Saturday, August 15, 2009

My good act for the day...

This afternoon, I gave $30 to a complete stranger. I'm not sure if it was the right thing to do, but I'm glad I did it anyway.

I don't consider myself one who is easily conned. I'm generally pretty skeptical. And I have very little trouble saying no to people who ask me for money. When this woman approached me in the parking lot of Home Depot, I had every intention of blowing her off.

But something in her story rang true. In a nutshell, she told me that she had moved to the area three months prior and had been looking for a job ever since. She said that she was due to start a job on Monday, but that she had to show a state-issued ID Monday morning, or the job would be given to someone else. She had scraped together the money necessary to get a copy of her birth certificate, but didn't have enough to pay for the ID.

Sounds like a scam, right? And who knows? It might have been. But there was something about her that made me believe her. She showed me a receipt proving that she'd paid $18 to get her birth certificate yesterday. And her mannerisms--she seemed so embarrassed, and so nervous. And desperate.

But I almost never have cash on me. I gave her what change I had--less than $1--and got in my car and drove away. And then I worried. By the time I arrived back home--where I did have cash--I'd decided to go back.

I changed my mind six or seven times as I drove back. By the time I pulled into the Home Depot parking lot for the second time, I'd decided that I was being an idiot. Part of me hoped that she would no longer be there. But she was. And as I watched her talking to other people, she became visibly more upset and panicked looking. As I walked up to her, she was in tears. So I gave her the money. And I'm glad I did.

Thirty dollars is no small amount of money, but it's also not a big deal to me. I could afford it without really thinking twice. And something that I kept thinking about during this whole experience was that once upon a time, I was in a precarious enough financial situation that I couldn't handle unexpected expenses. Waiting tables was perfect for my mental health, but it was hell on my bank account. While I made enough money to pay rent and other critical bills, it took very little to send me into financial crisis. But I had a safety net--while I don't know that my parents ever really understood what made their college-educated daughter take three years off to work in the food service industry, they were willing and able to help me out when necessary. If I hadn't had them to lean on when I had an unexpected medical bill, or on that memorable occasion when I accidently hit submit twice when paying my student loan (which paid it twice), I don't know what I would have done.

So maybe it was a scam. If so, so be it. I know that if I hadn't given her the money I'd still be worrying about it. And while I know that I'm not responsible for other people's lives, I also know that I don't do enough to help people who are less fortunate than I. And maybe--just maybe--I helped someone take a small step toward independence. I'll never really know. But I do know that I'll sleep better tonight.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why I avoid doing things in DC in the summer, or letters to the assholes at the Holocaust museum

Dear college-age girls sitting on the floor just inside the entrance,

Perhaps you could find a more appropriate place to discuss the new shoes you bought yesterday. Or, perhaps you could discuss it quietly, and not so loud that you drown out the sound of the video playing in the exhibit.


Dear teenage kid who planted himself directly in front of every single display I was trying to read, *

If you happen to see a semicircle of people, standing a few feet back from a display, perhaps you should take into account that they have positioned themselves so that they can all read the sign at the same time. You do get points for saying excuse me as you cut through the group, but doing so and then standing six inches from the sign--leaving all of us staring at the back of your head--doesn't cut it. Neither does doing the same damn thing at every single display.

You are not the center of the universe,

*Also, the short woman who took over this role once I finally lost the teenage kid.

Dear Rebecca's dad,

I am not a parent, so some might say that I have no right to give parenting tips. But here are a few things you clearly need to know.

1. Common sense should tell you that little Rebecca should not be climbing on the displays. But even if common sense didn't tell you that, the nice woman with the walkie-talkie did. Four times. Now, of course I heard you relaying this to your little angel, but you seemed to be having some communication issues, since she ignored you.

2. If you tell your child "Now, we talked about this," and she hits you, perhaps responding by repeating yourself isn't going to cut it. Especially since she hit you again every time you said it.

3. This may have escaped you, but the Holocaust Museum is a fairly emotionally taxing place. Most visitors spoke in whispers, when they spoke at all. There was an air of solemnity and reverence that I felt was very appropriate. But not your little Rebecca. She tried to lighten up the room by emitting ear-piercing shrieks and announcing "My name is Rebecca" every thirty seconds. I know that helped me truly grasp the horror of Birkenau.

Now, I don't want you to think I'm a monster. I'm not angry at Rebecca here. She's a kid, and she was acting like a (slightly spoiled) kid. I'm angry at her dumbass parents who didn't realize that taking a five-year-old to the Holocaust Museum is a bad idea. But maybe I'm being too harsh. I mean, they only warn that the exhibition isn't appropriate for children under 11 seven or eight times before you get in the door. And clearly your desire to see the exhibition under any circumstances trumps the right of the other fifty people in the room to see it peacefully. I mean, did you see that lady with the crying baby? She actually hustled the kid out the door as quickly as possible. What an idiot!

Really, I should probably thank you. I'd been planning to try to go to the top of the Washington Monument before I go back to work, but you've reminded me why that's a bad idea this month. I'll save the rest of my trips downtown for October, when you'll be back in Nebraska or wherever the fuck you come from.

Good riddance,