Thursday, April 19, 2007

Offering the Helping Hand that May Get Bitten...

This is a post I've been working on since mid-December -- so long ago in the gestation of blog posts that this one really should be put to eternal rest (perhaps in a cardboard box under a tree?) by now.

Around Christmas time (ah, the triteness of it all -- isn't that when all feel-good stories occur?), I rushed hurriedly from my 7th-storey window-facing office in a metropolitan area to the hoity-toity urban mall five blocks away. My objective in the scant 30 minutes I afforded myself was to rush to Ann Taylor, purchase two purses on sale (one for me and one for my sister), grab some lunch to go, and get back to my desk in time for a meeting.

My speedy trek was interrupted by a scruffy man, dressed in a trench coat (no, this is not that kind of story and his trench coat was closed), with ragged hair, a face gritty and unshaven, and displaying overall dishabille. He reached out his arms to anyone who walked by and asked for change of any sort so he could get a meal. Everyone, from the most questionably dressed collegian to the lawyers wearing the AX suits, stared around him. That's stronger than staring "through," by the way. To stare through something sort of acknowledges that something is there to stare through (in much the same way that being an atheist still acknowledges at some level that there is a god). So, they simply stared around him as though this dirty gent were a horizon bend, of sorts.

I'm not generally a "stare through" kind of person. I either openly ignore or boldly acknowledge. I chose to boldly acknowledge and smile.

"Can you spare some change?" he asked.

"Yes, I can spare some but I have none on me," I replied with the truth. He accepted it as something he's heard before but then said, "Do you got anything? I'm just hungry."

I hesitated and then asked, "I don't have cash and I'm in a rush, but I'm going in the food court. Can I buy you a meal while I'm there. What do you want?"

"You'd do that for me?" he said, appearing stunned.

"Sure, it's no problem."

"A burger. Some fries. Mmm, and salad. You gotta have salad because it's healthy and keeps you from getting run down. Hey, can I get a Coke, too?"

"No problem. Wait here and I'll be back in about 15 minutes."

So, I rush, rush, rush around, my heels clicking on the concrete and my calves aching because I was trying to force them into becoming battle chargers. Stopped at the little Thai place, ordered my lunch. Stopped at McDonald's, ordered his lunch. Stopped at Ann Taylor, bought purses (the primary objective, after all!). Admired mannequin at Victoria's Secret (I'm not saying I'd wear that underwear but it'd be nice if I could and look good in it!). Walked to the little Thai place, picked up my lunch. Walked to McDonald's, picked up his lunch plus added a few apple pies to it. After all, salad is healthy, and burger and fries are filling, but dessert should be a true treat. Rushed upstairs laden with hot, goopy, loosely contained food and purses that, if they stained, would likely earn my sister's ire.

Looked around the cold and breezy pedestrian mall for my hungry stranger.

He was gone.

I walked north...then south. I walked east...then west. I went inside...and walked back out again.

He was gone.

I felt betrayed. I felt foolish. I was disappointed, an experience only slightly mollified by my "responsible" side reminding me to get over this quickly and get back to my desk for a meeting.

In the meanwhile, I was schlepping around a bag full with two quarter-pounders, two large containers of fries, four apple pies, two salads, and a super-sized Coke. What to do?

Somberly, I walked toward the office with the weighty bag full of food with still the immediate problem of what to do with it. Walking opposite me were two gentlemen, also scruffy but in an indeterminable way where there was room left for doubt whether they were impoverished, manual workers on break, or just people with a poor sense of personal hygiene. I was afraid to ask for fear of giving offense. But, the practicality of the situation again presented itself. I'm not going to eat this food and someone else should benefit.

"Excuse me?"


"I have all this food here that I bought for someone in need who asked for it. He disappeared and I can't find him. Would you take it? It is untouched and still hot, purchased only about five minutes ago."

"Are you serious?" asked one. "Is this for real?" queried the other.

I feared they took umbrage with my offer and thought how degrading this situation was, that the yuppie bearing food was insulting them.

Instead, they both got down on their knees and they prayed.

They blessed me, they thanked God for sending me with the food. Their prayer was brief and was followed by them going to the public water fountain to wash their hands and then eating.

How to close this blog post in a way that feels appropriate and isn't banal and overly moralistic? I don't know that I can.

So, for now, until I think of something better, I'll just say that I walked back to the office, ate my Thai food, made my meeting on time, and gave my sister her purse.

(I realized that I'm not really a big purse person so I gave mine away. Besides, what if Tiffany and I showed up at the same place with the same purse? Such a faux pas!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Global Warming Argument Has Now Gotten Ridiculous

Do you want to help save the planet from some contributors to global warning? There are so many options that go beyond the "reduce-reuse-recycle" refrain. Consider switching out your light bulbs for energy efficient fluorescent light bulbs, air dry your clothes, and bury yourself in a cardboard box under a tree.

Surprised? Don't be. Apparently the frontiers of global warming prevention advocacy have just pushed past that big flashing (energy-efficient) sign that said, "Now Passing Tacky-ville." Now you can go onto your eternal reward in the most carbon dioxide minimizing way possible. I bet right now you're glued to this screen, panting with near-frenzied anticipation, wondering, "how can I die and save the environment, too?"

Simple, according to an Australian scientist. When you die, don't get cremated. Instead, have yourself placed in a cardboard box and interred under a tree. Then, your body can provide the tree with nutrients and, by choosing to not be cremated, you can prevent up to 110 pounds of carbon dioxide from being produced.

Now, even the most passionate of tree-huggers have a new way to help Save the Earth by "decomposing friendly." Regrettably, though, they need to wait until the patchouli-smelling cosmic life-force from above comes to take them away. It seems like everywhere I go, some environmentalist is upping the ante when it comes to environmental protectionism. There are those who recycle, those who drive hybrids, those who won't drive at all, and there are even those who espouse the goal of living without any impact to the planet. My hats off to you all.

As for me and my remains, I eschew the suggestion to inter them into a cardboard (hopefully leak- and smell-proof) box under a tree. Instead, in characteristically utilitarian fashion, my plan is to have my reusable organs donated. Anything left over can be put to much better use. There will be no cremation for me (which is my preference) since that would clearly be harmful for the environment. I also don't want to be buried. That's a lot of fuss and besides even under this new proposal, it would be environmentally careless. What a waste of a perfectly good cardboard box that would be! Instead, I would like my remain's remains to somehow be transformed, somehow changed into something useful that can be shared with others thereby keeping a very small part of me with each and everyone of you always.

What would that look like? Click here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mental Health Stifles Creativity

For the past few weeks now, I've visited a therapist to address various challenges in my life. Before jumping to any conclusions, there's nothing really bad happening in my life but my opinion is that every once in a while, you need to wipe clean the emotional slate and start fresh. A former colleague of mine claims that periodic visits to the therapist is a mental "tune-up" necessary for continued mental health, much like dentist visits or an annual check-up. To that extent, I suppose that a discussion with the therapist is like mental floss, clearing the crevices of your brain tissue of undesirable emotional gunk that can contribute to decay. You could also think of a therapeutic visit as being like the splutter of lubricant during an annual exam that makes everything glide along better -- but surely I'm not alone in finding that analogy distasteful.

But, I've noticed a side effect of my mental health endeavors. There's been a disturbing decline in my creative productivity. Notice my blog posting, which has been reduced to near nothing in the past six weeks, which more-or-less correlates with when I began visiting the shrink.

I think I'm onto something here.

Observe the great creatives of history. Whether their means or ends were good or ill, they all accomplished something extra-ordinary and they were all suspected or confirmed mentally "different." Consider Tennessee Williams, Abraham Lincoln, Gaetano Donizetti, and John Forbes Nash. Lest you think only men are inspired by their cranial chemical imbalances, don't forget to include Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolfe, Vivien Leigh, Margaret Mitchell, and Joan of Arc (whether she was truly visited by angels or not, it's undeniable that a woman seeing visions is a little different than the rest).

When a struggling musician in college (struggling not for want of money or food but for lack of talent), I stumbled upon an epiphany of sorts: there is an apparent link between greatness and being afflicted with syphilis. Witness van Beethoven and Mozart, Schubert and Wolf, de Maupassant and Joplin. Could it be that these men had happened upon the path to accomplishment? If one can't be mentally unstable, contract syphilis and have a second chance! Even those with less noble goals seemed to be aware of this link. Manet, Henry VIII, and Ivan the Terrible all had syphilis, too. But, to be fair, one could argue these men were insane as well as syphilitic. After all, only a crazy man (and my mother's ex-husband) would marry six times.

So, perhaps a person's contributions to society is relative to their mental faculties or lack thereof. Maybe my very good mental health alone explains my (absent) contributions to the worlds of politics, literature, music, and science. Is evolution stigmatizing me for being chemically balanced (relatively-speaking)? Is my future potential forever capped because all of my synapses are synapping? Is mental stability the new glass ceiling?

Clearly then, my first step to recover any pretense to creative genius is to stop visiting the therapist.

Should that not inspire the necessary mental defects to result in prolific composition, I may need to resort to more dire contracting syphilis.