Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

(No, this isn’t the one about the prostitute in the leper colony.)

Ol’ Robbo found himself watching “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)** last evening. It’s a screwball comedy starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McRae in which, as IMDB succinctly puts it, “an inventor needs cash to develop his big idea, so his adoring wife decides to raise it by divorcing him and marrying a millionaire.”

The millionaire involved (played by Rudy Vallee) is a thinly-disguised Rockefeller type whom Colbert meets on a train from New York to Florida.*** For reasons too complicated to explain, she’s on the train penniless and without any luggage. When he discovers this, Vallee’s character proceeds to spray money all over teh place, loading Colbert up with veritably two of everything.

And yet, when they get off the train in Flahrduh, Vallee’s character essentially stiffs the porter. When Colbert asks him about this, he says flatly, “Tipping is Un-American”.

This tripped a ganglion in Ol’ Robbo’s braim, because it brought to my mind a former work colleague. She was as hard-Left as you like, holding all the most radical views on economics, family, society, etc., etc. Nonetheless, we were great pals, primarily because she had a fantastic sense of humor, and couldn’t quite take anything too seriously. (Curiously enough, she also abominated abstract art, another thing we, surprisingly, had in common.)

Aaaaanyway, I recall my friend once going off on the inequities of tipping. In her view, the practice ought to be outlawed, not because it is “Un-American” but because it violates some precept of Marxist economic evolution theory or other. (Perhaps having to do with the false coddling of the proletariat. Or something. I confess that once she got going, I pretty much tuned her out.)

It amused me to think of this sentiment coming from both ends, as it were, of the economic spectrum. But it also appalled me. To Ol’ Robbo (having been both tipper and tippee), a tip, when voluntarily given ****, is a simple and sweet little act of charity, a token of appreciation of time and effort and, as experience shows, a real economic benefit for the recipient. Fake Rockefeller and my former colleague can spout all the theory they want to, but in the end, when the train porter is disgusted that he only got a nickel for 500 miles of attention and service, I’m with him.

** There is a link embedded in the title. I’ve started fiddling with the color settings here to make the posts more readable but when I overcoat the text the linkees disappear. Yay, WordPress.

*** Colbert slips on to the train with the assistance of a travelling gun club. Later, they get drunk and start shooting up a saloon car, before taking their dogs on a hunt throughout the train. I absolutely swear I’ve seen this sequence before but I have no memory whatsoever of the rest of the film. Strange.

**** Emphasis on “voluntarily”. I hate it when a restaurant, for example, arbitrarily includes one in the bill.