Park Slope is a very wealthy, and very liberal neighborhood. Lots of community gardens. Lots of Bring Your Own Compost parties. And it’s not uncommon to chance upon a middle-aged post-hippie wearing a t-shirt that says, “DON’T BLAME ME – I VOTED FOR WAVY GRAVY.” [if you just heard a whooping siren sound, it's because that commemorates my one millionth wavy gravy joke since the inception of this web site.]
With the neighborhood’s reputation comes an unfortunate scourge of non-profit charities canvassing the streets for cash. I have nothing against charity, primarily because I am not a tremendous asshole, but I take exception to the strategic tactics of charitable organizations. They set up a gauntlet of volunteers on both sides of the sidewalk, forcing you to pass through it like some kind of non-profit spanking machine. And it’s impossible to even perform a passive-aggressive coward’s dodge by crossing the street to avoid them because THEY SET UP ANOTHER PAIR OF VOLUNTEERS ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE STREET. I think they’ve trained their volunteers according to the teachings of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
Additionally, charities have seen a dark change in the way they solicit donations. They used to give you an easy out, by asking, “Would you care to make a donation to help cure feline AIDS?” to which it was fairly easy to respond “yes” or “not today, thanks.” Today, charities do not simply ask you for money; they present you with an ethical conundrum that plays directly into your guilty conscience. You are asked more complicated questions, like, “Do you have a minute for world hunger?” or “Would you like to prevent babies from being eaten alive by Nazis?” Your rejection of their solicitation, in effect, makes you directly complicit in the problem they’re trying to solve. What are you going to say? “No. No I would not like to prevent babies from being eaten. Frankly, it sounds like a good plan to me. I can hardly hear myself thinking over all that confounded baby noise. Sir, babies are rude and, as such, deserve to be eaten. I say, good for those Nazis! I raise a glass to their noise-eliminating, baby-eating ways. To their health!”
And it does not make matters any better that the canvassers usually catch you on your way to or from spending money, talking on your cell phone, with a solid gold yoga mat hitched to your back. It takes tremendous resolve to avoid these guys – NOT THAT YOU SHOULD! – and I usually do, preferring to give my money directly to homeless people, and taking their word that the money will be spent on Trapper Keepers and low-fat GORP. However, last weekend, someone volunteering for “Save the Children” stepped in front of me on my way to the Doughnut Plant, and I stopped, intrigued. Why did I stop, you may wonder, especially when I was in a tremendous hurry – doughnuts don’t stay warm forever. Truthfully, I had not special interest in this charity. It’s just that the volunteer was a young, cool black guy named Eric and, well, I wanted him to like me.
So I treated it like we were hanging out, as pals. I tried to make small talk with Eric, saying things like, “Man, solving world hunger is the shit – wouldn’t you agree?” and tried to teach him the handshake I learned from a retarded teenager in Vancouver – grab, slide, snap-snap, pound. Then he pitches me on the organization…and I’m very interested…and he flips open a binder and asks, “So, where do you want to sponsor a kid?” The binder was filled with laminted pages outlining the world’s poorest countries, with color-coded “Starvation Zones.” At this point it occurred to me that perhaps I should ask why choosing a country even mattered at this point. Hunger is hunger, and it seems like it misses the point when you decide to be picky about your altruism. For instance, is it really OK, as someone in the position to give money to a charitable organization, for you to say, “I’d love to sponsor an impoverished child. Just no Pakis, OK? I don’t just throw my damn money around, after all.”
I just looked absent-mindedly at his starving country maps, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I dunno. I guess just pick the country where kids are hungriest? Like, whatever country doesn’t have brunch?” I figured that was the most fair way of going about it, and the best value for my dollar. Eric, detecting my lack of preference, flips the binder forward to their starving child profiles – sort of like the all-stars of abject poverty. Then he assures me, “don’t worry. I’ll pick you out a hottie.” I was taken aback, and tried to grab the binder and pick a child at random, in order to curtail this line of thinking. I pointed to a kid with flies on her face and Eric just shook his head and said, “Nah, check it out. She’s got a flat ass. You don’t need that aggravation, son.”
I wanted less and less for Eric to like me, as black and cool as he was. In fact, I just wanted to get out of there. So I flipped a few pages forward and my finger landed on a five year-old Nicaraguan girl who looked sufficiently desperate. “How about her?” I suggested.
“Hell no!” Eric shouted back. “Are you crazy, man? You can tell just by looking at her, she’s gonna be fat when she grows up.” And I explained I was pretty confident that, even with my generous assistance, none of these starving kids was in any danger of growing up to be morbidly obese, though that would certainly be a bittersweet outcome.
For the next few minutes, Eric and I went back and forth like this. I would arbitrarily choose a child and he would shoot them down, making assessments like, “too cross-eyed,” “gold digger,” and “straight-up skeezer.” Finally, exasperated, I pulled out my wallet and said, “Look, E. (he said I could call him “E” when I asked a bit earlier) I’ve got fifty dollars in cash. Just show me the hottest starving kid I can sponsor for that kind of money.” And that’s how I met your mother.