Want to Feel like You’re Helping? You Can Buy That.

I was sitting at Waffle House yesterday afternoon because coffee.  As I was caffeinating myself, a homeless woman began to speak behind me.   I thought she was randomly ranting about her life and how it was crazy that homeless people cannot get food stamps, and I cringed and pretended I didn’t hear.  Which actually turned out ok because she wasn’t talking to me at all, but on a phone lent to her by the waitress.  On a second call to a Sister Janet, she left a lengthy voice mail.  I’m at Waffle House, said the woman.  I need to get to the Howard Johnson for the night.  I have half the money.  I need someone to pick me up and drive me there and use their ID to get me a room.  I just need one night.  She carefully repeated the information several times.  I’m here.  This is what I need.  For just one night.

From the corner of my eye, I could see her, sitting next to a wheel chair in a too big camo jacket on a day people were being warned to stay inside because of the heat. I could see an aura of pain around her, or maybe it was sweat.  She was articulate.  She probably had a job once, a family.  Now she had Sister Janet and the kind Waffle House waitress.  And me!  How lucky for her I stopped to get coffee and actually had a small amount of cash on me.

I went over to her table and set a single bill on the table.  “Excuse me ma’am,” I said.  “I’d like to help you get your hotel.”

She said nothing.

“She can’t see, “said the waitress. I was startled. I had not realized she was blind as she sat rubbing her eyes.

“I’m just going to leave this here for you,” I say.

“Just tell me what it is,” said the woman.

“It’s a Ten.” I say.  I had another five in my bag somewhere.  Why hadn’t I pulled it out?  “I’d like for you to get your hotel room tonight.”

For a long moment, she said nothing, then “Thank you.”

That’s it.  Just a firm, emotionless thank you. No joy, no gratitude, no resentment.  Nothing at all. Just the expected acknowledgement of my paltry gift.

I think she was tired. Tapped out.  Tapped out of hope, tapped out of optimism, tapped out of momentum. That last one-sided conversation took all the strength she had.  Now she was waiting.  For Sister Janet.  Or whatever happened to her next.

I was surprised.  Caught off guard, even. I had expected effusive levels of gratitude.  I had expected multiple “thank yous” and “bless yous” and probably even a “you are a good Christian,” which I get in this type of situation a lot.  It’s really awkward. Is this really the time to explain to someone that you are, in fact, not a Christian, and that people who are not Christians are also capable of acts of kindness?  Way to lecture the homeless person and make it all about you.

“Try to stay cool,” I told the woman, thinking about how the hotel would get her out of the Heat Advisory.

“I’ll try to stay alive,” she said, letting me know air conditioning might not be her first priority.  “I’ll try to stay alive.”

Well. That was a downer.  This was supposed to make me feel good about myself. But I felt just as shitty as before I paid my guilt tax.  My ten dollars did not cure her homelessness.  I could have given her a hundred and that wouldn’t have gotten her off the streets or the permanent address you need to get an ID so you can get a hotel room or food stamps or a voter’s registration.  I could justify the inadequacy of my gift by claiming it was better than nothing.  But isn’t it her job to tell me that, to make me feel better about sleeping in my own bed?  Is that not the least she could do after I had done the very very least that I could do? But she refused to play.  Either she would get the hotel or she wouldn’t.  Either she’d survive the night or she wouldn’t.  Anything I had to offer was too little, too late, and she did not feel obligated to make me feel ok about that.  Had I given her money because I wanted to help or because I hoped it would make that icky feeling in the pit of my stomach go away?  Both probably, but I’m not sure I got either.

Feeling good about helping is not the same thing as actually helping.  I talked to my brother about this when he got back from a short Mission trip to Haiti where he had helped a few native men build a device for collecting fresh water.  They appreciated his help, he said, and while it was a humbling, life-changing experience for him, he had spent money to get there to experience it that could have gone to raw materials.  It’s not as if, he said, they have a shortage of labor. He would have helped more by staying home and sending cash.

Orphan tourism, which you can read about here, is so bad some places that children who have parents drop out of school to “work” as orphans to support the tourist industry.  But go right ahead and feel good about those band aids you took over in your suitcase.  Take some of those selfies with brown children, too.  Put them on Instagram. Tell people at cocktail parties how much you helped. Open your eyes to the horrors of the world and then pay what you have to pay so you can still sleep at night.

Not much of a traveler?  Bored with handing cash to winos? You can participate in the White Savior Industrial Complex from home. May I present Feeding Children Everywhere, a charity out of Orlando.  You give them money, and they throw you a party.  They bring everything you need for you and your friends to package single-serving meals of dried beans and rice for the low low price of $.25 per meal.  They’ll even bring music!  Everyone loves music!  It’s fun and it only takes a couple of hours.  There isn’t much on their website that tells you where uncooked single serving meals actually go.  To hungry children.  Obviously. The meals are really just a by-product of the experience, after all.  And they do not pretend otherwise.  So if you can get past the image of a hungry child staring forlornly at a baggie of food she can’t actually eat until someone with a pot and a fire cooks it for her, you might just have a really great day.  You should go out for drinks afterwards.  You deserve it!

I don’t really have a better answer for addressing other people’s suffering.  I don’t even know if giving a pan-handler spare change at a stop light makes the problem better or worse.  I just know that we all need to take a step back and make sure our actions match our motivations. And we need to make sure our motivation is not merely momentary relief from guilt.  Ending homelessness and hunger are not easily solvable problems.  Let’s not pretend our spare change makes these problems go away.

As for the homeless woman, I hope she got her hotel room.  And I hope I find another way to get rid of that nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach that she refused to assuage.  Maybe I need to stay angry, stay hungry.  She’s going to. If she survives.CHANGEman4

 

Advertisements

Melania for First Spouse!!

Here is a secret about PinkDogDem: she is a Melania fangirl!  Hi Melania!!!  It’s me! *waves furiously*  Sometimes politics is more than ideology.  It’s about who you want standing next to your Commander and Chief if the Veep shoots somebody in the face by accident or something.  I am looking at you, Elizabeth Warren.

Maybe it’s just because your life is such a great story.  Born in a tiny town in Yugoslavia, you made your way out into the world as a model of the scantily clad variety and became a U.S. Citizen who rubbed shoulders with the richest of Manhattanites.  Certainly you could not have done that on looks alone.  It took chutzpah at the very least.  And if it also took sleeping your way to the top, well what’s more American than that? And now you are married to the soon to be Republican party nominee for president of the United States, you know that party that has decided to take on the eradication of pornography as part of its party platform?  You don’t give a shit about the Republican Party Platform, do you? Hell, pornography made you what you are today! You show them, Melania!  You just go right ahead and be the First First Lady Pinup Girl.  Nobody is going to complain about your arms being bare at State Functions.  They’ll just be relieved you wore clothes.

We can’t all be Ivy League educated lawyers, right?  Some of us are just born to be supermodels instead.  What about us, huh?  Do we not deserve representation? “She’s elegant,” cried sister  Melania fans at the convention.  Unlike some first ladies who shall remain nameless. “Michelle Obama is not elegant, no,” said a delegate from Omaha. “She’s too outspoken.  And she doesn’t like America.  She and her husband don’t like America.”  Melania, I know you like America, you fashion diva, you.  It is agreed that you dress very nicely, when you dress at all, and you actually scrabbled your way to America from a working class commie background –that’s right, COM-MIE- take that GOP–rather than your ancestors being forcibly kidnapped and enslaved into forced labor for 200 years.  See?  American elegance at it’s finest.

So maybe you didn’t actually graduate from college like you said you did.  I’m sure at the time you said that, you had no idea that the truth would ever actually be expected from you or the Donald.  Who knew he’d ever be held accountable for anything he said?  We’re talking Celebrity Apprentice level of trustworthiness here.  Why don’t you just keep that pretty certificate one of his aids typed up for you in 2005?  Shhhh.  It will be our little secret. Who would believe you’d put a fake degree in a $12,000 frame anyway?

And I think it’s a pretty big deal to get up in front of the whole country and give a speech in your second language while not sweating.  I know there has been some criticism that you plagiarized Michelle’s 2008 speech, but don’t you worry.  If I had to write a speech like that, I am sure I would google “successful convention speeches by future first ladies,” too.  Unless you were lying about writing that speech.

That part isn’t a lie is it? Tell me it isn’t so!  “He’s never going to give you up”?  That’s some weird Slavic construction, right?  It must mean “he’s never going to give up on you, you unworthy peons” or “he’s never going to relinquish control over you people until he is cold and dead.”  Something like that….You’d never let some random speech writer take all the credit for Rickrolling the entire country, would you now?  That would not be elegant.

 

Note to the speechwriter who just got away with Rickrolling the entire country:  Please email me.  I’d like to buy you a beer. Possibly a keg.

 

 

 

 

 

Where to Address Xenophobia? The Mailbox

Last night I was getting my mail at the communal mailbox.  I gathered my bills, nodding to a young mother strolling with her baby and talking animatedly on her phone and smiling at a  short woman about my age wearing a Southern Girls Love Jesus t-shirt.

“Do you think I should call 911?” she asks me in a hushed tone, pulling out her Iphone.

“What happened?” I ask, my eyes immediately darting to the pool, dreading the thought of a drowned child.  I know CPR.  I should go over there.

“Her,” she says gesturing to the young mother.

She looks ok to me although her conversation is increasingly animated.  I step closer to make sure the baby isn’t sucking on roach poison or something.  She is snoring softly.

I am still waiting to deal with this emergency situation to the best of my ability.  I’m a life guard.  And a Girl Scout.  But I’m stumped, and Southern Jesus Girl begins to dial.

“Wait,” I say.  “What is it?”

My neighbor looks at me like I have two heads and lowers her voice to a whisper. “She’s one of them. Like the Muslims?”  She says MOOOSlums, and I just stare at her.

I squinted at the blond woman wearing shorts and tevas as she absently rocks the stroller while she talks.   Southern Jesus Girl has lost me. But I’m glad I don’t have to do CPR.  I always worry someone will throw up in my mouth.  Or die.  Or I’ll forget to sing Stayin’ Alive in my head to keep the rhythm and will sing Another One Bites the Dust instead, which is supposed to also be the right rhythm , but that has to be bad juju.

“Lisssten,” she hisses.

“Because she is speaking….?” I say finally.  This is the best guess I have.

“Yes,” she says, pleased with me. “Arabic!” She finally breaks out into actual sentences which go something like “sharia law bombs report suspicious behavior can’t be too careful raghead Allah false prophet bomb.”

“But that’s Russian,” I interrupt.

“Are you sure?  How do you know it’s Russian?”

Because I am not an idiot?  Because I have a master’s degree in linguistics?  Because I watch Orange is the New Black?  Mostly it’s the not an idiot thing. I really have nothing to say at this point, but she looks like she’s going to actually call this time.

“Excuse me,” I say to the Mom.  “Excuse me.”

She looks up from her phone and gives me a cold stare for interrupting her international rate phone call.

“What language are you speaking?”

“Russian,” she says with a perfect Mississippi drawl and a look that almost melts my eyebrows.  She whirls her stroller around, turns her back to me and walks away.

Southern Jesus Girl puts her phone away with relief.  I glare at her and walk away in the footsteps of my Russian neighbor.

I am not at all pleased with how I handled this situation.  Not only did I manage to piss two people off, but I did nothing to address the fact that Southern Jesus Girl thinks that speaking Arabic is a criminal offense.  It is not lost on me that it was not so long ago that Russian speakers probably got the cops called on them for overhead conversations.  Our xenophobia is legendary. And enduring. But this young mother was let off the hook.  Because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, presumably.

While I am confident I would have come to the aid of an Arabic speaker as well, I would have needed to come up with a better tactic than pointing out that the language in question was currently not spoken by our enemies. Which is really not the point.

But I did not.  I did not take the opportunity to try to educate Southern Jesus Girl. I was hot. I was tired.  I was still thinking about the BeeGees.  This actually happens to me more than you might think.  Somebody mentions Barry Gibb, and I’m just gone, for hours sometimes. What were we talking about?

But it was my responsibility to say something because I know better.  It’s as simple as that.  Whether it’s a racist joke, religious persecution, or just plain ignorance that I face at the mail box, I need to speak up.  I need to say out loud that this person you are threatened by is just a person.  She is probably tired, and the baby has cried all day, and now she is talking to her mother about sleep training.  And if she had been speaking Arabic instead of Russian, all these things would still be true.  I need to say that Arabic speakers, that Muslims, are our neighbors.  They are unlikely to be terrorists.  They just want to get their mail.  If I don’t speak up, then who will?

I’m just not that confrontational of a person.  Sometimes I let people be wrong on the internet.  But I am a middle aged white woman with all the privilege and protection that brings.  Maybe I need to practice being uncomfortable.  Enough.  This happens too often for me to claim I was caught off guard. Saying nothing accomplishes nothing. I can’t address my neighbors’ bigotry when they are standing at the voting booth, thinking Trump’s wall is a good idea.  I can’t complain they didn’t know any better when I chose to look the other way instead of taking a stand at the mailbox.

Life’s going nowhere.  Somebody help me.  Somebody help me, yeah.