, and the prescriptions, but I don’t see how anyone with a soul can watch this film – populated by real wanderers portraying fictionalized versions of themselves – and not care.
[O]minous no longer fits what we’re observing in the data, because calamity is no longer imminent; it is here. The bulk of evidence now suggests that one of the worst fears of the pandemic—that hospitals would become overwhelmed, leading to needless deaths—is happening now. Americans are dying of COVID-19 who, had they gotten sick a month earlier, would have lived. This is such a searingly ugly idea that it is worth repeating: Americans are likely dying of COVID-19 now who would have survived had they gotten September’s level of medical care.
Doubly tragic and utterly infuriating with mass vaccination mere months away.
Film star Elliot Page, known for Juno and Umbrella Academy, has announced he is transgender. If you are less familiar with how to refer to a person who is transgender, this guide from GLAAD is helpful. I like the framing of someone embracing or discovering their “authentic self”. As with so many things, it is easy to embrace Page’s new identity by simply having compassion and seeing them as a whole person and by not getting caught up in the irrelevant specifics of “masculinity” or medical procedures.
It is hard to write when the world is so bleak. We’ve just come out of a political convention season in which one side put forth concrete policy proposals and consistent messages while the other flooded the zone with shit. The sheer volume of lies, illegality, corruption, and distraction is overwhelming — as it is meant to be.
Even so, the article is a good read, because it shows clearly the thinking of racist extremists who have come to believe that a massive and amorphous “anti-fascist” threat is nefariously organizing to descend on their various tiny towns to attack their “way of life.” No logic can be brought to bear on this paranoia, but the flames of it, fanned by the entire Republican party, is spurring the rapid rise of large groups of right-wing militias bent on violence against anyone with whom they disagree.
One of the strangest things about living through a pandemic is the lag in understanding of how bad things are, an awful mirror of the lag in deaths that come like clockwork after a surge in coronavirus cases. All along, this disaster has been simultaneously wholly shared and wholly individualized, a weird dissonance in a collective tragedy that each person, each family, has to navigate with intricate specificity to their circumstances. The despair that has seemed to crest in recent days represents another kind of lag—a lag of realization—and the inevitable end of hopefulness about what life might be like in September.
The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. For one thing, it occurs right after my birthday, and I might secretly still believe what I was told as a little kid — that the fireworks are for me.
My love of fireworks aside, the Fourth is not tied to any religious observance except the amorphous religion of patriotism, justice, and freedom. What those words mean in America, and to whom they apply, has constantly evolved over the course of the 244 year American experiment. My belief, my constant hope, is that the arc of history, aided and abetted by good people, bends towards justice.
But if you share the same principles I do it can be hard, upon waking up each morning, to face our present world with optimism. For the past few years, and particularly since the start of our most recent (pandemic) nightmare, America has felt darker and further off course than ever.
It is hard to be optimistic, but it is important to see hopeful signs.
While the current occupant of the White House stokes the flames of racial animus, millions of Americans marching for justice and equality presage a shifting tide.
While perverted national institutions reject science and good policy, state and local leaders try, valiantly if imperfectly, to keep their citizens safe in the face of an unprecedented health crisis.
While a minority party with fascist impulses has erected nearly insurmountable barriers to voting access in their quest to maintain power, an energized opposition has the glimmer of a path to retaking the halls of government and reinstituting democratic norms.
On the climate — well. I don’t know. I’ll keep looking for hopeful signs there.
And even as the world may be burning, I have immense gratitude for the many people and circumstances that make my own life a good one.
In just a few short years I have completely rebuilt my life.
I have a good job where I can work as a leader to make a positive impact through engaging work. I met and married an incredible life partner who makes me a better person and brings me joy every day. I am happily settled into a wonderful new home in a safe neighborhood. I have adorable animals whose antics bring me joy.
I have a yard, a hammock, a vegetable garden, and, currently, some amazingly juicy heirloom tomatoes. I am building a new woodworking shop, and am excited about all the fun projects I have planned. I am financially secure in a time when financial security is sometimes hard to come by. I have far-flung friends who I care about and who care about me. And I even have an awesome new toy, a spaceship cleverly disguised as a battery-powered four-wheeled driving conveyance.
Some days it is hard to get out of bed. Some nights I am up for hours just worrying about where this will all end. But in so many important ways, my life is good. And I need to recognize that more, and be grateful for it.
A “second wave” was never a good yardstick, because the “first wave” that struck the greater New York area this spring was a disaster beyond reckoning. Consider that New York City, population 8.4 million, saw more than 22,300 confirmed and probable deaths from COVID-19; one of Europe’s worst outbreaks, in the Lombardy region of Italy, population 10 million, saw about 16,500. In three and a half months, in other words, a new virus killed one in every 400 New Yorkers. Among the elderly, the toll was even worse: One in every eight New Jersey nursing-home residents died this spring.
Cases are rising exponentially in Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, where mitigations were patchy and limited. But cases are also rising — albeit more slowly — in California, which had comprehensive and wide-reaching mitigation efforts. So it is hard to draw clear conclusions. One thing is certain: the ongoing lack of a national strategy is a key failure. Viruses do not obey state lines.
Coronavirus in America now looks like this: More than a month has passed since there was a day with fewer than 1,000 deaths from the virus. Almost every day, at least 25,000 new coronavirus cases are identified, meaning that the total in the United States — which has the highest number of known cases in the world with more than a million — is expanding by between 2 and 4 percent daily.
Much as the Trump administration squandered the months leading up to the pandemic, it is increasingly obvious that all of the incredibly painful and economically disastrous sacrifices made by millions of Americans to shutter businesses, curtail activities, and stay safe at home has been squandered as well.
While we have temporarily flattened the curve and avoided overwhelming hospitals in most areas, we are likely no better off at the national level than we were two months ago. We have no national testing system or contact-tracing framework, we have not secured adequate supplies of necessary protective equipment, and the various emergency economic measures were too limited, too complex, and too slow to roll out. While the story is different in each state and locality, nothing has fundamentally changed. Cases and deaths continue to rise while Trump and his enables disband tasks forces and push to “reopen” America.
I just don’t understand what their endgame is, and how our society will adapt to the new reality of unending death and suffering.