Ok, I’ve been trying to correct this for two years now, but I’m not sure it’s working. People keep saying “two thousand”. Say “twenty” instead. It’s one whole syllable shorter and it makes you sound like a native English speaker. You can do it.
Here’s some encouragement that Russ showed me: http://twentynot2000.com/
There’s an intersection a few blocks from my house where the beggars assemble. You’d probably recognize it (even if you haven’t been here) because it’s a common suburban scene:
It’s a busy intersection just off the freeway. Every beggar stakes out their own corner. If there are newcomers and no corners are free, they’ll have to beg down the street a little, or maybe on the median. Definitely not on someone else’s corner. The procedure is simple. When the light turns red and the cars start backing up near a particular beggar’s corner, he or she walks around with a cardboard sign saying how homeless or hungry or pregnant he or she is. When the light turns green, the beggar can go relax leaning against a pole or sitting on the curb.
Sometimes it’s awkward when you see a familiar beggar, especially if you’ve interacted with them before. Being a beggar is a surprisingly public position. Of course the great thing about recognizing familiar beggars is seeing their signs change day by day, especially if they have a sense of humor. Everyone loves a clever cardboard sign.
One beggar stands out to me from the intersection by our house, and it’s not because of his clever signs. It’s because of his cell phone.
He’s always out on the same corner. He does the normal routine, showing his sign during the red lights, but when the light turns green and the cars pull away, he goes and sits on a chair that he has stashed in the bushes. And I’ve seen him sitting there talking on his cell phone multiple times.
Now I know what I’m about to say is very hypocritical considering my last post, but I’m going to say it anyway. I don’t buy it. I know that cell phone bills are less money than rent, and I know that someone could have some kind of prepaid phone without having an address or a job or a credit score. It just seems to me that a person with enough sense to own and operate a cell phone would have the sense to cancel his service before things got so tough that he would need to go out begging on the street.
The truth is that I don’t know anything about this particular man or what his story is. I don’t know if he’s capable of working and has found that panhandling pays better, or if he really is in need of help and can’t help himself. I don’t know if he has a cell phone so he can call his wife at home and chat while he’s out collecting change, or if someone gave it to him so that he can try to find a job. I don’t know if he’s talking to buddies or potential employers when I see him talking on it. So I realize that it’s wrong of me to be so skeptical of him, but I’d be dishonest if I only told the stories of the homeless people that I felt sympathy for and didn’t acknowledge the other side of this issue being on my mind so much.
One day after I’d driven past that man on the way home, I realized why the cell phone beggar bothers me so much (and subsequently vented my frustrations to Kelly). It’s not that he has a cell phone or a panhandling routine or a chair in the bushes. It’s not even my suspicions that he’s faking the need that he’s in. It’s what I can imagine it doing to the people that are in real need.
If someone (whether it’s really the case with this man or not) begs and seeks help when they don’t really need it, I think they’re robbing both aid and compassion from the truly needy. When kind people see him, they donate a few bucks that otherwise could have gone to someone in real need. When less-kind people see him, it just reinforces their belief that homelessness is a choice that deserves no sympathy.
I don’t know how to tell who is in real need and who isn’t, and maybe the right answer is that it’s not my place to judge their motives at all. But I do feel that if there are people who could help themselves and choose not to, that they are contributing to the greater problem and taking advantage of those that really do need help. And if that is the case, don’t I kind of have an obligation to make some kind of judgment call as to who really deserves my help?
I remember waiting for the bus in Salt Lake one day while a bag lady with a shopping cart was making her way down the sidewalk. Her shopping cart was so full of cargo that things would fall out every few feet and she’d have to stop to pick them up.
I must have muttered something like “that sucks” out loud, because the man standing next to me at the bus stop answered me:
“Choices,” he said, as though correcting me.
At first I honestly thought that maybe he knew the lady or her story so that he could say something like that, but it only took a moment to realize that it was just his opinion of the homeless. I was bothered that he had said it, but I said nothing.
I still regret not going to help her put her things back in the cart.
It was just barely a year ago that Kelly and I moved out of our apartment in Salt Lake. We were using a POD to move so that we wouldn’t have to drive a U-Haul truck across the Cascade mountains in the middle of the winter (which ended up being a great choice: it was hard enough getting the little Honda over those mountains while they were covered in thick snow). We’d already fixed the schedule for the POD, so we had to scramble (and go without sleep) to get everything packed in time, but we made it (barely).
We spent our last night in our basement-sweet-basement the same way that we would spend our first nights in our apartment here in Seattle: on a blow up mattress in an otherwise empty apartment.
The next day we cleaned the apartment and packed up the car to go. We had some things that we weren’t taking with us, either extra boxes that we needed to recycle or things that we needed to donate. We had other errands to run before we drove out of town (both moving and Christmas preparations) so we split up to get it all done.
Among the things that we were donating was a pair of pillows. I don’t know if we thought that the DI wouldn’t take them or if we had some other reasons, but for some reason we thought that it would be better to give the pillows to the homeless instead. That was on my errand route, along with the recycling (which I would have been just as happy to throw away, but you know Kelly). So I hunted around for a recycle bin big enough to hold cardboard boxes, and then headed over to the homeless shelter. (I had contemplated offering the boxes to the homeless, too, but it just seemed a little too much like rubbing it in, so I stuck with the pillows.)
It was late by the time I got to the shelter, and the street was empty (unlike other times when I’d been running past there and the street was full of homeless people). At first I was a little confused about which building it was; for some reason I’d always thought that it was on the opposite side of the road. It didn’t help that the sign said something generic, like “community center”. There was another sign on the building, though, saying that I could drive around back with the donations, honk, and someone would come out to get them. But there were hours for the donation drop-off, and I was there too late. I felt stupid, and I almost turned around and drove away.
(Have you ever sat outside of a business and been indecisive about whether you should go inside or not? Maybe you’re thinking of getting some gift and you’re not sure if it’s right, or maybe you’re at some office building without an appointment and you’re afraid of being laughed to scorn for just walking in uninvited. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s a familiar feeling.)
As I was sitting there getting in and out of my car, a homeless man walked by. He had been looking in a garbage can down the street and was now moving on to another one. As he walked past, he asked me if I knew what time it was. I told him, and he walked on. There wasn’t anything more to the exchange than that, but for some reason that did it for me.
I walked up to the main doors with my pillows, still feeling stupid, convinced that they’d just tell me that I should have read the sign outside and known to come during donation hours. The doors were locked, but the lady at the front desk saw me and buzzed me in.
Inside the air smelled like urine. It wasn’t the sadly subtle kind of smell that a nursing home has. It reeked of it. It was almost over-powering.
“Front desk” might be the wrong word for where the lady that had let me in was sitting. It was just a folding table (like from a cultural hall event) with a clipboard where she had been letting people sign in. She asked what I was there for, and I sheepishly told her I had these pillows and thought someone might like them. She didn’t seem phased at all, and just sent me down the hall to (what I think was) the nurses’ station to give them the pillows.
When I got to the end of the hallway I saw the scene that makes me still think of this event. There were probably 40 people there, lying on the floor, fully clothed and covered in blankets. I don’t know what the rooms looked like, but I assume they were full if all of these people were out here on the hallway floor.
I gave the man at the nurses’ station the pillows. He offered a receipt for tax purposes, which obviously I didn’t need for my measly donation. And that was it. No further exchange. I left and drove away.
It was such a small moment in my life. The whole thing probably only lasted 10 minutes. It’s funny how sometimes small moments have big memories.
I work in downtown Seattle these days, and I’m constantly surrounded by homeless people. I don’t know if there is more homelessness here than in other cities, but it’s definitely ever-present. I see these people every day, and they’re always on my mind.
I think one of the reasons that it’s so heart-breaking for me is that it seems like a problem without a solution. I don’t know how to help these people. So many of them are riddled with mental or physical disease, that I don’t feel like the few bucks that I could spare for any individual could possibly help them dig themselves out of their hole, even if they are in the right mind enough to use it wisely.
I wish I knew of some reliable charitable organization, something that seemed like it was actually making a difference. Maybe there’s something that at least consistently relieves the suffering of these people, even if making a difference in solving the problem itself is an impossible task. Maybe you have a suggestion of what I should do to help.
So, because I don’t know what else to do, and because I’m constantly worried about them, I’m going to write on my blog about it. I had started writing some stories in this post to explain how I feel, but it quickly started getting too long to read. So instead I’ve taken out the stories and I’ll post them separately over the next few days.
Do you know how easy it would be for someone to steal a car from the dealership service department? All you need to know is the last name of someone with a car there. That’s it. No first name, no ID, nothing. They’ll just bring the car right out to you. I guess you might have to pay your victim’s bill, though.
The airport is probably the worst place in the world. Its like someone took the most stressful situation they could imagine and then made everyone re-enact it everytime they wanted to travel between cities.
The stress starts before you even leave your house. Packing. This isn’t a fun process in general, but if you’re flying then you have extra challenges. The goal is to cram everything you’re going to need into the smallest bag possible. After all, if your bag is too big to fit on your lap then they’re going to charge you extra. Of course if your shampoo comes in a bottle any bigger than a pea pod you’re not allowed to take it on the plane with you, so you’re probably stuck with that extra charge unless you’re ok with a shower-free vacation. Even after you give in to the inevitability of checking a bag you’re still caught in a delicate balancing act of where to put your stuff. If you bring anything reasonably useful on the airplane then they’ll think you’re a terrorist, but if you check anything reasonably valuable then the same people that are supposed to protect you from terrorists will rob it out of your suitcase.
Once you pack your stuff you have to figure out how to get it to the airport, but of course this involves another awkward choice. You can drive yourself, but parking at or near the airport costs as much as your plane tickets. If you have some good friends that live nearby you might be able to talk them into giving you a ride, but it’ll probably require some kind of trick or bribe since they’ll have to pick you when you come home, too. Odds are that at least one of your flights is at 4 am or some other time when no one should be awake.
Finally you’re on your way to the airport. If you or one of your traveling companions is a walking panic attack then you’re probably already freaking out that you’re going to miss your flight. Don’t you realize you still need to get through security and the plane leaves in six hours? Why haven’t you left yet?! Ah!
Now you’ve finally arrived and you’re ready to begin the actual experience. Ready? Stand in a line. Check your luggage. Stand in a longer line. Unpack your bags. Empty your pockets. Take off your belt. Take off your shoes. Try not to smile or frown because if you look suspicious then they’ll make you take off your pants, too. Take off your pants. Send everything you own through the scanner, but make sure your computer is by itself, because TSA treats electronics the same as guns or knives or anything other terrorist weapon. Now walk through the scanner. Did you make it? Well, the security guard standing in front of you stopped looking at you or acknowledging you at all, so you must not be under arrest. Now go reverse the process and put all of your stuff back on.
If you’re not stressed out by the process itself, then you’ll soon be stressed by the other people in line with you. Not everyone had the foresight to have their panic attack on the way to the airport, so now they’re late and taking it out on you. So while you’re standing on one foot putting your shoe on and trying to catch your computer before it falls off the conveyor belt, there are 50 jerks behind you trying to do it in record time and complaining about any amateurs that still need to show up on time to their flights.
Now you’ve made it through security and if you’re not running to get to your gate then you’re surrounded by people who are. Finally you get to your gate just in time to… wait a few hours. Whew. That was close.
Fat people don’t care about consequences. The same irresponsibility that allows them to eat 3 burritos in a row or a whole gallon of ice cream in one sitting also allows them to break chairs that belong to other people, to spill water all over their furniture, throw food at people they hardly know, stand in front of a moving car and/or accelerate through a pedestrian, and say the hilarious things that would get them kicked out of church and public office. They don’t worry ahead of time about whether that random comment will make them friends or get them beat up after school, just like they don’t worry if this last batch of cookies will be the ones that give them adult-onset diabetes or a fatal heart attack. They just don’t care.
So, I might have this part of the Christmas history wrong, but this is the version I heard:
The early Christians celebrated Jesus’s birth on January 6th. I don’t know how it ended up on that day, so that can be for a different story. In this story Constantine was Rome’s emperor and got converted to Christianity and decided that everyone else should do the same. So he took a popular “pagan” holiday for the winter solstice that was held on the 25th of December and combined it with the Christian holiday to make a big 12-day-long holiday for Christmas, hoping that everyone would start celebrating the Christian holiday instead.
I don’t really know how successful Constantine was, because he definitely got us to celebrate Christmas, but I’m not sure if it’s still a Christian holiday. How much of our Christmas tradition has anything to do with Christ? I think we’ve just created our own “pagan” holiday with its own associated religion, complete with Santa Claus as its principle god.
You might think that even as heavy of an emphasis as we put on Santa doesn’t constitute deity or religion, but consider the ideas surrounding Santa. He sees the actions of every person on Earth. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. He rewards good behavior. He knows the desires of your heart, even the unspoken ones, and has the power to fulfill those desires with little “Christmas miracles”. He not only has power to grant wishes, but also to fly, to visit the whole world in one night, and to slide down any size of chimney. He basically controls time and space. We have turned Santa Claus into a benevolent, all-knowing and all-powerful god.
Of course it’s not just Santa in the pantheon of our Christmas paganism. We’ve got other minor deities like Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and even Baby Jesus. (Not grown-up Jesus, though. Christmas isn’t about him.) Of course you have to be careful about how much you talk about Baby Jesus during Christmas. You don’t want to offend anyone. It’s safer to stick to Santa.
Of course it’s no big secret that Christmas has been commercialized and that people get too caught up in the greed of the season. I do appreciate when people try to remind us of “the real meaning of Christmas”, but even these reminders seem to focus on good messages that can be appreciated without regards to any particular religion. Lots of talk of “peace” and “good will” while carefully not quoting the source.
I’m really just making an observation. Despite the effort to bring Christianity to the masses by creating Christmas, it still isn’t a Christian holiday.