Sunday, June 30, 2013

Despicable Charitable Me

"So", said to me me nobody ever, "obviously, you're an excellent writer..."

"Do go on", I reply in British accent. 

"...and you're certainly funny..."

"Oh, you stop it!" I say coyly. 

"...and you're just so handsome*..."

"Okay, get on with it!" I snarl, impatient yet smiling.

"...but what's another favorite attribute of yours?"

I take several seconds, thinking hard while stroking my chin. Finally, I speak. "Well, after much consideration, I think that would have to be how philanthropic I am."

*Not three days ago I entered my bathroom and, before turning the light on, caught my own reflection.  "You know", I shouted to my roommate. "Sometimes I see myself and I think, you know what? I can actually be kind of handsome." I flipped the light switch onand saw my face again in the mirror. "NOPE!" I yelled. "ABORT, ABORT!"

What? What? What are you laughing at? I'm a nice guy, damn it!

Though to be honest, anyone who knows me knows I'm a bit... uh, how you say? Ah yes, cheap. I've mentioned this in passing before, but I'm really cheap. It mostly comes from a place of guilt; in essence, when I was spending my parents money I felt really bad about it, and so I thought that if I could make every dollar go as far as possible, last as long as it could, then in total I would be spending less of their money. Three dollars here by going to the matinee showing of a movie, two dollars there by saying I'm getting off at Palatine instead of Barrington on the Metra when I visit home*. I mean, we're talking pinching pennies. I still feel upset about the time when I guiltily paid only ten dollars to get into the Museum of Natural History (suggested price was like twenty bucks, but you could pay whatever you wanted) and then watched my cousin pay two dollars. Boy did that smart. For the rest of the day I was thinking, "I just threw eight perfectly good dollars down the drain." I missed that eight dollars.

I know this ridiculous, believe me.

*In my defense, they completely unceremoniously raised their prices several bucks without even asking me. I did not agree to pay such monies, and therefore I will not.

Now, in terms of my charitable contributions, I don't have that great of a track record. Examples include: .... uh .... um ... okay, I'm like ninety percent certain I put some of the change from my lunch money into those Unicef collection bins. And I live in a city with lots of homeless that I... no longer give to. Let me explain.

I am, by nature, a people-pleaser; I want everyone to like me all the time and I have a really hard time saying no to people*. So when someone asks me for change, it used to be an internal struggle: the discomfort of saying no to those people versus the unease of spending more of my money. And when I did give, all that would happen was the I'd pass another homeless person and feel really guilty (sensing a theme?) that I'd already given my change to the one before. "No I swear, I just gave to one of your contemporaries! So you shouldn't feel bad I didn't give you anything. You guys all talk, right? YOU KNOW I GAVE" felt like a... somewhat tone-deaf response.

*Regarding me having these qualities, someone recently said flatly, "that's really bad". I know.

Generally, I could say no if I was quickly moving onward, but if I was seated or couldn't escape the person asking for money, it was really difficult for me to turn them down. Once, I was waiting at Ogilvie for the Metra when a man came up to me. I was seated at the Subway eating my sandwich and was unable to parry. He explained he had lost his wallet and just needed seventy-three more cents for the train to Woodstock, that's all he needed, just seventy-three cents! With nowhere to go and feeling guilty, I counted out exactly seventy-three cents and gave it to him. He looked at me a little confusedly, said thanks, and moved on. Five minutes later I saw him in the same food court asking someone else for money. I was... not pleased. Not because of the money but because he had lied to me to get money out of me. He lied. Perhaps I'm too principled, but I don't like being lied to and inherently assume others aren't lying to me. Second, I believed the lie and was embarrassed. My embarrassment and disappointment in myself ran so deep that I resolved to be wary.

Like always, just be advised that I know how awful I am, alright?

*I once told a friend of mine's visiting relative, "Fun fact, all the homeless people are actors that have been hired by the city to generate revenue, so actually all the money you give goes into Chicago itself." "Really?"

I also dislike canvassers - my close personal friend Sean Maher agrees with me - I know they have a thankless job, but I'm sorry, if I'm walking down the street I clearly have somewhere I'm going and you're interrupting! And when they come to my place of residence? Know I'm aware I'm speaking as someone with a lot of privilege, but don't come to my home and then make me feel bad because I didn't give to whatever cause you interrupted my day to talk to me about, thanks. And believe me, I always feel bad.

So the other Friday, I was walking down my street after a really long day of a really long week at work. I was tired, I was sweaty, and I was starving. I just wanted to go home, make myself some pizza, and plop down on my couch. In the distance, there was a man on the sidewalk... as I got closer I saw he was dressed nice and holding a clipboard. "No, no, no..." I thought. "Excuse me", he said, "can I get thirty seconds of your time?"

Now, my biggest pet peeve in the world is rudeness. I abhor it. I don't understand why everyone in the world wasn't raised to be kind to others and to speak to people appropriately the way I was; the world could be a much better place if everyone took five seconds to not be an asshole. People are rude when they don't have to be, and that just baffles me. You don't need to be as deferential as, say, I don't know, ME, but you can still find a way not to be rude to someone who doesn't deserve to deal with that. So knowing this about myself, the fact that I was even ever so slightly rude to this guy shows me (in retrospect) how tired I must have been.

"You can have thirty seconds" I said curtly. I kept walking down the street towards my apartment, the guy turns and starts walking with me, and now I've forced him into a walk and talk like we're on The West Wing. He begins talking to me about this program as I start pulling the headphones out of my ears. "So basically," he continued, "if I can sell enough of these Chicago Tribune subscriptions they'll pay for me to go to college". What? I suddenly turned to stop and look at this person clearly... and suddenly I noticed how young he was. He looked like he was sixteen, seventeen maybe. He was a kid. And I suddenly thought about how embarrassed and nervous he must be having to approach strangers and jeez I didn't have to be such a dick, the thirty seconds remark and making him walk with me?! god I'm awful. I just thought, come on, I've been so spoiled - I never had to give a second thought to going to college; I didn't even really want to go. Here this kid is trying so hard to have a chance to do something that everyone who wants to should be able to do. "So how much is it, exactly?" I asked. "Thirty dollars." He said. I opened my wallet - I had exactly twenty-nine dollars in cash. I told him that I only had twenty-nine. "That's fine!" he said, "I'll put in a dollar, honestly it's fine!" He was so excited. He shook my hand and said thank you. I asked him his name - he said it was Farad. "Where do you want to go to school?" It turns out it was the school I graduated from... I told him as much. "Really?", he said excitedly, "I really want to play on the basketball team... were you on the basketball team?" "Do I look like I was on the basketball team?" I cracked. He laughed. He gave me a sincere thank you, I wished him good luck and finished walking back to my apartment.

As planned, I stuck on pizza onto the pizzazz, changed into lazy clothes, poured myself a soda and collapsed onto the couch. I flipped the TV on.

I didn't miss the twenty-nine dollars.

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