This is a simple column by a complex
Dumb-asses need not apply.
If you flatter yourself to be a bright spot in the universe
and aren't offended by "psychotic breaks," welcome.
If you're a little frightened, well, all the better.
We kinda like you like that... with hot sauce.
Every time Thanksgiving comes around the bend – saw the first tinsel
lights in September! – I start thinking of the poor and the homeless.
Then, I start thinking of my meager bank account, and I forget about it.
But the issue still bugs me until New Year’s rings in an entirely
brainwashed, reprogrammed mental attitude. Maybe next Thanksgiving.
As a child, I used to leave gifts at strangers’ doorsteps. Easter eggs, a
turkey leg, a box of chocolates, my Barbie doll’s right leg, once I took
my plate of fixings and gave it to some guy trudging through the snow down
our street (he gave it back).
I’d always give money to beggars. Most often, I’d only have a $20 or $50
bill in my wallet, but it didn’t matter, I gave. I felt I had to. Just the
thought of them wandering around aimlessly in the cold, their stomachs
growling, smelling bad, treated worse, filled me with guilt, as if I
caused their homelessness.
In the 1970s, I began obsessively watching charity telethons on TV. Blame
Jerry Lewis. I bought into his whole, “If we raise enough money this year,
together we’ll beat muscular dystrophy,” as in, we’ll zero in on a cure
and nobody will have MS ever again.
My father never bought any of it, no matter how much I begged him to phone
in our donation. After a particularly heart-felt TV show focusing on the
plight of the starving children in Africa (yes, folks, it’s not just a
nagging reminder from your parents to eat your vegetables), I went to him,
proverbial hat in hand.
“Carol,” he sighed, “do you know what happens to the money that
I shook my head, not liking the sound of this.
“They don’t get a red cent of it. The corrupt leadership in Africa steals
all the donated money and those poor kids stay poor, they never get any of
the food that money could buy. You’re wasting your time.”
After that particular one-sided conversation, I stopped begging.
Eventually, after running into one too many professional panhandlers, I
But the spirit of giving sticks in the back of my guilt trips every time
talk turns to visiting relatives and turkey with all the trimmings. I see
snot-nosed children crying into the skeletal bosoms of their mothers
seated forlornly in an alley, covered in cardboard boxes, ignored by the
sum of society and put in a Catch-22 situation where circumstances refused
to allow them a chance to get out of their homelessness.
I read articles now and again of these very people who wound up on the
streets, people like you and me, with jobs, homes, cars, material
possessions ... that went up in smoke at the first pink slip,
overextension of credit, health problems, caregiving responsibilities,
shit happening and suddenly, they’re walking a mile in the very shoes of
the homeless they ignored or told to “Get a job!”
Throw the church into it, and I’m really hurting for a fix. Combing the
websites for a suitable donation to anonymously gift, the phone book for
organizations to donate my time and my stuff—I’ve got an attic worth of
baby clothes and blankets—something, anything where my momentary Middle
Class luxuries can do a Lower Class better good.
Sometimes, I just want to stand on a street corner with boxes full of
everything I own and the full amount of my bank accounts, and just let the
poor section of town have it.
Take it. Take it all.
They probably wouldn’t. They would probably have to be very hard up to
even touch anything I touched. I’m always amazed when someone we know
doesn’t mind going into our house, much less just hanging out inside. We
invite them to make themselves at home, help themselves to food in the
fridge and the pantry, and when they do, I can’t believe it. A couple of
babysitters have taken us up on our offer and fixed themselves some soup
for dinner on occasion. I come home, see the dishes, the empty soup can,
and am overwhelmed with gratitude.
“I don’t have cooties! Whoo hoo!”
I’d elaborate on this thread, except I need to head to Costco’s to buy a
friend’s sister a case of Pepsi (in return for drinking several cans of
hers at several meetings for several weeks) and I’m hoping to god she’ll
accept it, maybe I can lie and say it came from Tamara Braun (Carly, GH),
someone clean and wholesome and not full of cooties like me. And besides,
I’ve been rewriting and rewriting this goddamned column for three hours
now, it must be the holiday season upon me, messing with my ability to
crank out four pages in 15 minutes.
This year, I’m lucky enough to have signed up to put together a
Thanksgiving basket for a needy family, through my Northshore Christian
Church affiliation. Knowing me, I’ll go overboard and try to fill the
basket (more like discarded computer box) with a week’s supply of food,
plus enough money for the year to keep eating well.
If I weren’t so anal about strangers’ germs, the possibility of
contracting diseases and lice and the like, I’d have opened up my home to
the homeless to live permanently long ago.
Not the wisest move in today’s society, where violence often occurs
alongside well-meaning kindness. You try to help and you get slapped with
a lawsuit, or worse, an attack of greed.
In ninth grade, I befriended Ann, who often went without meals, as well as
parental figures at home. Seeing my opportunity to give, I did, often
paying for her groceries, her cab ride home. Eventually, she took
advantage, expecting me to pay for groceries and cab fares she charged to
me. And when I tired of her manipulating my compassion to keep her fed and
put up with her abusive tirades, she snubbed me, acting as if she were the
wronged party and I was just another fairweather friend.
Then again, she used her toothbrush to pleasure herself, so...
I’m constantly clashing between childhood idealism tempered by adulthood
cynicism. Give, but give wisely.
Does that mean it’s safe to start donating to Jerry’s Kids again?