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The Observer Feb. 24 

Does tipping now work in reverse? If you give someone money for good service, do they hold this against you? The Observer inquires because of a recent experience with his newspaper carrier. (Yes, The Observer subscribes to the daily paper, despite its deficiencies. We like its star columnist, Gene Lyons, and we chuckle at “Dilbert” and the wilder letters to the editor. In the summer, we read the reports of Arkansas Traveler games.) First, a little background. Years ago, newspaper carriers were schoolboys who came around to each house on their route and collected for the papers. Customer and carrier knew each other. Tipping was common. It was not resented. Now, the carriers are adults delivering papers as a second source of income. They don’t collect. Instead, the newspaper office sends out bills. Chances are, you never see your carrier. But around Christmas time, the carrier will stick an envelope bearing his name and address inside a newspaper, obviously an invitation to send a gratuity. Under this impersonal system, The Observer had grown rather lax about tipping, frankly. He’s not proud of this. The quality of service didn’t seem to be affected, though, tip or no tip. Late last year, he felt obliged to tip. On Election Day, the National Rifle Association paid to have the papers delivered in a plastic covering with a “Vote Bush” message on it. Some carriers declined the NRA materials, using the standard yellow plastic coverings instead, even though they had to pay for those and the NRA plastic was free. The Observer’s carrier was one such. Did the carrier know that The Observer’s neighborhood is perhaps the most anti-Bush area in Arkansas? Perhaps. We appreciated the gesture regardless. So, when the time came, we sent a tip to the carrier. That’s when our heartaches began. Since tipping, our service has gone to pot, the paper often arriving late and sometimes not at all. We came across for him, and now he doesn’t respect us anymore. (Alternatively, the NRA may have put a contract out on him. It’s hard to deliver newspapers under fire.) The Observer took himself to New York last week and the entertainment included a visit to “Fat Pig,” the off-Broadway drama that stars Little Rock native Ashlie Atkinson as the surprising (because she’s plus-sized) girlfriend of a studly guy. It ends badly. The guy can’t handle the peer pressure from a witch of an ex-girlfriend with thighs the size of pencils and a guy friend who’s a pluperfect butt. Atkinson is great, as all the reviews have said, a warm stage presence. Her trip to her boyfriend’s company beach party in a bathing suit (a “fat suit” that dramatically exaggerates her size) is no fun for a plus-size Observer to watch. Most of us decided to go easy on dinner that night. Playwright Neil LaBute puts the audience right to work on the eating thing. The play opens with Atkinson at a lunch counter, methodically putting away a slice of cheese pizza and other food, the only sound for several minutes her mannerly dining. We had a warm reunion with Atkinson after the play. She was an intern at the Times years ago. She was heading out to dinner with her boyfriend. He always wants to grab pizza. She confesses she’s lost her taste for it. Reader Paul Nations petitioned the Arkansas Times last week for The Observer’s help in identifying a bird in his backyard. The Observer is glad to oblige. Mr. Nation’s note: “This evening I saw a bird in my backyard I’ve never seen in Little Rock before. It was about the size of a cardinal. It had a black neck, head, back and wings with a white wing slash, the sides were reddish brown and the underbelly was white/grey. It was feeding on scattered seed on the ground with my doves and female cardinals.” Had it been spring, Mr. Nations’ bird would have introduced himself and he wouldn’t have had to turn to The Observer. He would have said “towhee.” Then, he would have commanded Mr. Nations, quite clearly, to “Drink your tea.” It’s winter, though, so the Eastern towhee (which used to be called a rufous-sided towhee, but the show-offs in charge of bird names insist on changing them every year just to prove they can) is not quite ready to sing for a mate and warn other towhees off his turf. There’s always a towhee about somewhere in Arkansas, any time of the year. Now that Mr. Nations has seen one, he’ll see more.
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