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Archive for January, 2010

Do you believe in Karma?  I do.  I think that I have always been a generous person, however, since I have started the Year of Giving I have noticed more people being generous toward me.  Are people really more generous, or am I merely paying more attention?  Impossible to know, however, today was an excellent example of kindness coming back to me.

My brother is getting married February 13th.  He and his fiancée asked that I marry them.  By the way, I am not a minister, nor have I ever performed a wedding.  So I am venturing into uncharted territory.

In order to perform a wedding in the District of Columbia, there are a series of hoops that you must jump through.  First you must be ordained.  The Universal Life Church Monastery is an organization that has more liberal requirements to become ordained for the purposes of performing ceremonies.  So, I got ordained.

Then I gathered all the information that DC requires and went down to the Superior Court of DC only to be told that I was missing a copy of the founding documents for the ULC.  I told them that the ULC didn’t provide such information, and they replied, “That is not true.  We receive applications all the time from the ULC and the other applications have the founding documents attached.” So, I said, “well, if you already have copies of the founding documents, then why do you need me to provide you a copy?”  The women smiled and said that that was irrelevant.  Bureaucracy!  She said a simpler way was to find another ordained individual from the ULC who could endorse me.  The problem is that I don’t know anyone, much less someone in DC, who is ordained by the ULC.

The office courthouse was open for another hour, so I called the ULC and asked them to fax over the documentation.  They agreed, but I didn’t think they would get there in time.  Just about this time, another guy in the lobby said he overheard my conversation and told me that he was also ordained through the ULC and was going through the same process.  He introduces himself to me as Mac.  He didn’t need all the paperwork that I did, because he got endorsed.    Mac thought that I might be able to use some of his documentation.  Lucky for me, he is a little further along in the process (he arrived at 1pm, I arrived at 3:45pm).  Then the light bulb went off.  Once he is registered, he could then endorse me!  We were just minutes away in theory to them finalizing his process.  I say “in theory” because there is a lot of walking back and forth to other offices and statements like, “that’s up to the judge to decide.” 

While Mac goes up to talk to one of the clerks, I found myself talking to Mac’s two friends that are with him: Cyndi and Vanessa.  Cyndi flew in from Chicago to surprise Vanessa for her birthday on Saturday (Happy birthday Vanessa!)  Vanessa is the person that Mac is going to marry in the Spring.  All three met in high school in Oklahoma.  Phew, I feel like a family tree might be helpful here.  Anyway, we were talking about how good things were happening to me and I told them about my Year of Giving.

I decided to give Cyndi my $10 for the day.  The 29-year-old tells me that she is an accountant in the Windy City.  So I am thinking that she must have a good grasp on numbers and money.  I asked her what she was going to do with the $10 and she said that she was either going to give it to a homeless woman and her son who she sees every day near her office or buy some cocktails.  A smile comes across her face as she realizes how much her two answers are polar opposites.  After the day they have had at the DC court, I am leaning in the direction of the cocktails.  She says she will circle back with me and let me know what she ends up doing with it.

About this time Mac finds his way back over to the dozen chairs that sit along the perimeter of the room.  He says that he is now legally able to perform wedding ceremonies in DC.  Rather than me wait for my paperwork, since Mac is now “official” he is able to endorse my application.  This was a tremendous help to me.  Despite having spent most of his afternoon at the courthouse, he graciously agrees to remain there a little while longer to help me out.  We are finally called up to the clerk’s desk and she asks him to raise his right hand and swear that the information that he has supplied is true to the best of his knowledge.  He does so and she says he is free to go.  He leaves a dollar on the desk to pay for the notary fee.  I tell him to keep it, but he insists.  Mac, I owe you…more than a dollar.  Let me buy you a drink when you are back in DC (Mac lives in NYC).

I got most of the process done that day.  I just have to go back on Monday and stand before the judge and then I am told that the process should be complete.  If anyone has any good advice for me about performing the wedding ceremony, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

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I ran several errands on Day 45.  I ended up near the World Bank then hiked over to Franklin Square, where I found Ryan Z. on Day 42.  On my way over, I passed a lunch stand on the corner of 15th and K Street.  There was a line 25 people deep.  I peered into the stand and I saw a lone man deftly making burritos for the hungry crowd.  This place must be good, I thought.  I continued on another block to my next appointment.  I finished my meeting around 2pm and then crossed Franklin Square to get some paperwork from a friend of my brother’s fiancée.  I picked up the paperwork and then started heading back home.

John hard at work at his burrito stand

It was probably 2:30 and I spotted the lunch stand and thought that I ought to check out the place.  The line no longer there, the “burrito man” was packing up.  I walked up to John and asked him if he would participate in the Year of Giving.  He was very busy and agreed on the condition that I am quick.  I gave him the $10 and got his name and asked a question or two about his burrito stand, Pedro and Vinny’s.  He has been doing this for about 10 years he tells me. 

Although in a hurry, he takes time to tell me about the all- vegan bean product, the fresh ingredients, and that he doesn’t use any lard in his preparation.  He proudly tells me that his Mango Habanero sauce is now commercially available.  Although I had already had lunch, my stomach is screaming at me for a burrito! 

I asked him what he was going to do with the $10 and instead of replying he darted out of from behind his stand and looked around.  He explained that he was looking for one of the homeless guys who tend to hang out near his stand so that he could give the money to them.  I liked his immediate reaction to help someone else out.  He went on to say that he gives away 3 or 4 meals a day to those in need.  That’s awesome!  Good for you John.

“How’s business?” I ask John.  He smiles and says that last year was his best year ever!  On an average day he sells about 150 burritos.  On a good day he sells over 200.  At an average of $5-6 per burrito, his customers appreciate a good product at a reasonable price during these challenging economic times.  You do the math, and it sounds like John is doing ok too.  In fact, his daughter Kristin is opening up her own stand this spring.    

I am interested to taste a burrito.  I will go back and get one some day.  I can almost guarantee you that the food is good though.  You don’t get a line like he had on a cold day if you don’t have something tasty!  

Pedro and Vinny's Menu

I know that John is in a hurry.  He gives me a business card and agrees to follow up with me via email if I have any other questions.  I will definitely update you when I go and get my burrito!  By the way, I was curious as to why he choose “Pedro and Vinny’s” for the name…I have followed up with John via email and will let you know when I write my review of his burrito.

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First of all, today we reached some milestones.  Over 3,000 unique visitors to the site and over 6,000 hits.  The site is growing much faster than I thought it would…that is great…hopefully people are inspired to do something kind to others during their day.

John (right) and I visit a few days after I gave him my $10

I met up with John from day 40 today.  On Day 44 I ran into John from Day 40.  He was not the jovial South Carolina native that I met on Saturday.  He explained that his brother died on Sunday due to complications related to his diabetes.  He had refused to take his medications for an extended period of time and passed away as a result.  His sadness quickly dissolved into anger though as he told me about an upcoming court appearance. 

He explained that he had served 17 years in prison for murder.  I could hardly believe that this gentle giant could have killed another human being.  “It was self defense” he explained.  I didn’t have my notebook with me so I am relying on my recollection.  He said that one day in 1980 he and his father had gone to a store at the intersection of 14th and T in NW, DC.  His father, an off duty police officer, was shot in the head outside of the store.  Upon hearing the gunfire, he explained that he excited the store, removed his father’s revolver and shot and killed the man. 

As much as I want to believe everything that John has told me, I hope that some of this is not true.  I can not begin to imagine what it would be like to struggle with so much tragic personal loss.  He told me on Day 40 that he had lost two children and his wife as well.

I gave John a dollar from my pocket and walked to do some errands.  I told him I would be back by in a while, as I had to walk back the other way to get home.  He asked me to stop by on my way back, that he had a favor to ask of me. 

When I reached John on my way back, he greeted me with the familiar smile.  He asked if I had some more money so that he could get a shirt for his brother’s funeral.  I only had $11 on me…$10 of which I needed to give away to someone else.  I gave him another dollar and went on my way. 

Then I had to find a recipient for Day 44.  Would you believe I had a hard time?  I first went to a couple who were sitting on the sidewalk around 24th and M Street.  Both of them had a crazed look in their eyes.  I sensed I was dealing with some people who were on a significant amount of drugs.  I proceeded cautiously.  I explained what I was doing and asked if they would accept my $10.  They were so confused and paranoid that they declined.  I went on my way and asked a young lady named Liddy who was walking her dog.  She was nice, but said she didn’t feel worthy.  So I was off again.

I walked another 6-7 blocks.  I came across some potential people, but there was never the right moment to go up to someone and ask them. 

I found a woman who was walking next to me and I thought, what the heck, nothing else has worked I am just going to start asking everyone.

Sara initially refused as well.  When I explained that if she refused I would have to find someone else, I think I guilted her into it.  The 28-year-old Chicago native now lives in DC and is a landscape architect for the US Green Building Council.  Her position is an internship and she is actively seeking employment for a full-time position as a landscape architect.  I might have a connection or two for her, but if anyone out there knows of something, please post here.

Sara was on her way to watch the State of the Union Address.  I asked her what grade she would give President Obama after his first year, and she said an A-.  I hope she reads this and will tell us her perspective on his speech.

Sara said that she was a bit undecided on what she was going to do with my $10.  She was either going to use it to buy some food to take to her State of the Union party or try to donate it at Miriam’s Kitchen.  She is scheduled to volunteer there soon.  If you are not familiar with Miriam’s…you should check it out, they are an important organization for the poor and homeless communities in DC.  She said she would let me know for sure what she did with it later.  I hope she is better than Mark from Day 29…he never got back to me!

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I added a new element to the Year of Giving.  You will see a new tab that says “Lend A Hand.”  This is place where I will post things that could help the YoG recipients.  So if someone is looking for a job or a contact in a certain field, you will have the opportunity to directly help them.  Or maybe you want to help someone like Cleo from Day 41 who needs a new music stand which probably costs under $30.  You can leave a comment there about how you can help.  Be generous!
I went to my Tuesday networking group of professionals who are looking for new careers.  I really enjoy going to these sessions.  The cadre that we have assembled is dynamic and often offers thought provoking suggestions and ideas.  On top of the feedback I have gotten from the group, I have had several leads this week for work…so that is good.

Chilly day to be working outside

On my way home from my meeting, I saw a woman sitting by herself on a bench working on a laptop.  That was kind of crazy.  The bank clock/weather display showed that it was 46 degrees Fahrenheit.  So not freezing, but not exactly comfortable to sit outside and leisurely surf the net. 

I walked up to Danielle as she was typing away on her Apple laptop.  I asked her what she was doing there and she explained that she didn’t have wi-fi in her apartment yet so she was sitting there using the wi-fi she was picking up.  I told her that there was a Cosi close by that had free heat and wi-fi.  She smirked and grabbed a brown paper bag with a Cosi logo that appeared as if it contained a salad and showed to me.  “I went there.  Their wi-fi is down” she said.  

Danielle told me she had a Masters in Government Affairs.  I asked her where she worked and she gave me that face like, “hey, I’ve told you enough!”  She said she worked for “the government.”  You know what that means.  Spy.  Just kidding. 

I asked her what she was going to do with the money and she said she was going to go over to the CVS and give the $10 to the guy who stands outside opening the door for customers.  I knew who she was talking about.  I had even thought of giving him my $10 one day…but hadn’t yet. 

I was very sensitive to the fact that Danielle was probably working and I didn’t want to take up too much of her time.  I say that, but then again, what was she doing sitting on a bench at Dupont Circle.  Shouldn’t she have been at her “government” job office.  Ok, definitely a spy. 

We exchanged emails and said goodbye.  She said she would check out the blog and leave a comment on how she felt about the experience.

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I have some good news today.  I wrote WordPress and asked them if they would be so kind as to gift me an upgrade so that I would be able to post my videos here instead of forcing people to go to Facebook, and they said absolutely!  WordPress rocks!  Thank you.  So, soon you will have video on here too!

Franklin Square, Washington, DC

Yesterday I was walking near Franklin Square in downtown DC.  It’s a nice park to sit and take in a warm, sun-drenched day like we had yesterday.  

It was ironic to me at first that it is called Franklin Square since the only statue in the park is of John Barry and not of Benjamin Franklin.  Not that Barry is not worthy of it, history portrays him as an honorable Naval Office in the Continental Navy (he might have been the first official officer).  But if the park is called Franklin Square you expect to see something about Benjamin Franklin.  Well, after a little poking around I learned that the park is named after the founding father because of the building that is across the street, the Franklin School.  

Continental Navy Officer, John Barry

The roof of the Franklin School is the location where Alexander Graham Bell sent his first “photophone” transmission (sound transmitted by light waves) in 1880.  Now it seems unused.  It used to be a homeless shelter up until late 2008, but now I don’t believe it is being used for anything.

As I left the park, I saw a young guy crossing the street holding an artist’s large sketch portfolio.  I thought he would make an interesting recipient.  Maybe I would find a real, live starving artist.

Art Institute student, Ryan Z.

Ryan stops to talk to me.  His longish hair protruding some from his hat.  The 18-year-old seemed a bit confused about my mission, but readily agreed to participate.  He lives in Arlington right now and attends the Art Institute in Rosslyn where he studies graphic design.  What he really wants to do is design items for the music industry.  So, merchandising, cd covers, etc.  The Erie, PA native says he plays guitar and would enjoy playing in a band here in DC. 

I asked him what he would do with my $10 and he gave me back the most common response I get: eat.  I don’t think he was truly a starving artist, but it seemed that my $10 would definitely help him out.

So if anyone knows of any good connections or advice for Ryan to help him out in his graphic design pursuits or to get him hooked up with a band, please comment here.

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As of today I have given a total of $410 of my savings to 41 people that I didn’t know.  More importantly, I have met 41 people and learned their story.  I can still say that it has been worth every dollar.  Also, I have “met” so many of you through the blog…people from all over the world.  To date almost every state in the US and 30+ countries visited the Year of Giving.  I have enjoyed interacting with all of you.  I have also received a lot of great suggestions about things I should do with my project.  Here are some of your ideas/suggestions:

  • Write a book
  • Have a celebration at the end of the year for the recipients and blog readers
  • Accept donations from others and use that money to give additional $10 each day or to extend the Year of Giving
  • Write to Oprah and tell her what I am doing
  • Start my own nonprofit
  • Get an airline or travel agency to sponsor travel for me to all 50 states during the Year of Giving and give $10 to someone in each state
  • Incorporate twitter into the site (done)
  • Add video blogs to the website (I just found out that this is a premium feature.  I have asked WordPress to sponsor this capability for me in the spirit of my project.  For now you can see my videos on the Year of Giving’s Facebook page)
  • Have guest bloggers
  • Organize a “day of giving” where everyone who is following online will be encouraged to give $10 on that specific day and then write in on the blog about their experience

The list goes on.  I love to receive your suggestions.  I am already in the planning stage of some of the suggestions, others are more complex and I have to see how I would go about doing them.  What do you think?  What ideas do you like?  What other ideas do you have?  Let me know if you can help make any of these ideas turn into reality.

On Day 41 I found myself in Chinatown in DC.  I was walking along the street near the Verizon Center and found Cleo playing the trumpet.  The 50-year-old native of the DC stood playing his heart out with his back to the street and his trumpet case open on the sidewalk.  The case was peppered with coins.  As we talk he answers all of my questions in a melodic verse.  I will try to get some video up on Facebook so that you can see for yourself what an amazing man Cleo is.

He has been playing trumpet since the age of 8.  Born and raised in DC, he grew up playing in the school band and later in a drum and bugle corps.  He has been busking for some 20 years.

I ask him what he is going to do with the $10 and he said he was going to use it to buy some valve oil for his trumpet.  He said he also needed to collect $25 right to get a good music stand; his old one broke.

He said that you can find him at Gallery Place when there are games at the Verizon Center (I found him at 7th and G, right next to Clydes).  He also plays in Adams Morgan at night from time to time…he laughed and shook his head and said that Adams Morgan was a wild and crazy place!

I asked him if he had a practice of doing things for others and he sang back something to me like, “I might find someone….and buy them a hamburger….”

Cleo is the real deal.  I think it might be impossible to speak with him and not smile.  He is a must see if you catch Wizards, Capitals, or Hoyas game!  

If anyone wants to help Cleo or any of the other recipients, let me know and I can try to make arrangements.

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I found myself in the picturesque neighborhood of Georgetown.  As I walked along M Street, I notice a man on the corner of M and Wisconsin sitting in front of the Banana Republic store.  

I cross the street and make my way to where he is sitting.  John has on a pink foam hat that says Vintage Virginia (I have been to this wine festival and was not impressed), a heavy wool blanket wrapped around him and a mini disco ball on a chain that hangs from his neck.  I stopped to talk to the 52-year-old homeless man and walked away with a smile on my face.

A clever phrase, a warm smile, or just a wave seems to work for John as he is successful in getting the attention of those who walk past him.  His kindness and free-flowing smile seem to almost warm the crisp winter air.  

John has been homeless for about 5 years he explained.  His life took a dramatic turn after he lost his wife and child in an auto accident.  He also said that he lost his other son due to heart failure at the age of 17 while playing basketball.  Too much personal tragedy for one person.

Now, he has become somewhat of a regular at this intersection I found out from a neighborhood local.  I asked John about his hat and disco ball.  He said they were gifts and he has worn them for over a year and that people remember him by his crazy pink hat.  That may be partly true, but I will remember him not for his hat, but for how friendly and optimistic he was despite his situation.

On top of being homeless, John suffers from heart disease and is an insulin dependent diabetic.  He recently lived through a difficult situation when he was denied benefits to get his insulin.  He doesn’t appear angry though.  He seemed to just take everything in stride.  We chatted for a while about all kinds of things; from his health stories to a meeting he had with Mayor Adrian Fenty to his fondness for really tall women!  Hey, if there are any 6’ or taller women out there who want to meet a really nice man, let me know and I will hook you up with John!

I asked South Carolina native about the hat.  He says that everyone knows him now by the pink hat.  He has other hats too.  A turkey hat for Thanksgiving, a complete Santa Outfit for Christmas, a red, white, and blue hat for the 4th of July, etc.  He doesn’t have an Easter Bunny hat, so if anyone has one that they would like to give to him, let me know! 

I asked John what he was going to do with the $10 and he replied with a big smile that revealed some missing teeth that he would get himself a big vegetable dinner.  He was very thankful of my donation.  I asked him how much he collects on  a good day and he said about $30-$40.  I think he might have lowballed me on this, as I saw at least $5 make its way to his bucket while I was standing there and a few more as I jotted down some notes from across the street after I spoke to him.  I bet a good day for him is at least double what he stated.  He explained that people do a lot of nice things for him and I asked him what has been the best “gift” so far.  “Conversation,” he said without hesitation.  I was touched by this.  A man who desperately needs financial resources valued the conversation of others much more than the money that they were giving him.

If you are in Georgetown, keep an eye out for the pink hat and stop and say hello to John.  It will be worth your time, trust me.

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