On Sunday night my air conditioner emitted a stifled scream, thunked heavily several times, then died. My A/C’s demise wasn’t a surprise, mind you. I figured it was going terminal when the compressor started groaning several weeks ago. I should consider myself lucky. I bought the unit second hand off a waiter six years ago and I’m amazed it lasted as long as it did. What can you expect for a hundred bucks? And since I can’t stand the heat, not having air-conditioning classifies as an emergency. I was hoping my old unit would rattle on for one more summer, but now I have to bite the bullet and buy a new one. Buying new appliances wasn’t in my budget for the month, but I can’t stand sweating.

So on Monday morning I drive to the appliance store in the center of town. When I tell the saleslady my bedroom’s dimensions she suggests a 8000 BTU unit. My old A/C was 5000 BTUs so anything I buy now is a step up. I decide on a smart looking Energy Star rated number with a remote control and hand the saleslady my credit card. As she’s ringing up my purchase I realize that I’m forty-one years old and never bought a new air-conditioner. I’ve always skated by with second hand units or my previous apartments came with A/C already supplied. Luckily for me I know the saleslady’s family. She gives me a nice discount and offers to have her husband deliver the unit to my house and install it for free. In a country filled with impersonal big box stores it’s nice to get some small town local merchant service.

Al. the saleslady’s husband, and his helper arrive with my new A/C two hours later. Since the unit’s heavier than the old one, however, it’ll bend to the vinyl window frame unless it’s supported by a 2×4 cut to exactly twenty-eight inches.

“You got any wood?” Al asks. I blink at the him uncomprehendingly.

“No,” I reply.

“Got any screws?”


Al sizes me up in a second and sighs. He can tell I’m retarded when it comes to anything mechanical. I must’ve been asleep when God passed out the do-it-yourself genes. I’m so bad I need help replacing a light bulb. Tools? I think I own one screwdriver.

Luckily I know Al. His daughter’s married to my landlord’s son. We’ve broken bread and swilled homemade wine at Italian Christmas and Easter bonanzas together. After grousing for a few moments Al announces he’s heading back to the store.

“Back in a minute,” he says. “Let me get the right tools to do the job.”

“Thanks,” I reply, feeling like an incompetent boob.

Al returns half an hour later with wood, a tool box, and a saw. Turns out putting the unit in my window’s a bitch. I never could have done it. After a few minutes of measuring, sawing and lifting, my new A/C’s purring in the window, blowing out sweet, wonderful, cool air. My contribution to the effort? I put the batteries into the remote.

“There ya go Steve,” Al says. “Enjoy it.”

“Thanks Al,” I say, handing him a twenty dollar bill.

“Whoa,” Al says, holding up his hand. “You don’t need to tip me.”

“It’s not for you,” I reply diplomatically. “Go buy your assistant some beers after work.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I’m writing a book on tipping,” I reply. “Remember? So I’m screwed.”

Al laughs and takes the money from my outstretched hand. “Thanks Steve.”

“No problem.”

“You know what?” Al says. “I overtip.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“When I go out to eat I give the girls 25%. Always. I make more money than them so I figure, why not? They need it more than I do.”

Smiling inwardly, I remember that classic conversation about tipping from the movie Reservoir Dogs. Al bears a passing resemblance to one of the gangsters that opined tipping was a good idea. God, I hope he doesn’t read this.

“Then your reward in heaven will be great,” I reply.

I see Al out, say goodbye, and head back upstairs to sweep the sawdust and Styrofoam flakes off my bedroom floor. As I’m pushing my broom I think about how tipping often acts as a lubricant, making everything in life run a little smoother. I didn’t have to give Al a tip nor was he expecting one. But when you’re mechanically disinclined like me, shelling out a few bucks to get a job done right is a small price to pay. Tipping often makes up for our inability to do things and salves our conscience when people perform tasks for us that we’d rather not do ourselves – whether that that something’s installing an air conditioner, hauling a couch up two flights of stairs, or expressing a dog’s anal sac. Tipping says thank you, but you get something else for your money too – less headaches.

When I finish sweeping I lay out on my bed and luxuriate in the cool air that’s rapidly turing my bedroom into a meat locker. Buster jumps onto the bed, circles several times, and plops down next to my head. Withing seconds he’s snoring. I guess Buster likes air conditioning too. As I listen to my new A/C sing it’s soft mechanical lullaby, I hear another set of snores rise and fall alongside Buster’s. When I realize I’m the one sawing wood I dreamily pull a blanket over myself and fall into a deep sleep.

Twenty bucks was never better spent.


Lubricant — 57 Comments

  1. OMG, a post without a bunch of misplaced apostrophes, screwed-up grammar, missing words? Congratulations. Sure was nice to read one.

    Reason #1 why I haven’t yet bought your book: I’m afraid of the morass of typos I might have to wade through. And many editors suck at their job.

    Good luck, anyway.

    P.S.: About that woman who died in your arms (mentioned a few posts back)? Sure would be nice if you’d include a link when you mention it.

  2. There’s a little auto parts store that I go to quite frequently. I have a short or something, and my tail light is always burning out. The first time this happened, the auto parts guy came out and helped me install the new light. He was super sweet, and the bulb was practically free, so I tipped him. He tried to refuse, but I insisted. Since then, I’ve had to go back for a bunch of different things (my car is falling apart!), and every time this fellow gladly offers to help, and I always tip.

    Well, it turns out that that was money seriously well spent. When I had to have some major work on my car, he did it practically for free. The dealership, on the other hand, would have probably charged me $400. Needless to say, he got a really good tip on that job!

  3. Wow! 4th!
    I just had something to say about tipping that I never thought of before in all the years I have been reading you! Good write, BTW.
    Amount is relative. When I use to work at My Little Cafe $5 would be a nice tip. When I did massage-it was almost an insult!
    $20 – $100 and even once $200 for Christmas was the going rate.

  4. Given your personal relationship with the installer, it is a little awkward to tip him, no? I’d have dropped off a nice bottle of wine, or case of beer, in lieu of cash. But you’re the expert, right?

  5. Ugh! We live in Florida (which means our air is on about 9 months out of the year). Ours was out for almost a month because the part was on back order (whole house unit). I feel for ya. Luckily it sounds like you didn’t have to go without for too long.

  6. Wow, I have an electrician working at my house this week: when I bought the house, I paid a contractor to do some remodeling and fixing up, and one of the jobs was to rewire the whole place.

    Fast forward to the beginning of June, and power going down in my house. An electrician acquaintance of mine came to check, and, well… the contractor seems to have taken most of the new cables with him, only installing short lengths where they would be visible. I had outlets wired with 1 mm cable, when the usual for a 127v outlet is 2.5 mm. Can you say fire hazard?

    Damn right the electrician who is working there right now will be very well tipped for his effort, even if he insists in charging ridiculously low prices.

    And nyah nyah, I CAN change my own light bulbs!

  7. I am mechanically uninclined as well. I can’t do much of anything with tools even though I have plenty of them ( given as gifts to me ). What’s even funnier is that I come from a family of general contractors. My grandpa and my dad own a family run contracting business so you can imagine how weird it must be that I cannot work a tool.

  8. as a vet student and part-time vet nurse, i know too well the horrors of expressing the dreaded anal sac. always reminds me of the bog of eternal stench from “labyrinth”…it’s a smell that stays w/you and won’t go away. wish there were more tips involved for performing that particular job! =P

  9. Am loving the increased frequency of your posts these days, Writer. Seems like your Doorstep Muse is taking good care of you this summer :-)

  10. Man, Editor K is an ass. I’m a copy editor, but I’m not WAITER’S copy editor. I’m here for the content.

  11. Good Point. If you ever vist a Subway sandwich joint, leave a tip. They have to ask several questions of customers all day long so that you get what you want. Their job would absolutly suck without a gratuity of thanks. And no, I don’t work at Subway but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

  12. Some time back I was giving my friends a birthday treat. I asked the waitress to keep the change, mostly because I had turned 20 then and the waitress looked the same age. Now, the keep-the-change is not exactly tipping I guess. But all my friends, as soon as we were out of mall, were right on my neck asking me why the hell did I have to tip! The world is full of Mr. Pinks, you see :D

  13. editer K… hasnt bought your book yet…. thats cuz your cheap and just like moochin off the blog…. and how you like my grammer? lol yes part of it is on purpose to push yer buttons, and other part is my inner ee cummings

  14. I’m with LA ex-waitress! Its one thing to point out an error, but is there anything worse than a grammar snob?

    Oh, and “The Bartender?” I lol’d. :)

  15. Steve you should have called me. I move again and I have two a/c I’m not using. Could have used another $100!

  16. If you lived in Boston, you wouldn;t need an a/c this year. We’re down to 8 weeks left of summer, and we it has been chilly and raining for at least a month.

    And Editor K? Bite me.