• The number 0, in all its glory, wasn’t fully conceptualized until the seventh century — in India.
• A million-seconds ago was 12 days ago; a billion-seconds ago was 31 years ago; a trillion-seconds ago was 31,688 years ago.
• I’ve noticed that younger people don’t hustle or thank you when you stop your car for them to use the crosswalk; whereas older people generally do one or both (major cities with dozens crossing at the same time notwithstanding).
• All of the atoms in your body heavier than helium were produced in an exploding star.
• The sun is not a unique ball of fire. It is a yellow dwarf star, like 20 billion others in our galaxy alone.
• Birds don’t generally “feel the heat” from hot peppers. Capsaicin, the substance that causes the heat doesn’t affect them. The plant evolved to encourage birds to spread the seeds and discourage those pesky mammals.
• You can’t change other people; at best, you can control how much they affect you.
• Does anyone else find that food cooked in the microwave cools down faster than food cooked on the stovetop or in the oven?
• It’s possible that a billion years from now, on a planet a billion light years from here, an alien with a good enough telescope will be watching you go about your life.
• Reserve time every day to put down the phone and live in the real world.
• Does our depiction of Jesus resemble a man born in Iowa more than it does a man born in Palestine?
• I cannot bring myself to say his elected position followed by the name Trump.
• Everything takes longer than you think it will.
• If you want to eat better, start by adding more vegetables and fruit, not by cutting out the bad stuff. There’ll be less room for junk and you won’t feel you’re depriving yourself.
• I once read that organic food isn’t expensive; the alternative is just cheap.
• I listen to NPR a lot. During interviews, many educated young adults use “so” to begin answering a question.
• I’ve heard that the difference between American and Japanese education is that in America, the teacher is expected to teach, whereas in Japan, the student is expected to learn.
• Sandwiches are always better when someone else makes them.

Has this country gone insane with tipping?

Increasingly, I find myself in restaurants set up like McDonald’s, where I order at the counter and pick the food up myself when it’s ready. It’s efficient. No problem. But the latest trend seems to be paying on an iPad, where it asks if you want to leave a tip.

Okay, I’ll just get the obvious out of the way first: I tip wait staff because the laws in this country allow employers to pay them less than the minimum wage and those workers generally rely on tips to earn a living. It’s a crazy system, but that’s the way it goes.

But there’s no wait staff here. I stand in line to order. The food is set on the counter and I walk it to the seat myself. Nobody asks if I want a refill. Nobody asks me how everything is or brings me a bottle of Tabasco. Nobody tries to appear upbeat when they’d rather be off the clock. Nobody suggests menu items or keeps an eye on me in case I want something else. Then I clear the table myself. What exactly am I tipping for?

Traditionally, the server leaves the bill and you figure out a tip while they wander around for a few minutes. I leave at least 20 percent, even if the service is terrible. There’s a guilt that weighs upon me that this person is counting on me to pay his or her wages.

But in these restaurants, the cashier is staring directly at me as I pay the bill. What am I supposed to do, ask them to quantify a tip? The iPad spins around and I feel like a heel if I don’t leave one. Here’s 20 percent for punching my order into the computer. (I’ll concede there’s usually an option of 10, 15 or 20 percent or no tip).

Are the cashiers paid at wait staff wages? And even if they are, full tips have usually required dealing with customers for 45 minutes or an hour, however long they’re seated. A cashier can be done with you in under a minute. How can that possibly equate to 20 percent? Do they split the tip amongst the rest of the staff?

Part of me feels like I’m being nickled and dimed from the minute I step out of the house. Free parking is disappearing anywhere near my hometown. Convenience fees? Fees for not using a bank account? Airline seat selection? Checking baggage at the counter rather than online? Fees for talking to an actual person? Eighteen different phone and cable taxes? I leave tips at sandwich shops and ice cream stands. Now I have to tip so I can serve myself in a restaurant? What’s next, tipping the grocery store cashier?

I know I’m spitting into the wind, but how about we raise the menu prices enough to pay everyone a living wage and reserve tipping for when someone does an outstanding job? “Wow, that person was really great. I think I’ll show my appreciation.” Or at least reserve tipping for when someone actually does something.

I’ve read that there are restaurants toying with this idea and I like it. Apparently some people argue that it’s a disincentive for waiters and waitresses to do their jobs well, but I imagine those complaints are made by people who don’t even look at the wait staff when they’re being waited on. The idea might also lower take home pay for some servers and I’m against that, but it also ensures that the wait staff doesn’t get stiffed by cheap-asses.

And for anyone who wants to provide solutions, don’t bother. My inner guilt will always oblige me to leave a good tip and offer disgruntled mutterings to myself before I tuck in.

Good craic for a great cause

A few songs all together

I spent Wednesday night with the better half at the Port Tavern in Newburyport, Mass. at a benefit for Irish performer extraordinaire Patsy Whelan. Patsy wasn’t there, but my good friend Tom O’Carroll (who was with his lovely wife Debbie) hosted the evening’s performances and I was thrilled that he asked me to sing a few songs.

The joint was packed with Patsy well-wishers, and a number of fellow musical performers joined in to complete the festive atmosphere. I played three or four songs, as did the rest of the musicians and singers and Tom kept the night moving like everyone’s favorite uncle. Much appreciation to the folks who cheered me on and to the other singers and players for helping out Patsy when he needed it, including, above clockwise from left, EJ Ouelette, Debbie O’Carroll, Frank Landford, Tom O’Carroll, Shay Walker, Tommy Courtney and me. Missing from the photo was the kindly and talented Brian Corcoran.

Conor singing a few

Donald Trump continued

Trump: The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned.

Me: The opinion of this so-called president, who is seeking the white supremacist holy grail — a way to discriminate legally — is ridiculous and will be condemned by anyone with a moral compass.

Trump: When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot, come in & out, especially for reason of safety & security — big trouble!

Me: When the narcissist-in-chief thinks he is the country and is able to say who can, and who cannot, come in and out, based on racism — big trouble!

The “so-called president” is . . .

the schoolyard bully who forces you to hit yourself with your own hand while telling you to stop hitting yourself.

the high schooler driving the BMW who yells “nice car” to the kid driving the Tercel.

the banker who knew the borrower couldn’t afford the mortgage.

the punk who makes fun of the nerds for understanding the assignment.

the knucklehead who applauds when the busboy drops a plate.

the kid who played with cats and firecrackers at the same time.

the man at the restaurant who doesn’t comprehend that there are times you shouldn’t speak at full volume.

the coworker who doesn’t chip in, but still signs the card.

the guy driving a Hummer who refuses to stop for the old couple at the crosswalk.

the shopper who leaves the cart in the middle of a parking space.

the shopper who decides he doesn’t want the meat and leaves it in the cereal aisle.

the kid who “accidentally” knocks your pen off your desk, says “oops, sorry,” then leaves it for you to pick up, and snickers when you do.

the guy who cheats if he thinks no one is looking.

the asshat who weasels in front of you when there isn’t a definitive line.

the man who believes having money is synonymous with having class.

the diner who refuses to meet eyes with the waiter.

the rich kid who has always gotten what he wanted.

the high schooler who asks the girl, “what are you dating that loser for?”

the Cobra Kai sensei on the Karate Kid.

the tosser yapping on his phone during the movie.

the college boy about whom the girls were referring when they said, “men are jerks.”

the banker who forecloses on the old woman for a 14 cent discrepancy.

your date who’s flirting with the waitress.

the bully who gets a smaller kid in a headlock, but throws his hands up in the air and declares, “what?” innocently when the teacher catches him.

the other driver who steals your parking spot.

the kid who coughs the word “ugly” when a certain girl’s name is called during attendance.
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