Take a Walk

This will be short today. My laptop which I bought when I was living in New Orleans six years ago (damn, that seems ages ago), is officially on its last legs, and could very well die before I even have a chance to



















Okay, it’s still alive, but not for much longer. I’m currently in the midst of shopping for a new laptop here in Spain which is not the easiest of processes since specific computer spec vocabulary is not exactly first level Spanish.

Electronics are also more expensive here in Spain than they would be in the States. As much as I’d love to be able to hold off, though, it’s just not going to happen. Without a computer, most of my income would disappear and I don’t think the gigalo industry is what it once was out here.

On top of that tech purchase, I’m expecting some hefty dental fees in my immediate future, and possibly some travel expenses. Needless to say, I’m in that old familiar place of stressing about money again.

This is my life. Something’s got to give.

Since the firsts days of 10×10, my go to method for dealing with stress, financial and otherwise, was to get outside and just walk until my feet hurt. I’ve worn through the heels of enough pair of shoes to know that I’ve probably matched Jesus in the number of miles I’ve trekked, first across America, and now Europe.

Madrid is an extremely walkable city, and a lot smaller than it seems upon initial impressions. Some days or nights, I pick a direction and just walk until I’ve listened to a full album or a couple Spanish podcasts. I’m not far from Retiro Park, so when I’ve got no other destinations in mind, I usually head there.

Fuente de la Alcachofa 3

Even on a cold day, you’ll always finds some people lounging about in Retiro, though when the sun is shining and the temperatures start to inch up above 14 C, that’s when the park comes to life.

Since I need to get out and find a laptop that a) functions at least as well as my six-year-old model yet b) doesn’t require selling a kidney, I think I’ll leave you all with some idyllic photos from one of my recent walks, and hopefully next week I’ll be back up to full speed.



Figuras de guerraEstanque Grande remeros 2

La VigilantePalacio de Cristal (Sunbeam)

The Road Taken

This road again.

For ten years, I was in a near constant state of financial insecurity as I scrambled to find work, pay off accrued debt, and then save money for my next move. There were precious few moments where I could just relax and feel confident in my situation; when those moments did come, they didn’t last long.

Perhaps, then, it was inevitable that as I committed myself to yet another move, my finances would go to hell. As of today, both of my part-time jobs are cutting back hours in the wake of revenue shortcomings, and with that, the razor-thin line I had been attempting to navigate on my way to making my savings goal for the next move has all but vanished.

With just over half a year until my planned departure, I’m looking for a third job just to pay my bills, forget savings.

On the one hand, this is nothing new. I have been here before, more times than I’d like. The constant calculations running through my head, the tightening budget, the imagined conversations with people who I will have to disappoint with broken plans; this is all so routine by now as to almost be laughable. You always stress out, I hear a voice in my head saying, and then it always works out.

Which, while technically true, doesn’t make it easier. Because things don’t just work out, I have to make them work.

Between looking for a third job, taking a TEFL class, working on my writing projects, and trying to have some semblance of a life, something will almost certainly have to give. For sure, if there’s anyone hoping I’d come for a visit before I left, you can pretty well scratch that. Come to New York City, if you like, we have things to do here, too.

And hell, I haven’t even moved to Spain yet; I’m still in the easy part.

This is the part of my life that I hate, honestly. It can feel like drowning. I don’t have a safety net or family to fall back on. I either figure it out, or… I don’t.

Of course, I must not hate it too much or I wouldn’t keep doing it to myself. Or perhaps I just hate the thought of not doing it too much to quit. Either way, once again, I’m locked into a path and the costs are adding up.

Every road in life has a toll; we choose which ones we’re willing to pay. I could have chosen a different one.

There’s a version of my life where I’m not 33 and uncertain about next month’s rent. There’s a version of my life where I’m thinking about taking my girlfriend (or, hm, wife?) out for a Valentine’s Day dinner tonight. There is some version of me in one of the multiverses where I haven’t thought about money for a decade because I make so much of it.

I’ll never meet those versions. The only life I will ever know is the one in which I sacrificed money, stability, career, relationships, and health in the pursuit of a dream. In this universe, I’m doing it again. I suppose it goes without saying that I’ve sacrificed mental health for this, too.

I don’t know how this trip ends. In the long term: Alone and in the dark, just like everyone else. But the path I’m on – this road that keeps winding and threatens to lead me off a cliff – doesn’t have mile markers or destination signs. I can’t look around and say, “I’ve made it this far, I’ve only got a little ways to go,” because there are no landmarks on this route. This life doesn’t have a roadmap, and some day, that lack of direction may just catch up with me.

You know, that famous Robert Frost poem from which I cribbed my title today has two interpretations. The first is the optimistic, greeting card interpretation that people give it when they’re slipping it into graduation speeches and posting it as a Facebook status. “If you choose your own path, that will make all the difference,” the poem seems to be saying. This interpretation is wrong.

The real message of the poem – the warning – is about constantly second guessing our decisions. The narrator spends his life obsessing over the roads he didn’t take. It’s not about a man of  decisiveness, but a man of regrets. We either learn to live with them, or they become everything we see.

It’s something to accept – when I’m broke, when I’m sick, when I’m uncertain how far away from normalcy my next detour will take me – that every path leads to regrets, even when the destination is happiness. I don’t know how this one is going to turn out. One day I may choose the road that leads to nothing but regrets.

Until then, though, I guess I’ll just keep walking.

The Final 2 Weeks

I’m so close I can taste it.

Specifically, it tastes like a glass of whiskey that sat overnight on my bedstand and, cut through with melted ice, has turned lukewarm. It just sort of sits on the tongue.

One last gulp.

Ever since I started this blog back in 2009 – on the verge of moving from San Francisco to Chicago (cities 4 and 5) – I’ve expressed my varying levels of panic due to financial concerns and the reality that, with any missteps, I could end up broke and homeless. Some years were more worrisome than others (Chicago and Seattle being the toughest, post-SF), but I never felt secure. You can’t plan for all eventualities.

In May of this year, I was finally able to breathe a little easier. That’s how long it took to pay off a debt that had accumulated in the wake of my move to Brooklyn and my subsequent months of less than steady income. It required considerably longer than normal to dig myself out of my annual debt and if I had needed to save up for another move in September I would have been in quite a predicament.

But I don’t have to save. Not for another move, at least.

You remember how your parents (or grandparents) would talk about how their parents were so stingy because they grew up in the Great Depression. They had frugality and the value of a dollar ingrained in them at a young age. Even in prosperity, they never fully shook off the habits of their youth.

That’s how I feel after 10 years of living to the bone. I don’t know how to not save.

Every year I’m a little chagrined when I hear co-workers – people who make roughly the same amount of money as I do – complain about being broke. Sure, some of them have expenses I don’t, like car payments and insurance, pets and cigarettes. But they don’t have the expense of relocating every year or losing a few weeks (or months) to a job search.

I wish I could offer up some tips for how to nurture a nest egg. I sincerely do, because I could make a metric shitton of cash hawking self-help guides about saving money. I don’t have any secrets, though, no hidden tricks or lessons from the ancients.

I only know 1 thing: If you want to save money, you have to have a specific reason, a purpose.

10 Cities / 10 Years has been my purpose (in so many ways) for the majority of my adult life, and to that end I have focused all of my energy and drive. I’ve sacrificed so much on that altar – the most obvious being relationships. I haven’t always enjoyed the journey. That was never the point.

It is because of single-minded dedication (a.k.a. “obsession”) that I now find myself 2 weeks out from the completion of a decade long endeavor.

I’ve been trying to process the enormity of that accomplishment, and honestly, I can’t. I suspect that when I wake up on September 1st, I’ll feel numb. It will be over, the lingering taste of whiskey still on my tongue, and, peering ahead at my unmapped future, I’ll not know what to do with myself.

Luckily, as my experiences have proven over and over again, time will eventually help me comprehend what this has all meant. Time is like that, turning heartbreak into character, pain into strength and tragedy into comedy. Time will make sense of nonsense.

And then.

I will find a new road and I will take it to its end. I will make a goal and I will attain it. Because that’s all I know how to do.

2 weeks: The bottle is almost finished.

Jameson Insta

2015: Year With A View

From the point of view of a recent college graduate who had just moved to a city he knew next to nothing about, the year 2015 was about as distant in the future as 3015. Back to the Future II was 1 of the first movies I remember seeing in theaters and entering my 30s seemed like crossing that fine line between living and dying. So when I was freshly 22 and ostensibly beginning a decade-long project, it was hard to imagine actually being here: At the end.

Manhattan from the Cemetery

With 5 months until the project’s 10th anniversary and 8 months until I’ve officially hit 1 year in Brooklyn, I still have some time before the end, with plenty of opportunities for me to screw it all up in the meantime. It’s looking like finances will still be a question mark all the way up until the finish line, which is thematically appropriate.

There’s still a lot to experience this year.

I have spent much of my first 4 months in Brooklyn like I spent most of my 20s: ping-ponging between 2 groups of people. The first are the late 20-something (or older) service industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet and have vague ideas of what they want to do with their lives (be married; move away; write something) but are generally settled in this moment in their lives.

The second are the young 20-somethings, the college students and newly graduated who are still coasting on scholarships/parental support and know what they want to do with their lives. They talk about their futures with great certitude, even without a plan, and they pontificate about the world with even greater certitude.

This is the ironic seesaw of our 20s. On one end, we’ve been raised up above the world, praised for our school work and accomplishments, imbued with the confidence that we have the greatest view of humanity because we’ve studied it in books. On the other end, we’re in the dirt, beaten down by a world that doesn’t give a shit about our perspective or how many ‘A’ papers we wrote. Optimism gives over to realism.

There’s an old adage attributed to any number of speakers (most often and most incorrectly to Winston Churchill) that goes like this: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” Taken literally, this is patently false on both accounts, but understood as a maxim about the way life blunts our dreams it speaks a fundamental truth.

I am where I am because of the choices I made nearly a decade ago. Which is to say, after a long and winding road, I am finally in the city I wanted to live in when I was 17-years-old. So many of the people I have met skipped the journey and the years of poverty and came directly to the holy mecca of Western Civilization. I’m not sure either path is better than the other.

Queensboro Bridge 2

The other night, 1 of those energetic 20-somethings greeted me at a party and asked, “How are the tips?” There was no reason to interpret anything in the question. I work as a server, it’s a fair question to ask especially around the holidays. And yet, I’ll admit, in the moment a part of me took it as a dig. Here was a young, wealthy guy still on the verge of all his potential and almost certainly on the path to a lucrative, respectable job, and he was asking how my menial job in the service industry was paying. Even if he meant nothing by it, there was an inherently classist level to the interaction.

Or maybe that’s just the insecurities of a 30-something man talking.

I want to reassure myself with thoughts like, “Well, I have 10 more years experience so…” and that kind of shit, which is certainly what plenty of people would tell me. But I don’t buy it. Experience has no material or quantifiable worth. Not to 22-year-olds and certainly not to the world at large. Experience only benefits the person who has it, and mostly in intangible ways.

My experiences have blunted my dreams a bit, I admit. This project that seemed cool and impressive when I told people about it at year 5 now sounds silly and pointless when I talk about it here at the end. Partly it’s because the project was always conceived to be pointless: I didn’t have any great plans for my life, I just wanted to do this one thing.

It also feels somewhat hollow because people keep asking me, “What’s next?” and I have to admit I don’t have an answer. Travel, sure. But what does it all add up to? Lots of people travel. Check your Facebook wall, one of your friends just posted a picture from the Great Wall of China. Travel isn’t an ends, it’s a means. Or at least it should be.

It’s not just the gaining of experiences that we should strive for, it’s the accumulation of wisdom and empathy. We should be going into our 40s with both brains and hearts.

At the beginning of this project, I was a 22-year-old kid hyping all the great things I would accomplish (believing I would be the next Fitzgerald), and my vision was spoken with certitude. This year, I’ll turn 32, and I am anything but certain. I am older. I am more experienced, and more cynical.

But I don’t begrudge the 22-year-olds of the world their passion and confidence. That’s the age at which you begin audacious journeys, that’s the mindset you need to create something that no one else has ever created. And many of them actually will accomplish great things. In my years among them, I’ve seen no shortage of talent and intellect.

I admire the young, impassioned 20-somethings. I respect the older, aimless 20-somethings. I commiserate with the beaten, insecure 30-somethings. We’re all in this together.

Like almost everyone who grew up watching Marty McFly traverse the time stream, I spent my youth imagining all the possibilities that 2015 could hold. Now we’re here and we have to work with all the realities that 2015 does hold. Cars don’t fly, boards don’t hover and jackets don’t self-dry.

But, hey, there’s always 2016.

Sunset Silhouette

Road To Nowhere: The totally made up story of how publishing my poetry chapbook turned into a nightmare

Over the duration of my project, I’ve had a few opportunities to see my writing in print, both in small presses and on the national stage. Every chance to put my writing in front of new eyes offers a burst of excitement, as I’m sure any artist would admit. The real goal for a writer, though, is to put out a book with one’s own name on it, something that is yours and only yours.

For me, such an opportunity presented itself a few years ago when I was approached to publish a collection of poetry I entitled “The Road So Far.” That’s the cover over in the sidebar. If you click on the link, you’ll notice that it’s listed as out of print. I would like to do something about that, but the truth is I have no control over it. “Why?” you ask.

Let me tell you a fantastical story. It’s just a story. I made all of this up. Pure fiction.

About a month after my article in the Washington Post appeared, a woman – let’s call her Susan – contacted me via e-mail. She said she had read some of my writing and was interested in publishing a chapbook through her imprint named Soaring Bird Publishers. It was a flattering offer and I agreed to meet with her.

I write loads of poetry, posting frequently on this website, with a few poems even being published online and in print. But I’ve never considered myself a poet. It’s not where my true talent lies (that true talent: drinking without a hangover), and it’s not my passion. But the act of writing poetry can be very cathartic, a release of pent up creativity when I’m not in a place to sit and work on a novel or short story.

I had previously looked into self-publishing a chapbook just so I could have some writing out in the world, but I ultimately rejected the idea. It seemed like a lot of work for something I was only half-interested in doing, and I am pretty adamantly anti self-publishing. So when Susan offered to publish my poetry, I thought, “Why not?”

Meeting Susan and her boyfriend/husband/partner/haberdasher in a coffee shop in Seattle, I brought a selection of poems I felt were most worthy of inclusion in a chapbook. We sat for a bit, discussed her plans for the collection and she explained that she had worked in the offices of publishing companies for most of her career (not as an agent, though). Having retired from that work, she was interested in finding local artists to represent and publish.

No, it wasn’t Penguin or Harper Collins, and in fact, this would barely be a step above self-publishing. It was someone else wanting to put out my work, though, someone who was going to take the effort and produce a professional looking chapbook. Again, I thought, “Why not?”

The universe has a way of answering those “why not” questions.

My initial email communications with Susan were spaced a month apart in the beginning, our greetings leaping from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. In January of 2012, we had more regular correspondence and it felt like actual progress was being made. She said she had an “e-proof” of the book and would be forwarding it on to me for editing.

Then silence for nearly 2 months.

In the winter of 2012, I was unemployed and concerns about the chapbook fell on the back-burner. It was a rough couple months of financial insecurity, alleviated partially by a friend who offered me construction work. Around that time, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate contacted me. He had heard about my 10 Cities Project from friends at a party and wanted to do an interview with me. A bit of light in a dark Seattle off-season.

A couple weeks after that piece aired, Susan called me.

My frustration with the slow or non-existent responses was only compounded when she attempted to take credit for the NBC interview. This lie was the last straw: I told her I didn’t want to go forward with the chapbook anymore.

She insisted she had put in considerable time editing the book and promoting it (though she never indicated how) and assured me I would appreciate the final product. I said that if she sent me a physical copy of the book to proofread along with a contract, I would look it over and decide whether or not to sign off on it. She agreed.

Then more silence. Months went by without any communication from her, and the proof never arrived. In May, I noticed an Amazon listing for “The Road So Far,” despite the fact that I had never seen a proof nor signed a contract. I emailed her telling her to immediately take down the listing. No response.

In July, she emailed me that the proof was available for me to read. In the interim months, we had talked a couple times  on the phone and our conversations always followed the same pattern: I’d tell her I was done with this project, she would insist the book was nearly ready to go, and then  I would relent because I figured I was in this far, might as well see it through (I couldn’t give up my dream of having a physical collection of my poems).

When Susan finally sent me the proof, it was abysmal. Riddled with typos, some poems were spliced across 2 or 3 pages and other formatting errors abounded. It was a nightmare. Despite these obvious warning signs, I took the time to edit it and mailed it back with a signed contract. Dummy.

And then, you guessed it, more silence.

On August 8th, 2012, I sent her a brief email: “Have you received the proof and contract yet?”

June 25th of 2013 was the next time I heard from her, nearly 2 years since we first met. She wanted my address in New Orleans so she could send me my 10 free copies of the book (per the contract). I ignored her email. She sent it again a few days later. And again in July. She then contacted me on Facebook and I finally relented.

In an email that was far more civil than I felt, I told her that this process had been “confounding” and that I didn’t believe she had taken the work on with “serious commitment or in good faith.” I explained that I was upset that she had “published” the book on Amazon without letting me have the final say on the last edit, and I, again, wanted her to take the listing down. I gave her my address and asked her to send me what copies she had and then I expressed my wish to sever our relationship.

She didn’t respond by email, but a couple weeks later a package arrived with my 10 copies and a letter. In said letter, she told me quite bluntly that I had signed a contract so Soaring Bird maintained the right to sell the books. She also told me that she had never agreed to give me final edit. I suddenly understood the thematic relevance of a rising bird.

Ryan Adams Finger

I wrote her another email which read, in part:

I received my copies of the collection. I also read your letter, which exemplifies my issue with working with you. As I acknowledged in my previous email, I realize you have the right to sell the chapbooks. I have no legal recourse to stop you, and at this point I honestly don’t care. My issue is with you as a publisher, who despite being a single person and someone who has only published one or two other collections that I can see, still wants to behave as if you are a faceless entity big enough to steamroll over the artist. The whole point of working with a small publisher is getting the personal, genuine touch. You have provided none of that.”

If she insisted on selling the books per the contract, I concluded, then she was also obligated to fulfill the terms of the contract and pay me my share. Even as I was writing it, I knew that was a pipe dream.

Despite my misgivings, I told friends and family about the book and advertised it on this site. As far as I can tell, and despite Susan’s claims to the contrary, this was the only advertising of any kind my collection received. Many people bought copies and let me know that they had. A few months after the book went live, I contacted Susan again letting her know that I knew copies had sold and I expected payment sent to my Boston address.

That was almost a year ago. Do you think she responded? I’ll give you 2 guesses.

Two weeks ago, the last copy of “The Road So Far” sold, prompting my interest in retrieving publishing rights from Susan. I sent an email and received the usual cyber echo. I then sent a message to the Facebook page for Soaring Bird. To my surprise, I received a response. Its tone was, unsurprisingly, not conciliatory.

After indicating that my email had been received (yet never responded to), the message went on to say:

Regarding your accusations: should you engage in oral and/or verbal defamation, this company will file a libel and/or slander lawsuit against you. The words of your notification and your email are adversarial and threatening in tone. Please ensure you want to continue in this adversarial manner because it has been this company’s intent to support the publication of “The Road So Far” and to support your endeavors of your project 10 Cities / 10 Years.

Surely this is the tone of a company that “supports” my endeavors.

(Which reminds me, I want to reiterate that this story is clearly a fictional account and any resemblances to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Just a wacky story, haha!)

Meanwhile, I have no idea if the contract I signed is truly binding. I have no idea how much money I am owed as I don’t know how many copies were even published. I’m sure it’s not much, and that was never the point. I feel bad that people have bought these books thinking they were supporting me when I never saw a penny from those sales.

If you are one of those (hypothetical) people, know that the money was never the point. Just the fact that you bought a copy is all the support I could ask for. Neither this project nor the book have ever been about making money; publishing “The Road So Far” was about having some permanent physical artifact of my writing.

When I look back on this whole experience, I know I did pretty much everything wrong. But what’s to be done now? I resigned myself a long time ago to not seeing any money from this book. I just hope that someday I can gain the publication rights back in order to make more copies available (or to prevent some unscrupulous party from profiting off of my name). Regardless, it’s not about money, it’s about having a little bit of art out in the world.

To everyone who bought a book, or wanted to buy one: Thank you, sincerely. It means so much more than a couple of dollars and I am truly grateful.

As for Susan and anyone else at Soaring Bird, I’m just glad they aren’t real people. Thank goodness my real publisher would never be such dicks.


Where the Sidewalk Ends

Socialism and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Karl Marx

As we march towards the Secret Muslim Totalitarian Socialist Society, it seems that the earmarks of Socialism are everywhere. Taxes, an institution of civilization that have always been begrudgingly accepted as part of living in a community that serves public needs, are now “Taking from us to give to them.” Social Welfare programs, created to help keep fellow citizens from falling through the cracks into utter ruin, are now nothing more than scams used by The Lazy (code for Black People) to milk the hard work of True Americans.

I know all of this is true because I have coworkers that told me so. One of these particular True Americans ranted about how he always sees these welfare rats driving around in nice cars, never working. “They” are lazy and will never do any real work as long as society keeps supporting them. This is, generally, the Conservative standpoint, and it has its roots in a sociological understanding of Game Theory, specifically the version known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Via Wikipedia:

The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence rewards and gave it the name “prisoner’s dilemma” (Poundstone, 1992), presenting it as follows:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. If he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge. Oh, yes, there is a catch … If both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail.

Or put another way:

How does this play out in society? Pretty simple in a system like ours. We would all be better off if everyone contributed their fair share, allowing us all to equally partake of the mutual benefits. Alternatively, we could all refuse to work and then society would crumble. The more realistic scenario is in between, a society where some people work and others do not and those who don’t (or don’t work as hard as others) benefit disproportionately.

Selfishness pays off, as long as some people are not selfish.

This is the reality of civilization. Not Socialism, civilization. Socialism (government mandated communism) actually gets around this problem by basically turning its citizens into slaves for the state. This is why I don’t want a Socialist society, and it’s why the U.S. is in no way Socialist.

This fear of ‘moochers’ is rational and based in established understandings of human nature, which is why I can sympathize with the Conservative view. But the far Right response to the problem strikes me as a kind of political Cold War in reverse, in which we strip our government further and further of all social programs and “entitlements” until the federal government is toothless and as symbolic as the British Monarchy and we return to the failed version of America that existed briefly under the Articles of Confederation.

It didn’t work then, it won’t work now.

So, what (the Conservative asks), we just let the moochers win?

Socialism In The Wild

While at work the other night, it struck me: I’m watching a miniature Socialist system and it’s exactly what the Conservatives fear. At my restaurant, the servers all pool their tips. It doesn’t matter if you serve 10 tables and the other server(s) only has 5, at the end of the night everyone splits the tips evenly. There is a logic to this sort of system (it doesn’t punish a server for having a particularly needy table) and generally it works well. A server has their own tables, but if they can help another table they should.

There’s no denying, though, this system also works in the favor of a selfish server who only looks out for him or herself. Since there are managers, food runners and other servers to do work, if one particular server chooses to do the bare minimum to get through the shift, it’s almost invariable that one of the other workers will be forced to pick up their slack and the lazy server’s pay will suffer none for it.

Remember that coworker I mentioned earlier, the one who is terribly annoyed by the moochers on welfare driving nicer cars than him? Let’s call him Cal. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Cal is milking the Socialist Tip system at work. He only takes food to a table if it’s his own, and usually when he sees a food tray coming he walks the other way. He’ll let a dirty tray of dishes build up and wait for a food runner to take it instead of just caring it back himself. And at the end of the night when the side work must be done, he disappears for upwards of twenty minutes.

But at the end of the shift, Cal’s share of the tip pool is no lesser. If Cal worked harder, it’s likely the guests would get better service and, thus, give bigger tips, but even if that wasn’t the case, working harder would get everyone out faster. In other words, everyone working together benefits everyone, but everyone else working hard while Cal twiddles his thumb benefits only him.

How is this allowed to happen? Shouldn’t someone call him out on it? Shouldn’t the management step in? Of course, and Cal has been called out on it, but the management is largely ineffectual. Cal knows that the managers are usually distracted and too busy doing other things to pay attention to work ethic.

Imagine both the stereotypical Conservative and Liberal responses to this problem. Liberals might suggest the restaurant add another manager whose sole job was watching the servers and making them work fairly. This manager would cost the restaurant more money to basically babysit adults who would resent the ever present eye. On the other hand, the Conservative would abolish all management, saying, “Hey, we’re all adults, we can govern ourselves.” Now there’s no one but servers on the floor and it becomes an everyone for themselves Wild Wild West.*

Neither solution is ideal. Neither solution is really even feasible. But in our politics, this seems to be the two choices we are left with as both sides of the debate are seemingly moving more and more extreme in their positions.

There is a middle ground, though, and I think both the Republicans and the Democrats will come to it when (if) they stop listening to their extremist factions (in reality, the leftist extremists have rarely had any real political power, certainly not in the way the Tea Party has; Obama is pretty damn Centrist).

The restaurant doesn’t need more management, it needs better management. Maybe that means paying a little more to either a) train the management or b) bring in stronger talent, but that cost wouldn’t be nearly as much as hiring a whole other manager. On the opposite side, once that better management is in place, we need to cut off the moochers. Have a server that consistently and blatantly abuses the system? Stop giving him shifts, especially on the busy nights, and if the problem is bad enough, lose him altogether. There are plenty of people looking for work, and some will work hard to earn it.

This sort of compromise doesn’t appeal to people on the edges of the debate, but for the rational middle this is an effective way to eliminate the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Will it be perfect? No, no system is, especially when you add in millions of independent factors with minds of their own. However, a solution that allows us to preserve a social safety net while cracking down on moochers is truly a win/win.

How does this play out in the real world? Well, it will require more of “our tax dollars” being spent to patch up the holes in the welfare system, but in the end that will make the system more effective, allowing these programs to fulfill their promise: Keeping the poor and downtrodden from falling between the cracks long enough to get on their feet and become productive members of our True American Capitalist Utopia. More productive citizens benefits everyone, even the rich (especially the rich).

In other words, we have to spend money to make money.

There will always be selfish people in this world, and no system of government will ever change that. But having no system of government will only allow that selfishness to spread like a disease. There is a reason we as a species came together to form civilizations and, eventually, governments. Left unchecked, our natural selfishness will kill us.

It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: The solution to our selfishness is not more or less government, but more effective governance.

Give Em Something

*The other Conservative response could loosely be called Privatization: Get rid of the tip pool and just have everyone earn their own. I’ve worked in both types of restaurants, and while there is an appeal to not sharing one’s tips, there are plenty of ways this sort of system can be abused and plenty of ways that circumstances can cheat a particular server. When you work in a restaurant (or live in a society), there is no such thing as being truly, completely autonomous.