I am driving in Old Town near the university last night on rutted ice-packed streets in the dark. It’s a busy area where pedestrians and bicyclists rule, where crosswalks zebra-stripe the roads and where police are apt to lie in wait for traffic transgressors. To their credit, in this bike-obsessed town they pull over errant cyclists as well as motorists.
I’m a cautious driver – too cautious, if anything. I don’t nervously hit the brakes at the end of on-ramps, mind you, but I do routinely approach the road with a healthy fear of imminent death (both my own and that of others).
So suddenly, mid-block in the dark, a college student on a bike careens heedlessly out of nowhere and appears in the street right at my front fender. I barely manage to stop. The kid drops the books he was carrying in one arm and says, “Jesus, Lady!” He stops and dismounts to collect his stuff.
My heart is pounding. Adrenaline is pumping. I lose it. I roll down the window and yell, “Don’t you Jesus, Lady me!” (I don’t actually say, “Young Whippersnapper” in a peevish and quavering sort of voice, but that hangs there in the air just the same).
The kid rolls his eyes at me and bends to his task.
Now, few things irritate me more than rolled eyeballs. Husband, Son #1, Son #2, and Fish of Girlfriend of Son #1 all tend to roll their eyes at me. I can discern even from the set of the backs of their heads that eye-rolling is happening.
I am tired. I am hormonal. I am irritable. The family unit has been having transportation issues, so I have carted Son #1 to his night-shift job at 4:00 AM. I’ve then had a rotten day at work. I dash during rush hour straight to a Christmas caroling gig across town. And then I nearly kill some reckless boy who in turn has the audacity to roll his eyes at me.
I realize that I’ve somehow leapt from the car and begun lecturing him in my most terrifying Mom voice:
“Look at you! You’re dressed in black! You don’t have lights on your bicycle! I don’t even see a reflector! You’re not wearing a helmet! You’re on a bike, on the ice, in the dark, steering with one hand and carrying a load of crap in the other! You’re not paying attention! You could be dead, and it’d be my goddamned fault!”
I pause for breath and happen to look down at myself. I’ve been caroling. I am trussed up like a Victorian capon. I’m standing there in the street, screaming, in my hoop skirt and fringes and petticoats and tassels and cape. The kid notices this, too. He flashes me a beatific smile and the peace sign and pedals off across the road, without checking for traffic.
I find that standards of personal dignity tend, with age, to become somewhat more relaxed. Mine were very relaxed indeed there in the street in my Dickens upholstery.
“Jesus, Lady.” It’s Jesus season, after all. Perhaps the boy was just witnessing to me, offering me Christian hope. Perhaps he wasn’t swearing at me at all. “Jesus, Lady!” — it’s all in the inflection.
TIPS FOR JESUS is what I’m currently having trouble appreciating. I can see church collection canisters on gas station counters, waiting for the chance change of goodwill after cigarettes and lottery tickets have been purchased. I understand those Salvation Army bell-ringers who play upon my guilt outside the grocery store — how dare I buy Brie and imported fig jam when that old homeless drunk peeing on the side of the building is malnourished and I myself ought to lose 15 pounds?
But TIPS FOR JESUS isn’t about donations to worthy causes. TIPS FOR JESUS is the pet project of a multi-millionaire who, for a lark, has taken to leaving random waiters and waitresses tips worth thousands of dollars. The TIPS FOR JESUS Instagram page publishes photos of the dining checks but doesn’t disclose who is responsible for paying them. The JESUS tagline is, “Doing the Lord’s work, one tip at a time.”
“How very kind!” you say. “How noble! How admirable! How selfless!”
But it’s not, at all. It’s nothing but carefully calculated self-promotion, since of course the tipper’s identity was bound to come out. The man behind TIPS FOR JESUS is Jack Selby, one of the founders of PayPal who made millions when eBay bought the payment service for $1.5 billion in 2002.
Here’s the thing:
One such outrageous tip was left at the Nomad Hotel in Manhattan, NY, where chicken “whole-roasted for two, with black truffles and brioche” costs $79 (I looked it up). Have a craving for white truffles instead of the more pedestrian black ones? For just $64 you may add eight grams of those. Want some buttered pasta or rice on the side? That’ll be an additional $25.
I can buy a roasting chicken for less than five bucks and provide a generous dinner for my family of four. If TIPS FOR JESUS is sincere about doing the Lord’s work, how can it possibly countenance pissing away obscene amounts of money at upscale trendy restaurants to indulge the passing appetites and whims of the spoiled rich? Twenty-five dollars for a bowl of rice? – I’ll lay you odds that amounts to about a third of a cup, molded carefully into an artful pyramid and then served with two twisted radish slices and a wafer-thin shaving of parmesan.
So, yeah, tipping $1,000 on a $115 appetizer is an ostensibly generous gesture (this was recently left by JESUS at The Smith, across from the Lincoln Center in Manhattan). But $115 was frittered away on the selfish slurping of a dozen oysters at a fancy raw bar. The Salvation Army could use that $115 for the greater good. It could care for that old drunk homeless man peeing on the side of my neighborhood grocery store. There might even be a few old drunk homeless men peeing inappropriately in New York City, if TIPS FOR JESUS prefers to keep good works closer to home.
I have a tip from Jesus for Mr. Selby: Providing fishes and loaves to the multitudes doesn’t involve fattening yourself first. Jesus as I like to imagine him did not eat until after the throngs had been fed. And then he ate what they did, and was grateful for it.
Spare me this sham generosity, Jesus. And, while I have your attention, spare this lady from running over clueless young men who might very well be her own cluelessly cycling sons — which is, of course, why I hurled myself furiously out of the car after him.