On the Merits of “Service Compris”

Or: Tip? I got your tip right here!

I lunched just the other day with a friend at a local buffet that also provides a la carte service. I’ve frequented this establishment since it first opened and was, in fact, the very first paying customer through the door on the day it opened. Which is not to say I’m somehow more vested in this restaurant than you or your grandma, mind you, but just a note of my better-than-passing familiarity with the people.

Entering on this particular day, though, I noticed a new addition to the door. Amidst the “Open” sign and the near-constantly changing HOURS decal, beside the PUSH and the poster for a two-weeks-past gallery crawl, a simple note, written in heavy black marker and shaded with highlighters.

A 15% Gratuity will be added to each buffet purchase.

Say huh?

Thinking I had somehow misinterpreted it to mean “For parties of 8 or more,” I looked again. Sure enough, this was covered by the disclaimer, in ballpoint and unhighlighted at the bottom.

Also, a 15% gratuity will be added to all parties of 8 or more.

So let me get this straight. I’m going to leave my table and my friends, stand in line to prepare my own plate, a plate I’ll carry to the table myself, and then pay a 15% gratuity to the person who brought me the glass of water that has now been empty for 15 minutes?

In all fairness, I have two problems with the “automatic” gratuity. First, I almost never tip less than 20% on restaurant purchase — buffets included. Secondly, though, I really don’t appreciate an arbitrary removal of my right to decide how much my waiter was worth. If you’re going to charge the gratuity automatically, it ceases to become a “gratuity” and becomes a part of the cost of the meal.

We have a phrase for it, familiar to foodies everywhere as the height of dining elegance. Service Compris (ser-veese cohm-pree). It’s French for “tip included.” Essentially, the restaurant has factored into  the cost of your meal providing your servers with a living wage.

Before anyone goes Joseph Roberts on me, understand this: I was a waiter. A good one. And I never once “gratted” a check. Not one. Not the table of Mom, Grandma, and six kids. Not the birthday party for 26 heavy drinkers. And certainly not a single diner chowing down on a self-serve buffet. The reason? I always made sure I provided adequate enough service that it would never ever cross the mind of my customer to tip only 15%. A roll of the dice, sure. But one that paid off. Time and again.

Refusal to grat tables provided a powerful motivator for me to provide a superb dining experience and also gave the customer the privilege of deciding just how superb that experience had been for them. Allowing them to set the tip proved to be an effective barometer of my performance. Not once was I ever tipped less than 20%. One customer went so far as to tip an embarrassingly excessive 40% on a large check. We ate well that night at Casa del Michel.

But what of this mandatory tip at the buffet? “Is it not service compris in effect, if not name?” No, it’s not. It’s a gratuity, added to the bill after the fact, so that the restauranteur can continue to pay his workers sub-standard wages to provide a service for which they should be better compensated by him. If he cannot do so at the price he set, then he should raise prices adequately to compensate. Or even better, hire a busser and put a drink dispenser in the dining room — a move with which I would be perfectly content.

And if the busser was any good, I’d probably leave a tip on the table anyway.

An Open Letter to Chuck Murphy, The Denver Post

In Response to this editorial.

Dear Mr. Murphy,

Please forgive my intrusion into your workday. I know how difficult it must be for you to answer emails from the boonies while living the Big City Life in Denver, Colorado, population, 2.5 million and change. We here in Monroe, Louisiana, population 46,500 or so, barely know how to type…much less use one of those new fangled computer things.

Congratulations, belatedly, on graduating from Northeast Louisiana University in 1986. And congratulations on your career success as a journalist and writer, something I’m sure your four year stay in Monroe played no part in creating. After all, a 4-year degree from this backwoods, “gritty, flatland,” could not have possibly prepared you for the “real” world of places as glamorous as Denver, Colorado.

Some things have changed since you were here, though, and I think it is important to mention just a few. While it is true we are still an area where hunting and fishing are favored past-times, we support a thriving arts community, complete with two professional ballet companies, two full-time theatre companies, a symphony and myriad smaller venues rife with live entertainment not related to killing animals.

Our housing market has also changed a bit. The average home price in our area is just over $150,000 (that’s more than $100,000 less than the low-end of the Denver Metro area) for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in a quiet neighborhood on a 1/4-to-1/2 acre lot. Apartments in the most expensive parts of town come with free internet, pools, gyms, walking paths and granite counter tops, for about $800 a month for a 3/2 apartment (that’s almost $700 off the same comparable rentals in the Denver Metro area, for those keeping score). We are the home of The Garden District, a nationally-designated historical residential district with homes dating from the late 1890s through the early 1950s. There are four developments around the area — including one of the first certified “green home” developments in the country. And that’s just in Monroe-West Monroe. Move out just a bit, twenty minutes or so down the road, and you’ll find developments around Black Bear and Squire Creek that will rival any of the McMansions you find in Broomfield or Boulder…all comfortably priced at $350,000-900,000. I’m just curious, having never ventured out of the swamp in my front yard. What will $350,000 get me in Denver?

Did I mention Black Bear and Squire Creek? Two world-class, championship golf courses designed and maintained by world-class course architects? You haven’t heard of them? I’m not surprised, since both have only seen the scantest of publicity, having been featured prominently on the cover of Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, as part of the Audubon Trail. Also, we’re a bit skinny on the sports side, as we only have our local high school and collegiate scene to entertain us on Friday nights.

It’s true. Denver has the Broncos and we have the Warhawks of ULM, the Bulldogs Louisiana Tech and the Tigers of Grambling. Our biggest claims to fame are four national titles between the schools and the band of Grambling playing at every presidential inauguration since George H. W. Bush. They were one time, if I recall, featured in a little indie movie. You may have heard of it, though only in passing, as I’m sure “Drumline” never played in such a fancy place as Denver. That also doesn’t even consider the two national championship high school football teams (one of which featured prominently on ESPN’s Two-A-Day, about the West Monroe High School Rebels), a 24-time National Champion waterski team and a national collegiate debate championship team — both from your alma matter, ULM.

And yes, Mr. Murphy, it is true. Sadly we are a “gritty flatland surrounded by farm land,” but we don’t grow much cotton anymore. In fact, our biggest cash crop isn’t even soybeans. It’s corn. So think about our little area next time you drink a Coke (High Fructose Corn Syrup), eat a taco (corn tortilla shell) or drive your Flex Fuel car (ethanol), because chances are some aspect of your life is inextricably linked to our little backwater town, which happens to be the economic hub of the second-largest rowcrop region on the planet and the largest in these United States.

Agriculture is something we think about alot here, since we don’t have restaurants or a night life aside from Cormier’s Crawfish and Enoch’s Louisiana music. In fact, you raise an interesting question, Mr. Murphy. What are all those people doing every night at the twenty or thirty night clubs? Surely they’re not enjoying nationally recognized musical acts interspersed with successful Louisiana bands? Well, I guess those Louisiana bands had to go somewhere since Enoch’s is now focused almost exclusively on acts from outside of Louisiana. (A quick check of their web site would reveal five musical acts in the last two weeks from across the Pond…and I don’t mean the Ouachita River. This Friday, in fact, a band called the Rosellys will perform — all the way from England.) And I know how disappointed people from Denver will be to find out they can’t get Indian food at the two Indian restaurants in Monroe, or decent Tex-Mex at the dozen Tex-Mex restaurants, or Fusion Cuisine at Sage or decent wines from Vieux Carré Gourmet or Tonoré’s Wine Cellar.

They’ll need good hooch, too, what with the lack of arts, entertainment, food, and well, anything resembling culture that doesn’t require you to hook it or shoot it before getting to play with it.

At least they’ll be able to stay employed, though. After all, we’re the home city of three Fortune 500 companies — Delta Airlines, CenturyLink and Coca-Cola Bottling. While that pales in comparison to Denver and her 5 Fortune 500, when meted out per-capita over the entire metro areas of the two, we have one Fortune 500 company per 120,000 people. You guys have one Fortune 500 company per 357,000 so chances are the people coming here will be able to find good-paying jobs for their spouses and more than adequate educations for their children at one of our region’s three universities.

And if the people coming here fall flat on their faces and land in the unemployment line, we have a community of God-fearing, America-loving, proud farmers, hunters, fishers, doctors, lawyers, business and industry leaders and more than our share of grandmas to pick them up, dust off their rumps, and get them back on their feet. You see, Mr. Murphy, what we lack in Big City Class and Condescension we more than make up for with Small Town Pride and Southern Hospitality.

We must be doing something right. After all, a company from this backwater, cultural wasteland just paid more than $10 billion to save — I mean buy — a near-bankrupt company in Denver, saving the jobs of about 30,000 people.

I’ll tell you what, Mr. Murphy. You stay right there in Denver. I’m completely content with our little flatland here.

Yours truly,

Michael DeVault

Musings of a Recovering Journalist

Or: The Perils of Blogs as a Source of Fact.

I very rarely post anything to this blog that isn’t a reflection of events in my life, those happenings that are a firsthand experience. As a recovering journalist, I try to avoid speculative posts and rumor-repeating on my blog. Call it a holdover from when I had…what’s the word…ethics. I never bought into that famous Glen Close quip from “The Paper” — we only have to be right for the day.

When you print something, you should do your best to make sure it is correct. Maybe it’s because newspapers have a certain permanence, the realization that, one day, historians will build the history books based in part on what you write in your paper. Or maybe it’s the responsibility of knowing too many falsehoods will lead to declining sales. Either way, the goal is accuracy.

Blogs don’t share that same responsibility. They’re transient. No sense of permanence .

Lies get spread and, usually, since the bloggers share the motives of their readers, they are given a pass for sharing half-truths, misdirections and the occasional flatout lie.

No single example of this stands out more readily than the Birthers movement. Built entirely upon circular reasoning and the most dubious sources, these guys have to completely disconnect their conclusions from Reality. Once a few bloggers posted their idle speculations, though, it got picked up and repeated by people like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin as a reasonable position to hold. Now, the bloggers have a mainstream source to quote and it’s off to the races.

If this is somewhat rambling, please forgive me. I’m a little miffed right now. As more people turn to the Internet for their source of news and information, the ideas of truth and accuracy are tossed out the window in favor of innuendo and agenda.

And all the while, the most ridiculous things are given credence. For example: President Obama was born of an unholy mating of a Martian and Satan’s sister.

It must be true because people are reading it on blogs. You just did.

Spring in the South

I live in the most magical place on earth.

Ask any Southerner and they will say some variation of the above statement with pride bordering on nostalgia. Am I proud of all things Southern? Not at all. There is a lot to be improved upon in my little corner of the globe. Yet, as a whole, i can’t imagine any place I’d rather call home than right here.

Spring in the South is a magical time. It starts with the faintest hints of white on the Bradford Pears. While I cannot stand Bradford Pears and they are, by no means, a “southern” tree, we can thank Southern Living Magazine for that little addition. But we won’t hold the rotten socks smell against them too badly, because we also have them to thank for the widespread introduction of the Japanese Magnolia, known in these parts as the Tulip Tree.

Southern springs are not all about plants and trees and flowers. It’s about life outdoors, eating and dining in chill evening air, sharing a moonlit walk with that special someone and, occasionally, wonky weather.

The first day of spring in the last year of first decade of the new millennium  was no exception. For yesterday? We in Louisiana had snow. Not small, piddling snow but big, moist flakes cascading to their deaths on the pavement, on the green grass, in the trees.

And the second day of spring? Well, suffice it to say the table is set on the patio and dinner is in the oven.

A Message of Thanksgiving

Today is the day those of us who live in the United States come together around the dinner table and eat ourselves into the oblivious bliss of nausea before migrating en masse to the sofas and easy chairs and bean bags for football — or as some of us might call it, an afternoon nap.

We have a lot to be thankful for in this great land. We’re healthy, for the post part. (Some of us are too healthy, and should possibly lay off that fourth helping of dressing. I’m just sayin’…) We’re the most powerful nation on the planet (for now). We live in a land of plentiful bounty. (Did you look at your tables?) And we are safe. (Again, for now.)

Yet, it’s too easy to forget why we are here, how we got here, and who we have to thank for it.

That’s right. Today is that glorious day when the Titanic first sailed into Pearl Harbor and (then Captain) George Washington made his way down the gangplank to shake hands with the Aztec Chief and pay him a pile of beads for a healthy dose of Syphilis and a shipload of carcinogens.

I may have gotten a couple of those details wrong, but you get the gist, right? After all, we’re a nation that is often chided for its lack of … understanding about our own past.

So today, boys and girls, my challenge for you is this: make a list of ten things for which you are thankful and share those things around the table. If you don’t have anywhere to go, just knock on someone’s door, tell them I sent you, and ask to join them for a meal! And to everyone else, when some weird-assed whacko knocks on your door and says “Hey, this guy on the interwebs said I should stop in and have dinner,” remember — before you slam the door in his face, even President Barack Obama’s dinner parties get crashed.

So maybe you might want to go ahead and set and extra place.

Don’t go there.

Or: No really. Please don’t go there.

Most of my friends will tell you I’m a man of very strong opinions.

Sometimes, the passion of my opinion gets carried away and the result is not pretty. At other times, a well-reasoned defense of a particular position has been known to change more than a few minds. Almost universally, though, you won’t find me unwilling to express an opinion.

It was bearing this in mind that I asked a question at breakfast this morning.

“How do I feel about the whole Roman Polanski thing?”

It took me about three minutes to convince my friends that I really don’t know how I feel, my feelings are mixed, and I was seeking their input in hopes of finding clarity in my own confused thoughts on the subject. But we’ll get back to that in a minute because I wasn’t planning on blogging about a rapist and the prosecutorial misconduct that has led to this debacle.

But something changed my mind. It was this little gem from The Gothamist. It seems a number of Hollywood types not interested in their future careers, have come out with a petition to free Polanski.

A number of notable film notables, including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Jonathan Demme, and Pedro Almodovar, have reportedly signed a petition demanding his release.

Woody Allen? Really?

Let’s see. If you’re this Woody Allen, wouldn’t the last thing you want to do be endorsing the release of a man who pleaded guilty to the forced rape of a 13 year old girl? I mean really, don’t you expect people are going to connect those dots? Is there some weird, Hollywood version of NAMBLA I don’t know about, one for pervy directors who like to use their position and influence as the gatekeepers along the path to superstardom as tools to get in the pants of unsuspecting (or fully suspecting, as the case may be) young women?

Yet, here’s Woody’s geriatric self, jumping out in front of the Greyhound of public opinion. Good job, Wood. Really, two thumbs up, man.

But Woody Allen’s insipidity aside, I’m still left with the facts of this case. A man in 1977 raped a girl. Of this, there has been no dispute. A judge in the case agreed to accept a guilty plea in exchange for time served. The prosecutors and the judge colluded behind the scenes to break that agreement. Of this, there has been no dispute. The perpetrator of this horrid crime fled the country. His lawyers negotiated a financial settlement with the girl and her family in order to put the matter behind them. Of this, there has been no dispute. And when it seemed the entire matter was about to finally be laid to rest, once and for all, judicial stupidity and possible misconduct again reared its ugly head and scuttled the whole process. Of this, there has been no dispute.

Yet throughout it all, one thing is also without dispute. Everyone — from the judges to the attorneys to the mother of the girl were all in the wrong. They all made bad decisions, committed themselves to bad courses of action and were all sharing in the blame of continually, perpetually and repeatedly raping Samantha Geimer on the front pages of newspapers, on the cable news stations, on the interwebs. Again and again, she’s relived her ordeal at the hands of millions of undefined, ill-pictured Others as the courts continue to drag her into the spotlight very much against her will. All the while, she has begged the courts, the attorneys, the media to just drop it. Please stop. She’s ready for it to be over.

These are words and phrases that should be familiar to Samantha Geimer. They’re the same things she said to Roman Polanski more than 32 years ago. Ironically, tragically, he did not listen to her then and no one else seems to be listening to her today.

The more things change…

And now I know how I feel about the case. For Ms. Geimer’s sake, I hope it is resolved quickly because she’s the only one whose opinion should matter.

Monday, funny Monday.

Or: Moving coffins on Labor Day.

In addition to my books and to a sometimes-thriving marketing consulting business, I’ve worked as a journalist for the last 9 years.

Sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time, but always writing for periodical publications. Most recently, my publisher promoted me to co-editor of a weekly newspaper.

It’s a job I enjoy. I write – a lot. But the job also affords me the opportunity to meet interesting people and explore topics about which I might have no other opportunity to learn. (Seriously. How else on earth would a city-boy like me learn about crop yields?)

Since I’ve been writing for the newspaper here, I’ve pondered what a fish-out-of-water story might look like. Either via a television dramedy (I hate that word, but it fits), or a sitcom. It isn’t something I’d actually consider writing, probably, but who knows. At any rate, yet again a moment arrived – ironically on the very first day I was down here full time.

Like any good story, it starts with a stranger at the door…

“Excuse me,” says the man. “I was looking for…” he says, referring to my predecessor. I inform the stranger that he has retired. What can I do?

“Oh! Congratulations, I guess. Well, I was really just looking for a strong back.”

This is going to be interesting, I think to myself. The man is well-dressed, shirt and tie, looks respectable and respectful, so I offer, “What can I do for you?”

“I was just going to ask someone to help me move a coffin.”

In all fairness it’s not a question you expect to receive — well, ever — but doubly so on Labor Day morning. As if detecting my immediate hesitation, the gentleman chuckles.

“It’s empty,” he says.

He goes on to explain he owns the funeral home adjacent to the rear of our building. Since it is Labor Day, he’s the only one in the office and has just received a new shipment, which needs to be placed in the showroom.

I agree to help and in the process learned my first lesson of working in a small, tight-knit Louisiana community. Everyone is willing to step in at a moment’s notice for pretty much any and all requests that might come their way. Over the next few days, I began to wonder: why is the same thing not true in a city?

What is that x-factor, peculiar to communities larger than 30,000, that turns off the ‘help the neighbor’ gene? Are we just too busy with our own lives? Maybe it’s distrust.

In a small town, when you’re asked to move a coffin, one’s first reaction is one of trust.

“Hey, this guy’s asking me to move a coffin. I’d better go help him move a coffin,” you might say to yourself. Yet in a larger city, the immediate reaction one of fear or suspicion.

“Hey, this guy’s asking me to move a coffin. Maybe he wants to put me in it!”

So here’s my weekly challenge to you as you go about your daily lives. If you live in a city, take a moment each time you receive a request for aid, no matter how trivial or mundane, and consider if your response is coming from suspicion. You don’t necessarily have to agree, but I’m betting that, if you do, a lot of people will get helped.

Résumé

Or: The things I can do to a chicken.

Résumé

Razors pain you
Rivers are damp
Acids stain you
And drugs cause cramp
Guns aren't lawful
Nooses give
Gas smells awful
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker

About a week ago, I spent some time on the patio of a dear friend, enjoying good food, good beer and good weather.

It’s a rarity in the Deep South, to be voluntarily outside in the middle of an August afternoon, when temperatures regularly reach stratospheric heights. Sweltering days of 100+ weather are not uncommon. So it was lucky we got to get together and just relax in a balmy 80 degree afternoon.

While sitting around the table, we turned our attention to the closure of a spate of local restaurants, why this place went out of business or the problems with that place and how it will be going out business. How ever did such-and-such ever manage to build a successful restaurant? Just your typical armchair quaterbacking by a bunch of foodies, when Bob Eisenstadt, an economist-friend, chuckled.

“This from all of us who’ve never run a restaurant,” he says.

I sheepishly raise my hand. He nods.

“Oh, that’s right.” Then he smiles. “You’ve done a remarkable number of things.”

It wasn’t meant nor was it delivered as an insult, but rather an observation I chose to take as a compliment. It’s true I’ve done a ton of different things. But while some people might think that’s because I’m multi-talented, maybe it’s just because I can’t hold a job?

My last therapist called it best. She said, “Michael, I fear you are ill-suited to the corporate world. Perhaps a career as a landscaper or handyman? Something not requiring you to have a boss.”

It occured to me later, after I’d gone home and taken a shower, put on the PJ’s and piled up in front of the TV for an episode or six of The West Wing, that Bob’s statement and the pronouncement of my therapist were probably related.

The “remarkable number of things” I’ve done aren’t a function of some inate talent or ability. They’re because I’m severely ADHD and I bounce off the walls if my mind isn’t going a million directions at once. And once I reach a level of mastery sufficient to succeed, I grow bored.

Professional student syndrome anyone?

At any rate, I’ve now spent the last few days piecing together my work history – including the things that, while not professional endeavors, did take up a lot of my time.

So without further ado, here’s my own Resume:

1.) Office Bitch. Aka “here, do this” and “can’t you find something productive to do?” Position held from 15-17, when in high school.

2.) Computer Repair Technician. (Did this in several stints, but we’ll just talk about the first one — after the boss from the job above realized I’d worked myself out of a job and now needed new skills.)

3.) Network Admin/Deskside Support. The local District Manager of H&R Block paid me to fix their computers, build the networks, and train the tax preparers. It was so successful of a post that the company — the national company — paid a site visit, saw what I was doing, and duplicated it in all 980 districts nationwide. I was 19.

4.) Theatre junkie. That means actor, director, stage hand, set builder, props master, chorus line, starring role. I was even trained in stage combat by some of the same people who choreographed Braveheart.

5.) Marketing director. This is the one I come back to…over and over and over again…if only because it provides the most variety and steadiest income stream.

6.) Reporter. Newprint, magazine, television. Even a couple of radio spots. I’ve done it all.

7.) Novelist. Two down, how many to go?

I’m sure I’m leaving things off. But looking back over it, I’m beginning to grow nostalgic, like I want to go back to some of them for a time and see what new, exciting things I could learn.

Of course, I’d probably get bored, stick my head in the oven and finish myself off. Maybe Dorothy Parker was right. That thing we do, while moving through the days, weeks and months of our years, is life.

Oh well, you might as well live.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=–=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

P.S. I almost forgot:

While you’re living, try this out. Just a little something something I came up with tonight. Improvisation was one of the first skills I learned running restaurants for Paul Elias.

Ménage-a-Poulet

This is a recipe of threes, so it’s easy to remember. Assembly is important…otherwise you end up with a chicken stew.

3 – Frozen, boneless chicken breasts

3 – Tablespoons, Butter

3 – Tablespoons, each, Garlic, Basil, Oregano. (3×3=9 total)

3 – Tablespoons, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 – Teaspoons, kosher salt

3 – healthy splashes, Merlot

3 – Tablespoons, bread crumbs

3 – Teaspoons, Parm. Cheese, grated finely.

3 – Yukon gold potatoes, roughly cubed.

ASSEMBLY: In a glass dish, place the three chicken breasts, still frozen. Add olive oil, drizzling atop the breasts and into the dish as well. Sprinkle seasonings onto chicken then into olive oil in pan. Save some seasonings for later. Pour three healthy splashes (roughly 2/3 cup) of Merlot into bottom of dish.

Once the chicken is coated in seasonings and herbs, sprinkle 1 TBSP of bread crumbs atop chicken. Carefully surround the chicken with the potatoes and sprinkle remaining seasonings atop the potatoes. Finish off the breasts by placing one tablespoon of butter atop each and dusting the entire pan with the parmesan cheese.

BAKE: Securely cover the entire dish with foil, so moisture will not escape. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour at 425 degrees. The chicken will thaw while cooking. For the final 3-5 minutes, remove the cover and switch the oven to broil to brown the chicken.

Remove, and serve with lightly steamed asparagus spears or brusselsprouts.

It’s heaven, let me tell you. Your guests will be licking the plate.

The art of selling yourself

Or: Why Spammers should be summarily executed.

I get a lot of e-mail.

My grandmother gets angry when I spend half my time looking at my iPhone and clicking away. She assumes I’m spending my time with her texting some girl random nothings. (“I remember a world before text messages. People talked,” seems to be a familiar cry around my family circles.) In reality, though, I’m reading a far less intrusive but equally ubiquitous invader of my private time: my email.

Plotting the history of this panacea of communications technologies is interesting. You have but to look at the name and its metamorphosis throughout the years to see a history marked by the progression of time in the spotlight. As hard as it is to believe, email was born in 1965 — before man walked on the moon.

It started out as a necessity. Timesharing mainframe computers meant users would access the machines at different times. They wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the face time of your typical corporate shop, so they needed a way to communicate. Best as I can find out, the first email was sent sometime in ’65 at MIT. I’m betting the content was as electrifying as, “Meet me at the quad for a quick game of Chess after class?”

Necessity indeed.

With that said, you pretty obviously know I have my own domain. (www.michaeldevault.com, right? Please say you recognize that. I mean, you’re reading the words on this page.) Many of you though, may not know that I also receive much email to this domain. My email is simple enough. me at, well, me.com.

Yes, my email address is me@. Not Michael@, or any of the permutations thereof. Not info@, as that’s generic and impersonal and this is a personal site. It’s also easy enough and a good conversation starter. “Email me at MichaelDeVault.com.” “What’s your email address?” “Me at MichaelDeVault.com.” And since I have my own domain and am master of it, I receive a fair amount of spam.

Usually it’s addressed to “Dear michaeldevault,” or “Dear ,” as the spambots cannot process “me” into a suitable name. Today, that all changed. A spammer sent me the following email:

Dear me,

I accidentally sent you the wrong file!

It made me chuckle at first, but then it got under my skin. That little accidental “Dear me!” allowed it to get through my spam filters and waste my electrons!

I’ve seen kids exposed to porn, old women exposed to viagra ads, and pretty much everyone I know exposed to viruses. (Buy a Mac already!?) So why are these lowlife pondscum allowed to waste oxygen? Can’t we scrape them off of society with a spatula?

Among the Things You Realize Living in the South

So I was driving down the road the other day with my friend Russ, when we began discussing the pending collapse of civilization.

Relax, we’re not crazy. It was in relationship to a certain local congregation that is hell-bent on preparing for the end of the Western World and, as such, has more than its fair share of individuals equipped to live in a world without electricity, running water or modern medicine. But I came to a realization: the South, and many off those who live here, will be just fine.

Within weeks, the 85% of the male population that own a bass boat more valuable than their home will have found a niche industry providing fish for food. All the while, as the rest of us barter away what little possessions we have, the bass fishermen will sit back, a Cuban cigar dangling from their toothless mouths, and wag a gold-ringed finger at we who do not fish and say “See. I tol’ you so. That’ll be two gold Rolexes and a gallon of gasoline.”

It’s not that I’m ignorant. I’m as capable of growing things in the dirt as the next guy. (Well, maybe not.) But my idea of a Utopian paradise isn’t the Olduvai Gorge after living in space for three years. I’m much more of a “Give me a pool or a deck or a lake and wi-fi.” Even better, give me a Starbucks.

But the conversation with Russ left me wondering. How would I really fair when 2012 and the Mayan gods come back to kill us all? Will I be able to hack carving a meager yet happy existence Ego-wise from the top of some well-protected and completely self-contained little microsettlement? Or will I be more like the savage school kids in Lord of the Flies, forced to turn to a life of conch-controled pseudo-society brawls for what little bit in the way of nuts and berries some dead fat kid left hidden in his napsack?

Until that fateful day, I guess I’ll just have to be left to wonder…where the hell will I get my java fix?