Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Durham's got cojones

On Saturday, a friend and I attended the "Durham Rising" event, a celebration that marked the end of a long downtown revitalization project involving realigned streets, brick sidewalks and public squares, new trees and decorative streetlamps, and a general hope that downtown Durham is on its way to becoming hip and vital.

As part of the festival, the city officially unveiled an enormous bronze sculpture of a bull, our city's mascot (we're the Bull City, home of the Durham Bulls, etc.).

"What a handsome bull," I thought, filled with beer garden-induced civic pride. And then the man in the blue shirt stepped aside, revealing the bull's bullish attributes.

Sure, I know it's totally juvenile to note just how anatomically correct our bull is, but how could you not? I wasn't the only one noting, believe me. There were plenty of snickers and shy pointing.

But when I got done having a chuckle, I couldn't help but feel warmly toward my oft-maligned city. In a region where public art is derided as a waste of money, and anything more risky than a bronze acorn draws outraged criticism (heh hem, like Raleigh's snub of renowned Spanish sculptor Plensa), it took, well, balls to embrace this sculpture as the city's icon. And if there was ever a city that thought of itself as ballsy, it's New York, and even its famed Wall Street bull can't compare.

HTT: How do I tip a curbside delivery person?

Dear HTT,

This is more of a 'modern etiquette' question than a 'life, love, and the pursuit of happiness' question, but here goes... I know how much to tip waiters/waitresses in a restaurant: 15% of the check is traditional, and in the New York metro area 18-20% seems reasonable. (I assume such an amount is reasonable in most North American metropolitan areas.)

I would always rather over-tip than under-tip. I figure that anyone who's waiting tables for a living is working harder than I've ever had to work, and I know that person is counting on my tip as part of his/her salary. So unless the service has been really bad, I tip 20%.

But what about when those same waiters/waitresses deliver take-out food to the 'Curbside To Go' (or "Curbstyle To Go' or whatever cutesy name the chain restaurant uses) parking spots? Surely some sort of tip is in order, but since the waitperson hasn't taken my order, answered my questions, delivered my food, cleared away the dirty dishes, and refilled my coffee, 18-20% seems a little steep. What do you think is appropriate?


I’ve never taken advantage of curbside delivery, so I did a little Web research. Let’s just say, as is often the case when you ask the entire world of web-posters for advice, opinions vary. In fact, I ran into a number of long and heated threads about this issue.

I agree that 18 to 20 percent seems over the top. As you point out, the person who brings food to your car doesn't have to do nearly the amount of work that someone who waits on your table throughout an entire meal does.

Some argue that the curbside delivery person makes the same lousy salary as tableside waitstaff and, hence, should be tipped equally. However, I would imagine that curbside folks can serve far more customers per hour, so they might get smaller tips but more of them.

From what I can tell, tips for curbside delivery range from nothing (which I do not advocate), to $1-$2 per bag of food delivered, to 10 percent of the bill.

I’d probably lean toward 10 percent, but my decision might also be affected by the following factors:

  • Did they get my order right?
  • Was service relatively quick and friendly?
  • Am I a regular at this establishment?
  • How’s the weather?
  • Would an extra buck or two kill me?

I’d be curious to see what others think.

Thanks for writing!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

HTT, I don't like my girlfriend's friends!

Dear HTT,

You give straight-forward and logical advice. I like that you don’t mince words! I’ve got a big problem I hope you can help me with.

I’ve started to become serious about a woman I’ve been dating for six months. Not marriage serious, but maybe move-in serious. She’s great: smart, beautiful, sweet, laughs at my jokes. Really, what more could I ask for? Well, the problem is that I dislike her friends! They’re loud, drama queen types who draw a lot of attention to themselves and need a lot of hand-holding and support from my girlfriend. They’ve known each other forever, and go on and on about people I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad people, just annoying. We go out with them about once a month, and I never have fun. What can I do about this? Should I tell my girlfriend how I feel? Or can I subtly suggest that we not spend much time with them?

Like the girl, not the posse


Good that you appreciate someone who isn’t a word mincer, because I have to deliver some tough news: your girlfriend comes with her friends, so either find something to like about them or break up with her now.

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but you haven’t given me much to work with. Under different circumstances, a kinder middle ground might have presented itself. Say, if you disliked only one or two of her friends. Or if you and your gal rarely spent any time alone and hung with her friends several nights a week. Or, if you sounded less pouty that someone besides you was on the receiving end of your girlfriend’s attention, support, and hand-holding. If you’d thrown me any one of these bones, I might have been able to suggest some compromises or strategies for keeping the peace. I’m a peace-keeping expert!

But, come on. You dislike ALL of her friends? You only have to see them once a month? You’ve known your girlfriend for six months, she’s had these friends “forever,” and you think you’ll come out on the winning end of a conversation about how all of her friends are annoying, loud, drama queens? You never know. Maybe she’ll capitulate, in which case, her friends deserve better anyway.

However, I’m going to assume that a woman who has friends she’s known forever has held onto the friends through at least a few other boyfriends. So, I think it’s in your best interest to examine your feelings, stop expecting to be the center of attention, and grow to appreciate, or at least cheerfully tolerate, a few of her friends.


Monday, June 18, 2007

HTT: My brothers never visit, and I'm sick of it.

Dear HTT,

My mother is visiting from New York and has been here for a week. We live in Raleigh and so does my brother and his family. He hasn't been by to visit his mother, OK, our mother. He has called and invited my family and Mom to his house for dinner tonight. He will pick up my mother and I'll meet them after work. My husband doesn't want to go and when I mentioned it to Mom, she said her feelings would be hurt if he didn't go.

This same situation has happened many times in the past. Did I mention that I am from a tight Italian family and we do everything together? So my husband feels like he has always "given in," so as not to hurt Mom's feelings. I am on the fence here. On one hand I say, what's one more time to appease an old Italian lady? On the other hand, when does it stop?

The situation is the same when we visit New York; we have to visit another brother who lives there. We have to save one night to have dinner at his house. He has made no attempt to visit us. We've lived in North Carolina for ten years! And my husband always goes, in order not to cause trouble.

Help !

Crudely put, family dynamics are a pain in the ass sometimes. Now, before I get a lot of angry email from anyone in my own family, let me admit that I contribute my share of the pain. When my mother visits, for example, I’ve been known to become sullen if I don’t get my way about what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it. I once stomped my foot when I realized we weren't going to have time to see a movie I'd planned on. It’s like, for ten minutes at a time I’m 13 again, minus the braces and pathetic attempts at feathered hair. Not a pretty site, I can assure you.

Do your brothers actually realize that they never go to your house, and do they know how you feel about that? For the sake of argument, and because I know you’re not exactly shy about expressing yourself (New Yorker that you are!), I’m going to assume they do know and just haven’t made any attempt to change.

In which case, I’m sure you and your husband find it frustrating that your brothers never make the effort to visit you. No one likes to feel that they’re doing all the giving in. But since neither your mother nor your NY brother lives here, it seems that by default this situation can only get so out of hand, right? What’s a couple of dinners a few times a year? Annoying, sure, but is this worth starting a family argument about? I know. You’re probably more upset over the principle of the matter than over the gas money you spend getting to either brother’s house, be it the one across town or the one in New York.

Can you and your husband take some measure of satisfaction in knowing that you’re doing the right thing? There’s a lot to be said for appeasing “an old Italian lady” who happens to be your mom. Be the good guys. Go to dinner. Don’t offer to help with the dishes if that makes you feel better.

Good luck,

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I think my friend's ex-wife cheated on him. What should I do?

Dear HTT,

I have friends who divorced last year. I got to know them together, and the man is a good friend of my SO. My SO and the man are part of a group of friends who have known each other for over a decade, and have been witness to the marriage as it fell apart. During the separation, I vowed (to myself) to support both and not let the ex-wife feel abandoned by the whole lot of this crowd. (She and I share a few interests and I have been through my own painful split-up). She appeared to feel the need to fall back on her new-found friends and let the ex-husband have his space with his friends. I have grown closer to the ex-husband due to the closeness of him to my SO. She and I are basically acquaintances.

As tends to happen, many angry conversations came up in the ex-husbands crowd about the ex-wife. I felt the need to defend. There were questions about her fidelity, mostly surrounding the social circles she is now in. (We sometimes see each other on the weekends in this crowd). I did not say I knew for sure that she was faithful, but let the ex-husband know that I had not seen her out with an obvious attachment to another man. I also heard similar comments from others who were attempting not to be too quick to dismiss her as a friend as well.

I found out through a person who is not a close friend, but knows the ex-wife's goings-on, that she indeed did have an affair while married to her ex. (This information was unsolicited, I think alcohol contributed to this person's desire to share). I believe that this is not a rumor, because I know that she is now dating a man she was out with socially often both before and after the separation. I am unaware if this same information was also passed on to the ex-husband.

Here's The Thing-Now I feel naive and like an idiot for defending her and for taking the sometimes angry comments from both the SO and the ex-husband about why I was trying to be fair. There are a few things I am aware of going into this: a) it's really none of my business what she does, b) she is an acquaintance, and I'm closer to the ex-husband than her, and c) she probably will not perceive it if there is a change in my behavior.

So, what would you do? Do I owe the ex-husband an apology? Should I just sit tight and keep my yap shut?


Dear Far-Too-Friendly,

I don’t think you owe the husband an apology.

Even if the woman had an affair (and you still can’t be positive that she did), you don’t know anything about the circumstances. That’s not to say a situation exists that would make you approve of her dalliance—if she had one—but there could be extenuating circumstances that might cause you to be more forgiving of her actions.

It’s impossible to truly understand the inner workings of other people’s relationships. People are inscrutable as it is, alone. But a couple equals inscrutable squared. Who can tell what makes a couple work, or not? Or what bargains were struck and compromises accepted? Maybe your friend made his wife miserable. Maybe he wasn’t faithful. Maybe they were on the verge of a breakup anyway when this alleged affair took place. Lots of maybes. I’m not trying to make excuses for her or paint him as a wife-neglecting jerk. I’m just saying there could be a lot you don’t know.

But whether she had an affair or not is almost beside the point of your question. You have nothing to apologize for. You haven’t lied to your friend. You didn’t knowingly cover for his ex-wife’s infidelity. You’ve only tried to be fair and nonjudgmental, and that certainly doesn’t make you a na├»ve idiot who owes anyone an apology. I think your best bet is to keep mum. Don’t engage in ex-wife bashing, but don’t feel the need to defend her either.

Thanks for writing!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Should I tell my married coworker that I want to sleep with her?

I need advice. I work in a corporate environment and have had what would be called a crush (if I were 20 years younger) on a coworker for years. She just turned in her resignation to spend more time at home with her young child.

I'm friends with her husband and don't really want to do him wrong, but I have a nearly overwhelming urge to ask her to sleep with me before (or just after) she leaves the company. I know it is traditionally regarded as wrong, but that's where I am.

Now, I'm not going to ask you if I should do it, because obviously I shouldn't . . . and I won't. But should I tell her that I wanted to ask? I feel like it is a barrier between us. I mean, she is gorgeous and that's not a biased opinion, nobody that has ever seen her would ever think differently. So she has to know that I'm attracted to her because all straight men would be. But, is it right or wrong to come out and say it?

Lustful in the Cubefarm

Dear Lustful,

Nothing good can come from telling your coworker that you want to sleep with her.

Do you secretly hope that you’ll tell her, she’ll share your feelings, and then you’ll end up in bed? And do you think that using phrasing like “I always wanted to ask you to sleep with me,” rather than “Would you sleep with me,” might somehow diminish your culpability? You know, I loved Bill Clinton as a president, but the way he sliced and diced language in an attempt to justify his affair was a little pitiful. (But not impeachment-worthy, mind you.) It doesn’t depend on what the definition of “is” is, and it wouldn’t matter how you phrased it. You’d still be doing something that you acknowledge is wrong.

And suppose you tell her and she’s mortified? Has she ever even hinted about being open to the idea? Maybe she’s happily married and, in all her gorgeousness, is weary of being ogled and hit on. You think a barrier exists between you now? It’ll be the Great Wall of Awkwardness if you indulge in your urge to tell her.

I don’t mean to be harsh, and I’m not judging you. I suspect most of us would admit to having had an “inappropriate” crush at one time or another. You can’t help being attracted to someone who happens to be married. And married people still get crushes, too. But crushes have a tendency to block rational thought. So let me be the voice of reason: you’re asking for trouble. Write something kind on the card that’s probably circulating around the office. Chip in for her going-away gift. Keep your hidden crush hidden and, even better, try to move on.

Good luck,