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May 23-29, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, how do you feel about Internet dating? I've tried some of your suggestions already. Joining a group hasn't really led to anything, and taking a class hasn't helped me meet anyone (there's not much time for socializing, and now I have homework--thanks for that). I feel like Internet dating could be a humiliating sign of how undesirable I am that I can't even meet anyone without self-advertising. But on the other hand, what do I have to lose at this point?--Livin' with My Dog

Dear Dawg: I have known of some very successful relationships that have germinated through e-mail and a couple of partially fabricated profiles. I wouldn't abandon the group or the junior college, however. How about going online and looking for contra dances in your area? Dance is very interactive, and contra dancing, in particular, allows you the opportunity to interact in a positive, dance-with-everyone sort of way.

As for the JC, just pick a class that you're really interested in and stop bitching about the homework. What else do you have to do at night? And sure, start cruising the Internet and looking at some of the dating sites. See what's right for you, and cautiously proceed.

Try not to do any of these activities, however, with a list of expectations in your free hand. Just do it for yourself, and the cool people will come. It's a magnetic thing. We all have to advertise for ourselves; it's something we do constantly. Advertising on the Internet is no different than stepping on someone's toe in the dance line, looking up and realizing this is a moment where your most generous smile might earn you a phone number. So lay it on.

Dear Sydney, why does a bartender making a simple rum and Coke or just serving a beer get tipped better than someone making a cup of espresso or a shot of wheatgrass or a sandwich? Nothing against bartenders, but drinks are expensive enough. Throw a dollar tip on top of every drink, and that's a 25 percent tip. Who establishes these things, anyway? I just don't see why a bartender should get tipped so much better than everyone else.--Befuddled Deli Worker

Dear Befuddled: In the United States, tipping is an expected addition in the service industry. The etiquette varies, however, from business to business. If you fail to leave a tip in a restaurant, this will be considered a great slight and will earn you nothing but undercooked meat, should you dare to return. Baristas, massage therapists and others in the service industry, however, are tipped intermittently, depending on the generosity of the tipper.

As you know from your deli experience, people who receive tips are usually paid a low hourly wage to compensate for the tipping, or they suffer the inconsistent nature of being self-employed. They are often working hard to provide you with a service; they almost never have health benefits, paid time off or sick leave; and their ability and desire to do a good job are the deciding factors for the resulting quality of their work. Tipping helps them survive, and you receive better service.

But why overtip the bartender? First of all, the bartender will be making your drinks, and if you want quality, you have to pay for it. Also, the bartender has to put up with you, and hundreds of other people, who are drunk. Anyone who spends his or her evenings hanging out with a bunch of drunks deserves the extra cash. So kick down. If you can't afford it, then stay home and drink. You'll be safer, and the streets will be spared one more person who probably shouldn't be driving but is anyway.

Dear Sydney, several issues ago you talked about parental involvement and said, "Parents should take care of their children as best they can forever" (April 4). I think you were including financial assistance. My parents always claimed that would take away my ambition and incentive, so they didn't. My daughter, who is almost 24, is floundering. She doesn't have a job and seems too depressed to look for one. I could give her more incentive by not sending her any more money, but some kids get in trouble when they're broke. She's a very good kid, almost too good and naive for this world. Friends say I'm helping her "goof off" and not making her face the facts, but I don't want to feed her into the machine. I want to give her a lot of time to find her way.--Love Hurts

Dear Love: When I look around me, in a time where a single parent working full-time, making just above what would be considered a "living wage" (a little over $10 an hour), makes about $200 a month over rent, I see a clear pattern. Young people who seem to be the most financially secure have help from their families. This doesn't mean that you should buy your daughter everything she has ever wanted, but there are simple things, like education and rent and learning how to survive, that take time and the sort of money that it's genuinely difficult, if not impossible, for a 24-year-old to consistently earn on her own. For this reason, if you can help her and buy her some time to figure out how to make it, then why not do it?

Consider, did your own parent's philosophy help you to achieve more? The people I see achieving have very often been put through college, their parents pay their medical and car insurance, someone helps them put a down payment on a house, etc. Not everyone is lucky enough to get this kind of help, and not all of us can afford to give it, but we can do the best we can. Even something seemingly small, like sending your daughter a gift card for a local grocery store or a book of postage stamps or a bottle of good quality vitamins, can be a tremendous help and an act of love that, in her present state, will not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Ultimately, she will have to find her own way to that elusive beast contentment, but your willingness to support her is proof of your love and commitment as a father. Sending your children out into the world unassisted is like putting your one-year-old in high heels and saying, "Learn how to walk." I guess you could do that, but why would you?

'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at or write [email protected].

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.