So I’m once again in line at Walgreens. I’ve got an arms and hands load of products, and I have walked off and forgot my cloth shopping bags again. At the front of the line is a very tall thirty-something white guy with a nice build in shorts and a tee shirt. He’s buying some deodorant and a magazine. Behind him is a sixtyish African American woman, white hair, slightly bent over from the years, flowered house dress. She’s got a cart full of products. She’s talking to the cashier, Laverne, whom I’ve encountered before, also African American about fiftyish. You just know that Laverne has never met a stranger. She gives each person in turn her best service and an occasional flash of wit. Directly in front of me in line is a small, young, attractive woman with long blond hair in high heels, a handful of small products in her right hand and a clutch purse in the other. And the five of us are doing the commercial line dance with poise and patience.
Suddenly there appears a white guy, maybe 40 or so, with close cropped hair, fit, and with fitted gray tee shirt and jeans. He’s striding from the back past the register towards the exit. He dead stops about 6 yards from the door and announces to the assembled, but particularly to Laverne, “I just used your bathroom. I didn’t buy anything.” All five shoppers are now looking at the self-proclaimed innocent pee-er. No one says anything, including Laverne. He continues, “One thing I’ve found out is when you’re shopping, you can always talk to people about sports. People always seem to know what the score is.” <<Pause>> Silence. He continues, “Yeah, they seem to do their research.” The shoppers have been riveted to this outrageous dude, but now they are restlessly looking around, at each other, at Laverne with a “do something” look on their face. The young blond woman smiles nervously at me. And then the not-so-stealth pee-er picks up his stride where he left off and exits the store.
The older woman who was being checked out before the interruption says to Laverne, “Where did he come from?”
Laverne executs a perfect skeptical “I gotcha” look: arched eyebrows, half-lidded eyes, sidelong glance. “I thought he took something.”
“That’s what I thought!” I blurted out. A wave of chuckles spread across the previously silent assembled.
So the commercial line dance continued, and eventually I made it up to the register. But while I am moving forward, Walgreens has provided me with a poster lying on the counter just before the checkout station that describes the charity outreach called Red Nose Day. I sort of knew about this from past years, but now I have the opportunity to read about it in detail. (And for those of you who want more info, here is the link.) Red Nose Day was started by writer and director, Richard Curtis in the UK in 1988, and since then has raised over one billion dollars for poor children. You can buy a red nose to wear. $1.30 out of every $2.00 goes to the cause, the other 70 cents is for manufacture. Walgreens donates its expenses in executing this program. This year there are five different noses you can buy: Ruby gives children a safe place to live day and night. Rusty delivers school supplies to children in need. Red gives power to help end child poverty. Scarlet brings food to hungry children every day. And Rojo delivers medicine to sick children super quick.
Now just yesterday, I read an article whose main tenet was: give all you want to charity, but don’t give at the register. And I’ll admit that this is an issue I have struggled with. It’s odd. Sometimes I just don’t want to be badgered for a buck, even though a dollar means nothing to me. I’ve encountered it at Whole Foods, at Schnucks, and at other commercial outlets. I find myself haggling between my desire to be generous and support charity, on the one hand, and my wish to make my own charity choices and not be ripped off by phony or questionable requests. And don’t get me started about the Salvation Army. But as I move forward, reading about Red Nose day, I decide to chuck that advice in this situation and just give a dollar. Surely this is more or less transparently worthwhile, I think.
Now I am interacting with Laverne, “How are you today?” “Fine, and you.” and so forth. She asks me “Would you like to donate a dollar for Red Nose Day?” “Ok, sure,” I reply. Once again I pass the humiliating intelligence test that attends using a chip card, replete with blinking text, stern commands to “INSERT CARD, DO NOT REMOVE,” and loud beeps to “REMOVE CARD.” I am just gathering up cards, coupons, receipts and bags, when Laverne leans forward to me and says in a slightly lowered voice, “And you and I think exactly alike.”
I giggle roughly and reply, “Well, at least on this issue, we do.” In my mind flashes a picture of Laverne dropping change into a Salvation Army bucket.
When I was in college, I took a couple of psychology courses as a sophomore, and this whole subject area was entirely new to me. My psychology professor was Bruce Blackburn. He was a big, middle-aged guy with even bigger suit jackets, and he used to lecture sitting at his desk with his hand on his forehead, elbow on the top of the desk. Even though his style of presentation was dry, he was host to occasional unforgettable observations about humans. In one course, we were just concluding a unit on proper methods for child-rearing. One of Dr. Blackburn’s concluding remarks was “Kick ’em when you feel like it and kiss ’em when you feel like it. Just be sure to love them.”
I think that advice, slightly modified, applies to other forms of charity. Maybe the most important thing about charity during these days of colossal incivility everywhere is that it even exists at all. Maybe we should just appreciate that rare commodity when we encounter it, possibly even encourage it, and find it in our hearts to occasionally exhibit it ourselves. Or if we’re having a bad day, we can just say, “No, thank you.”