Idol Chatter

I confess: I used to be a terrible tipper. My father tried to teach me well, explaining that every doorman, porter, cabbie, waitress, and mail carrier deserved a tip for their services and that the bulk of their earnings depended on tips–a precarious situation since one’s paycheck is thus determined by the often inconsistent kindness of patrons.

Despite his efforts and despite my own long stints as a bus-person and waitress, for years I was reluctant to give freely when it came to tipping. College was one bad influence. Top this with a teacher’s salary post-graduation–and the perpetual worry of living paycheck to paycheck–and a reluctantness to tip well was born.

But a small salary is no excuse–especially if one is a Christian.

In his wonderful article “The Tipping Point,” Ken Gross from this Sunday’s The New York Times agrees, explaining his own ethic of over tipping:

“I do not double the tax or bother with the strict 18 percent solution, or even calculate the exact value of this or that test of service; I do not twist my brain, seeking some perfect balance between cost and expectation, or weigh the consequences of missing the mark. No, mine is an easier solution to settling accounts: I simply overtip …

“It is not bribery, in any legal or moral sense, nor am I driven by some philosophical strain of ambient guilt; this is straightforward recognition on my part that there is an inherent economic injustice in the world, and I do my part to set things straight.”

For Gross, tipping generously–regardless of one’s earnings–is simply the just thing to do.

Let’s also consider “The Widow’s Offering” from Mark 12:41-44 (NIV) for guidance in this area–what I’ve come to interpret as a kind of Biblical guide to over tipping:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

For me, it’s just recently–the last several years or so–that I’ve truly begun to pony up in the tipping department–tipping generously if not lavishly to just about everybody who graces my doorstep bearing food or packages, among others, especially the many baristas to whom I owe my deepest gratitude for making the wonderful espresso drinks I enjoy each morning.

And not only is it just and Christian, according to Ken Gross–it can bank one some very good Karma as well:

“As a result of this guiding principle, I always have a choice table at my favorite restaurant. I have the services of the superintendent of my building without suffering long, grinding domestic standstills. … I have the good opinion of my mail person, the respect of my handyman, the regard of my house painter, the esteem of my doorman.”

Especially this holiday season, a time when tipping just about everybody is highly applicable, don’t forget to tip often and tip well. And always remember to tip the barista.

Life in elementary school is hard. Even if you’ve got Lil’ Condi Rice to do your homework, Lil’ Dickie Cheney to growl at your enemy cafeteria workers who are trying out a multicultural menu, and parents who live in the White House. And maybe especially when it’s “Dan Quayle Elementary School” and your name is “Lil’ Bush, Resident of the United States.”

Now you get an inside look at the (imagined) pre-adolescent life of George W. Bush, which includes hallway bully Lil’ Kim Jong II stealing Lil’ Bush’s MP3 player and Laura the new chubby nerdy girl. (The screen below links you to the pilot, but I also recommend the “Nuked” episode.) Comedy Central has ordered a six-episode season of the show, which now exists in small, five-minute episodes on Amp’d Mobile.

As you might expect, the broad stereotypically comedic tropes–Cheney’s aggression, George’s simplicity, George Sr.’s alternate pride and frustration in his son, Condi’s devotion to George at all costs–are present in combination with a debt to animations as diverse as Josie and The Pussycats, Scooby Doo, and South Park/Team America. I found it LOL-funny.

But the show–and the general attitude of taking comedic shots at the president–prompts a larger question that we might ponder. This is the second series to poke fun at the figures in the Bush White House (some may remember Comedy Central’s “That’s My Bush” (2001), which gave South Park’s creators their shot at playing with some of the same stereotypes but with live action and a laugh track instead of animation).

Without the second season (oops, I mean presidential term of office) of Bush, it’s possible that the Daily Show would have waned in popularity and never have birthed the Colbert Report, which any member of the “Stewart/Colbert 2008” Facebook group would agree would have been a great tragedy for our nation. But is our current president inherently more comical than the ones who came before him? What is it about him that courts laughter? And if poking fun at the president creates a legacy of laughter and derision instead of respect, what is the impact on the mood of our country, and what is the impact on history?

We could ponder that. But most of us will probably just watch (and enjoy) “Lil’ Bush,” with a chaser of TV Funhouse’s “The Ex-Presidents,” and a nice gulp of Chevy Chase falling down some stairs as Gerald Ford before saying “Live! From New York! It’s Saturday Night!”

Ever wonder where all those Buddha statues in your favorite Asian-fusian restaurant come from? Chances are, if you live in New York City, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, a man named Richard Wolf (The Buddha Wrangler) retrieved them from a tiny village in remote Thailand or commissioned an entire village to create them.

In the “The Buddha Wrangler,” The New York Times reporter Michael Kaplan caught up with Mr. Wolf to ask him about his craft–on how he finds just the right Buddhas for each high end restaurant before opening night:

“In the course of decorating Tao east and west, the 47-year-old Wolf has purchased big Buddhas, small Buddhas, brass Buddhas, stone Buddhas and one of the most striking Buddhas of all: A reclining celestial being carved from a single hunk of wood, painted gold and sporting a red jewel that shines with laser-sharp intensity. ‘I pulled my back out opening night, helping the bouncers get that one in,'” Wolf says in the article. During the restaurant’s two-year gestation, Wolf traveled to Asia 10 times. He scoured side streets and back alleys, hired a facilitator to translate and operated with a combination of cunning and zeal.”

The Buddha at Tao east is 12 feet tall and weighs 9,000 pounds. But it isn’t his biggest or most glamorous catches either. At the glitzy restaurant Buddakan, Buddha is a bit shorter but he’s covered in gold leaf. At Megu, a sushi restaurant in TriBeCa, Buddha is an imposing 17 feet tall. Buddhas this big aren’t simply sitting around waiting to be purchased though–Wolf had to design and commission them–in a rather Frankenstein-like way it seems. Wolf explains:

“I sifted through thousands of photos and chose the body parts that pleased my eye. The face is sixth-century Chinese, the body is Thai, the hand is from a Buddha at Angkor Wat. With a little bit of torture from me, the carver got each one done in six months.”

Since “rarely is the deity that presides over these establishments regarded as anything but decorative,” Kaplan wonders: “How does a true believer feel about his holiness mixing it up with Singapore slings?”

Apparently–these Buddha decoratives pass the religious appropriateness test, but don’t pass muster as appealing design:

“It’s tacky but not sacrilege,” says Seigan Ed Glassing, a Buddhist monk who resides at the New York Zendo Shobo-Ji temple on East 67th Street. “Buddha spoke to so many people, in so many different languages, that he would be O.K. with this. If seeing Buddha in a restaurant or nightclub opens your spiritual eye, then it is a good thing.”

Celebrities may have personal assistants, trainers, make-up artists and stylists, but many of them are just like their average American counterparts–they have a hard time conceiving. In 1995, “Days of Our Lives” star Diedre Hall chronicled her struggle with infertility in a made-for-TV movie called “Never Say Never: The Diedre Hall Story.” More recently “The Internet’s Most Downloaded Woman,” Cindy Margolis, went public with her conception conundrums.

With the tabloid’s latest overwhelming obsession with the “bumpwatch,” even stars who claim to have conceived the old fashioned way spark speculation: Tongues wagged when Julia Roberts became pregnant with twins at age 36, many “experts” speculating that the star had to be on fertility meds.

So with all the prenatal peer pressure, who can blame singer, actress, and fashionista Jennifer Lopez for allegedly turning to a less conventional method to get pregnant: scientology. An insider close to the entertainer tells Life & Style magazine that Leah Remini, J. Lo’s good friend, “King of Queens” star, and scientologist, “confided to Jennifer that the religion helped her conceive.”

She’s starting to understand the cleansing process. It’s all about putting the energy where you want it,” the insider said.

J. Lo, 37, isn’t the first celebrity to explore “alternative” fetility treatments. Sharon Stone reportedly tried traditional African fertility dances and, according to recent reports, Madonna gave Ayurvedic pills from India a try to conceive at the age of 46.

But don’t expect J. Lo and Marc Anthony to become the next Scientology power couple ala Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes or John Travolta and Kelly Preston. The article goes on to say that husband “Marc [Anthony], a devout Catholic, isn’t into the religion but doesn’t mind his wife studying it: ‘He’s willing to let Jen do what she needs to make things happen.'”