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Archive for November, 2010

Good morning!  Today has got to be a better day than yesterday…I just wish I had a few more hours in the day.

I hope to send out the invites via email today for the Year-End Celebration…still waiting on the venue to send over the agreement.  At the event we will have a small auction of a couple of items to raise money for some awesome charities.  If you know of something that would make a really cool auction item, something that could generate some interesting bidding, and you have a way to get it, please let me know.  I am also seeking items to give away to the attendees when they leave.  You know in one of those “thanks for coming” bags.  If you have a contact that could get something interesting for us to give away, please let me know ASAP.  It could be t-shirts, could be books, could be Flip video cameras….whatever!  We would need about 250 units.

Also, I heard some people were sending emails to the Ellen show to suggest that she include the Year of Giving in her 12 Days of Giving.  If you want to send Ellen a suggestion…click here to submit your message!  I even broke down last week and emailed her and asked for some help making the Year-End Celebration happen.  No response yet.  Not even the standard, “Thanks for your email.  We get lots of mail so …. “

Molly holding the Sherman Alexie novel on the Metro. (photo: Reed)

Well today’s recipient threw me for a loop with what she did with the $10!  I met Molly 100 feet below the bustling city of Washington in our Metro system.  I was at the Tenlytown station waiting to board a Red Line train to take me back to Dupont Circle.  Molly looked like she was waiting for the same train so I thought I would ask her to be my recipient.  

Molly, who just turned 27 a week ago Saturday, is a researcher at an environmental institute here in DC.  She’s originally from Seattle which is maybe why she’s reading Native American author Sherman Alexie’s 1998 novel Indian Killer – it takes place there.

Within a minute the trained arrived and we boarded the subway car.  “I’m heading over to Capitol Hill,” she tells me as the doors close.  I looked at my watch; it was 10:20pm.  I had about eight minutes until my stop.  I hastily explained the project hoping to find out more about her, but frankly I didn’t learn much because there just wasn’t time.

She told me she was living on a tight budget so I thought the $10 would come in handy for her.  “I’m applying to law school,” Molly said suggesting that maybe she would use the money to help pay the application fees.  “Or who knows, maybe I will buy some drinks on my birthday?”  Ah, yes…I almost forgot, she was going to NYC to celebrate her birthday.  Well, ten bucks wouldn’t have gotten her very much there.  Then again law school application fees are hundreds of dollars probably, so really not much help on either front.

The metro screeched into Dupont and I nearly lost my balance as I furiously crammed notes down in my little Moleskine book.  I said good-bye and headed home. End of story, right?  Wrong.

So a few days later I got an email from Molly.  Here’s part of it:

…[it] was a rather rushed and, on my part, flustered conversation about what I would do with the money. Well, since then I’ve been thinking about that interaction a lot. And I’ve been thinking about the ten dollars a lot, too. For some reason, I can’t seem to spend it. And I can’t seem to stop obsessing about the best way to use it.  In fact, it’s starting to drive me a little crazy. So, if you don’t mind, I think I would like to donate it back to your project. Would that be possible?”

I think it is great that this experience has caused her to stop and think about it.  To think about different ways it could be used.  Certainly I didn’t want to stress her out, but she really pondered what to do with it.  Anyway, we are meeting Thursday and she is going to donate the money back to the Year of Giving and I am going to use it to help me pay for the Year-End Celebration.

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Day 331 – Freddy H.

I hope to announce the venue for the Year-End Celebration tomorrow!  It will be Tuesday, December 14th from 6:30-9:00pm here in DC.  If you will be coming and you use Facebook, you can RSVP here.  If you live thousands of miles away or are allergic to kindness and wont be able to go but still want to be a part of it, there is a chance I will have a live feed on Facebook….still working that out.  I will also be raising money for a few awesome charities during the event.  If you wont be able to attend but would like to contribute – I don’t know….$10 perhaps – you can click on the link at the top right of this page that says DONATE.

Freddy has been driving a cab in DC since I was three years old!

Today I present to you Freddy – a DC native who has been driving a cab since 1977.  A good cab driver can tell you as much about people and character as they can about how to get to the airport during rush hour and avoid all the traffic.  I love to talk to cabbies everywhere I go, especially foreign countries – as long as we both can find a language we share.  The worst was a Moscow taxi driver who spoke to me in Russian, which I made painfully clear I didn’t understand, and proceeded to speak to me for 30 minutes.  I just said “da” and “spasiba” a lot.

I flagged Freddy down over in Northeast, DC and headed over near Georgetown in Northwest.  We began talking and I enjoyed the banter and thought I would give him my $10 for the day.  He accepted it but said he had no idea what he was going to do with it yet.  I am going to try to follow up with him and see if he decided yet.

In the last 33 years he has seen everything and unfortunately I mean everything.  “In 1989,” he began to tell me, “I was shot four times and left to die.”  He said he picked up two passengers who asked to be taken to Takoma.  When he got close they pretended to not know exactly where they needed to go and finally asked him to pull over near a pay phone where they got out and conversed a little between themselves.  This is the point at which he should have left.

They got back in Freddy’s cab and asked to be taken over to Piney Branch.  On the way over one of them put a hand gun to his neck and demanded his money.  He handed it over and got out of the cab and was shot four times.  Once in the side, once in his hand, once in his thigh and once in his butt.  “The one that went in my butt is still there…they didn’t take that one out.” 

Fortunately he survived the horrific ordeal and continues to drive his cab.  “Most people are alright,” he optimistically said as I handed him the fare.  “It’s just a few of them who ruin it for the rest of us.”

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In addition to my work with World Wildlife Fund, I am the Executive Director of the Urban Philharmonic Society, a nonprofit orchestra that plays in diverse neighborhoods in the DC area.  The organization was started by Maestro Darrold Hunt back in 1970.  I actually met Maestro Hunt through the Year of Giving and gave him my $10 on Day 189.

Well he and I were heading up to see the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform a unique event focused on the complex Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.  It was half orchestral half theatrical.  Basically they played some of the highlights of Mahler but also had a small group of actors that tried to reenact an encounter that the composer had Dr. Sigmund Freud. 

It was an interesting performance.  The orchestra sounded very good, the acting portion was interested but I would have rather had more of the music.  Maestra Marin Alsop seemed a little off, but that was explained during a talk back session after the performance where she stated that she had been battling a severe cold all week. 

Margarita and Jack at Meyerhoff Hall

After the show, I ran into Margarita and Jack in the lobby area.  “We enjoyed the show very much,” they told me.  She said that she was more of a theatre-goer than a symphony-goer, but they thought they would check out this unique hybrid.  Jack on the other hand said he leaned more toward music.  “I played clarinet as a kid and had a drum set,” he told me. 

This performance seemed to have a special significance for Margarita.  “My father loved Mahler…and Freud for that matter,” she said. 

The couple seemed well-traveled and in fact I think they are currently in Colombia, where Margarita was born.  Jack grew up the son of a Foreign Service diplomat and lived in Brazil and Dominican Republic.  We got talking about different places we’d been and figured out that we were both in Brazil’s northeast city of Salvador at the exact same time in 2003 for Carnaval!  Small world.  I had been living in Brazil for just three months and decided to check out the celebration in Salvador.  Margarita and Jack were on their honeymoon!

“I think we’ll donate the money,” Margarita said looking for confirmation from Jack.  He nodded his head and shrugged his shoulders a little in agreement.  I tried to email them and see what exactly happened to it in the end, but I am almost positive they are in Colombia still and may not hear for them for a few days.  Stay tuned for an update!

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Of the 12,000 homeless in Washington, DC, Bill stands out.  Maybe it’s his charismatic demeanor the empathic tone of his voice.  Whatever it may be, I will remember my encounter with Bill.

Bill getting ready for bed on K Street.

I was walking north on 21st Street late at night.  I stopped and waited for the green walk sign to illuminate and crossed K Street.  It was void of all of the lobbyists and corporate types that fill the sidewalks during the day.  Despite the “Don’t Walk” sign I crossed the empty street.  As I approached the other side I saw a man on the northwest corner bundled in a sleeping bag in front of the glass doors of a bank.  The area was well-lit and I walked over to him.

Homeless on the streets of our nation’s capital for over five years, Bill ended up on the streets after the death of his father and subsequent loss of employment.  

Chills sprung up around my neck as he told me that he was born in Harrisburg Hospital in Pennsylvania.  Not only is it very close to where I grew up but it is the very same hospital where my mother died four years ago. 

We talked a little bit about the Central Pennsylvania area.  He went to York Catholic High School.  I went to Mechanicsburg High School.  And although we were separated by about 20 years I felt some kind of connection with Bill.

He lucidly spoke to me about being homeless.  “You have to be,” he began to say as he tugged at his dark hooded sweatshirt, “somewhat detached from reality to be homeless.”  He describes the mental state that one gets into as a sort of shock.  It paralyzes some individuals and they simply are unable to break out of the cycle.  “You could write a good book about being homeless though,” he perked up and said.  “You could call it Squirrels on Food Stamps.  I mean we sit in parks all day like the squirrels.”  

Despite the obvious dark side of being alone and homeless in America, Bill tells me of a side many people don’t know about.  “It’s dangerous out here for those of us who are homeless.  Sometimes you end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Bill was referring to an incident a few years earlier where at that very spot where he was sitting he was attacked by someone while he was sleeping.  He woke up to bone crushing blows to his skull.  “Thankfully I am just a few hundred yards from GW Hospital.  The doctor there told me I was 15 minutes away from dying.”  He is still noticeably bothered about the incident.  His voice silenced and we both just looked at each another.  “You can still see some of the blood stains over there,” he said pointing to a grape jam colored spot just feet away from where he was going to rest his head that night.

I found out we have something else in common other than being from Central Pennsylvania.  Bill used to live around the corner from my apartment in DC.  “That area has changed a lot since I lived there.”  He lived there from 1984-1995 and said that his rent started at $350 and ended at $450 per month.  Well, I can tell you that it has skyrocketed since those days.  “I lived across from Nora’s,” he said referring to a high-end restaurant noted for being the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.  Some of you might remember that I took my father there for dinner on his 70th birthday on Day 306.  

“In fact I used to steal fresh herbs from their garden,” Bill said chuckling a little.

He was going to use my $10 to buy himself breakfast the next morning.  “I usually go over to Miriam’s Kitchen, but I get so tired of that.  I’m going to go to the cafeteria at GW and get some sausage and biscuits.”

Before I left I told him about the Lend a Hand project.  “You know what I would love,” Bill started to say enthusiastically, “an electric blanket.”  Now you might wonder how a homeless guy is going to use an electric blanket, but Bill is pretty smart.  He sleeps right next to an electrical outlet.  So if you want to make a 55-year-old man’s day, send me an electric blanket and I will deliver it to Bill.

UPDATE: 11/28/2010

This is a first!  Less than 12 hours from when I posted this someone already sent me a brand new electric blanket for Bill.   Thank you Michelle!!!  When I receive it I will take it to him and try to post a picture or video, although he was not comfortable with me taking his picture when I met him….so we will have to see.  Thanks again!  You have been such a great supporter of the Year of Giving!

UPDATE: 12/5/2010

 

I delivered the electric blanket that Michelle from NC sent for Bill.  He was so thankful and it is really cold tonight so I am sure it will get good use.  Can you believe that he said he wanted to write a little note to the bank to ask permission to use their electricity?  Unbelievable.   He said that he could also use some size 8.5 shoes or boots with winter coming.

 



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Today’s recipients were very memorable.  After reading this I think that you will agree.

Supporters of the Pittsburgh Steelers know that in almost every city across the United States, and even in some overseas cities, there is a “Steeler bar.”  One of these such locations is the Pour House, a no frills multi-level pub near Capitol Hill.  My friend Kimon, a former Pittsburgh resident, and I headed over there to watch the Steelers take on the Bengals on Monday Night Football. 

We got there about 30 minutes prior to kick-off, but there were virtually no seats left.  We headed down a well-traveled staircase into a basement bar that took me back to my college years.  It was also full, however, there was a small nook that was open at the far end of the space.  It was as if it was contaminated with something awful as no one was sitting there.  Our newly claimed land was rather subdued compared to the rest of the joint which was standing room only, not to mention that nearly everyone had on a Steeler jersey, except us. 

I am not sure what they are signing, it is close to the sign for "I love you." Hopefully it doesn't mean "Go away!" :)

I decided to take a walk around the bar before halftime.  I made my way back up the old wooden staircase and plowed my way through the crowd like a running back determined to get a first down.  With less than two minutes left in the half, the Steelers were threatening.  They scored right before halftime and the crowd went into a frenzy.  The deafening cries from jubilant fans were soothing to my soul and detrimental to my ears.

During all of this madness I saw a couple that looked to be completely unaffected by the chaos.  Only after I made my way around some stools and got closer to them did I see that they were speaking in sign language. 

A million things, ok probably not a million, but a lot, were going through my head at this point.  How the hell am I going to explain to them what the Year of Giving is about?  Will they be able to read my lips?  Can they speak back to me?  Will this be a disaster?

I didn’t really know of any other way than to just go for it.  I interrupted them and told them my name.  Bryan very quickly responded to me that they were deaf.  “Can you read lips,” I asked.  He nodded yes.   I think he might have been able to hear a little bit as he was using a hearing device.

I tried to explain to them what I was doing.  Despite me being nervous approaching them, it was quite a funny scene.  I spoke mostly through Bryan since he was able to speak back to me.  So I would speak to him and he would sign what I said to his girlfriend Allison.  I can only imagine what Bryan was really signing…it probably went something like this.

Me: Hi, my name is Reed and I would like to give you $10.  It’s part of a year-long commitment to giving that I have made.

Bryan signing to Allison: This guy is either really drunk or completely crazy.  He says that he wants to give us $10.

Well you can imagine how the rest goes.

The irony of it all too is that I could barely hear what Bryan was telling me.  The bar was still noisy after the Steeler touchdown.  But to them, not being able to hear the other person was second nature…for me it was a struggle.

We managed though.  I learned that they had been dating for the past three years and were planning on getting married.  Bryan said something to me and pointed to Allison but I didn’t hear.  I looked at Allison and she made a motion with her hand close to her tummy that even I knew meant that she was pregnant.  I congratulated them and asked if they knew the sex yet.  They both shook their head no.  “Surprise,” Bryan said.  

They met at Gallaudet University.  According to the school’s website, Gallaudet is the only university in the world that offers all programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.  It was founded in 1864 by an Act of Congress and their charted was signed by none other than President Abraham Lincoln.  They currently have just shy of 2,000 students enrolled.

I understood that Allison was originally from Puerto Rico.  As a Spanish speaker,   I wondered if she could read lips in both English and Spanish.  She was born deaf, whereas Bryan lost his hearing at age two he explained.  I am not sure how he lost his hearing.  I sent him a follow-up email thanking them for taking time to speak with me and asking a few clarifying questions, but it appears that I might have either taken down the email address incorrectly or they gave me a fake address – that happens fairly often.

Here is a little video from that night.  You will see Pittsburgh scoring a touchdown, the bar celebrating and then a special message in sign language from Bryan and Allison to you!

I think what they said is that they will put the $10 toward something for the baby.  “It’s expensive,” Bryan told me referring to having a child.

This was a very special experience for me.  I was really nervous approaching them.  I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable, but I think they were.  I wish we would have met some place else, where it was quiet (although again, that probably would have only benefited me) and we could have taken our time to get to know one another.  Maybe some other time…it’s a small world, you never know.

The Steelers went on to triumph over the Bengals 27-21.  For those of you who only found this post because you are obsessed Steeler fans and you read everything that has something to do with Steeler Nation, you already knew that!

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Day 328 – Elizabeth F.

Are you still stuffed?  Did you eat too much turkey and stuffing yesterday?  Well prop yourself up on your sofa and check out what happened with my $10 on Day 326.  I will keep it short to help you ward away the sleep inducing effects of all the tryptophan that is now in your body.

Elizabeth followed up via email, "You ended up being a great end to a day that didn't start off so well. Thank you."

Hockey season is once again upon us and I have gotten to go to a few games.  My brother Ryan has season tickets to the Capitals and is very generous in inviting me to go with him.  It was a Sunday and we met up at my apartment in Dupont.  We hopped on the 42 bus and headed down toward the arena.  I thought I would try to find someone on the bus that would accept my $10 and found Elizabeth sitting in front of us.

A Bilingual Benefits Coordinator at a local health clinic, Elizabeth was on her way to see The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, the third in the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson.  I haven’t read any of the books or seen any of the movies.  In fact I didn’t even know that this one was part of the whole Girl with the Dragon Tattoo thing.  

Anyway I gave her the $10 and got my notebook out to ask her some questions.  “I’m not very interesting,” she told me.  I hear that a lot, but just like with Elizabeth I usually uncover plenty of interesting sides of their lives. 

It turns out Elizabeth’s “uninteresting” life includes a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in southern Ecuador.  That sounds like a pretty amazing experience.  My sister-in-law was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kiribati, an island nation located along the equator in the Pacific Ocean.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Peace Corps program however almost everyone raves about the people they meet and overall life experience gained.  

photo: Reed

The bus groaned a little as we motored down Connecticut Avenue.  We had an easy conversation during the 25 blocks it took to get to our stop.  Elizabeth had a lot of questions for me too.  She said she was going to put the money in her wallet and see what happened to it.  I later found out in an email from her that she was going to use it to go to get some drinks at the Bottom Line on Friday when they feature $1 Miller Lites from 4-7pm.  That’s pretty cheap…especially for DC!  But it must have been burning a hole in her pocket because it only made it to Tuesday where it went toward happy hour.

As for the hockey game, the Caps edged out the Flyers in overtime.  The Capitals have a pretty awesome record when I am in attendance!

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Happy Thanksgiving!!!

There is SO much to be thankful for today.  Here’s just a few things…

the last 36 years 327 days ■ my amazing family ■ loyal friends ■ love that I feel ■ my job ■ my home ■ my sight ■ my hearing ■ my sense of taste ■ my sense of touch ■ my sense of smell  ■  asymptotes  ■   the ability to run  ■ our differences ■ our similarities ■ sleep ■ spell check ■ rain ■ nature ■ sun, moon and the stars ■ mornings ■  evenings in San Gimignano ■  laughter ■ children ■ gardens  ■  trust  ■   history  ■ spices  ■  caipirinhas  ■   tacos  ■   hugs  ■   music  ■   the 33 Chilean miners  ■   language  ■   my mother’s recipes – especially stuffing …

I could go on…but I if I did, we would never get to know about Meghan…and her friend John!

She looks sweet and innocent, but Meghan was ready to club me with her 1/2 steel bike lock had I been an attacker.

So on a cool evening I wandered over to Dupont Circle to see who I would find.  I immediately saw Meghan sitting next to a bicycle on the east side of the circle but I decided to make a lap around the fountain to see if I found someone who caught my attention.  Nope.  It was Meghan.

The 28-year-old from Richmond has been in DC for almost six years.  She has a government job which she says that she doesn’t enjoy very much.  “I’m waiting for a friend and where going to go for dinner,” she told me when I asked what brought her to the circle that night. She said she would probably put the ten dollars toward the evening.

As we were talking her friend John showed up.  It’s cool how they met.  They both worked for years for the same agency on the same floor but didn’t know each other.  Then on a trip to Spain Meghan found herself in a cozy little tapas joint in Sevilla.  John, who also happened to be in Sevilla on vacation, happened to come over and talk to her and it turned out they worked together!  Now they are great friends.

“She’s one of the funniest people I know,” John told me.

Meghan, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood, changed her mind and decided to give John half of her ten dollars…who knows, maybe that compliment literally paid off!  “He’s great,” she told me.  So then something happened that had never happened so far this year.  John said he wanted to give me his five dollars!  What could I do but accept it.  I’ve put that five dollars toward covering my costs for the Year-End celebration on  December 14th!

“I saw you walk around the fountain twice and then come over toward me,” Meghan began saying, “I was ready to hurt you with my ½ inch steel bike lock!”  Phew…good thing I made a good impression!

Me, Meghan and John. Meghan holding her $5, me holding the $5 that Meghan gave to John and he passed on to me!

Here is a quick story to make you feel good on Thanksgiving!  John told me that he was at the American Museum of Natural History New York City this summer when he found $70 on the ground.  “I turned it in to the information desk figuring someone had dropped it,” he explained.  He gave them his information as well and would you believe four months later they called John and told him that since nobody had claimed it that they were going to send it to him.  Wow…can you believe it?  It gets better.  “I told them to keep it and consider it a donation,” John said humbly.  I love it!

We’re getting ready to sit down for dinner now.  I was in charge of making two stuffings…one a regular bread stuffing full of celery, sausage and sage that my mother used to make…it’s my favorite.  The other is a cornbread stuffing that my grandmother (Dad’s mom) used to make.  I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving, but do take a moment to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for.

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