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Archive for the ‘Refusals’ Category

Today was bitter cold and windy.  The temperatures will approach 0 Fahrenheit over night with the wind-chill factor.  I went out around 9pm to look for a recipient of today’s $10.  With the weather so cold, I thought I would look for someone who was spending the night out in the cold.  They could probably use the $10 and I could let them know about the shelters.

From a distance, I saw Peter very methodically laying some blankets down on a wooden bench.  As I got closer, I could see that he was well prepared for the cold.  He had on several layers and I could only see from his eyes to the tip of his nose, the rest was protected from the frigid air.  The eyes, ivory with dark pupils, contrasted against the rich dark skin of his face.  Peter and I talked for a while. 

Originally from Sudan, I wondered how he could manage outside on a night like tonight, but he said he would be fine.  This was his first night he said in the cold, the other nights he had been staying in the shelters but he said people were bothering him there so he decided to sleep outside.  I urged him to consider going to a shelter, but he resisted. 

Peter never fully understood what I was doing.  And I never fully understood why he refused to take my $10, but he did.  We continued to talk and he finally conceded that if he and I were to meet again, then he would accept my $10.  I asked where he was during the day or if he would be back there to sleep again, but didn’t get a solid answer.  I went on my way to look for someone else.  All the while thinking about the conversation I just had.  I will keep my eyes open for Peter in the coming days.  After all, he and I made a promise.

Not far away, I saw someone in a cove-like area off of one of Washington’s many traffic circles.  They appeared to be settling in as well.  They had on so much clothing that I could not tell if it was a man or a woman until I got closer.  When I got about 15 feet away, I saw that there was another person sleeping nearby, completely covered by a gray blanket. 

Ayalew had his back to me, so I approached with caution as to not startle him.  I called out a friendly greeting and he looked over his left shoulder.  He too was very well covered.  His head was almost lost in the three layers of colorful hats and hoods he had on.  The 52-year-old said he has been here in DC for about a year.  He is a gentle man with a warm smile.  His soft words hide behind his beard.  I asked him where he was from originally as I detected an accent and experienced some minor challenges understanding one another.  “I am American”, he said.  I would have guessed he was from the Middle East.  A quick Google of the name Ayalew lead me to believe he is Ethiopian. 

I speak softly so that we don’t disturb the person sleeping a few feet away.  I ask my new friend if he would consider going to a shelter tonight to avoid potential frostbite.  He smiles and says that he is fine.  “I have so much clothes and personal items, that I prefer not to go to the shelter because I can not look after my things” he adds. 

I explain the Year of Giving and ask him if he will accept my $10.  He readily accepts and I hand him over two five dollar bills.  He says he will use the money to buy some breakfast tomorrow morning and some more food later this week. 

I am not quite ready to leave despite the pain I feel in my almost numb fingers.  I am somewhat intrigued by Ayalew.  Our conversation is comfortable, going back and forth like calm ocean waves reaching the shore.  He tells me a little about his family and that several family members, including his mother, are living in Texas and will be coming to DC soon.  He and his family hope to get a job some place in exchange for the rent of a room.  In the mean time, he says he spends most of his time reading and studying. 

As I started to leave, I told him about Adam’s Place, the emergency shelter that I had heard of yesterday.  He smiled, but said nothing.  I shook his hand and wished him a safe and warm night.

My walk home took about 10 minutes.  Despite my multiple layers of clothing, my body was cold and stiff.  I covered my face and picked up the pace.  I am so fortunate for what I have.  I take for granted the roof over my head and the “endless” supply of heat that keeps me warm inside.  When I am hungry, I need only to open the refrigerator or the cupboard and I am greeted by a myriad of delicious options.  Meeting and talking to Peter and Ayalew made me appreciate this.  They gave me something far more valuable than $10.

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It’s Christmas Eve. (Actually, its 1:30am on Christmas Day now, so Merry Christmas.)

I am in Mechanicsburg, PA. 

It is about 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

I am at my father’s house with my brother and his fiancée.  We spent the day talking, playing cards, watching Star Wars (it’s been on all day), doing last minute shopping, wrapping gifts, listening to Christmas music, and eating lots of food.  My dad was a real hero today too.  He insisted on getting the grill out tonight to cook the steaks he had bought.  Yes, outside.  He does make some of the best steaks I have ever had, but when the grill has ice sickles on it, that’s a sign that we should use the indoor oven.

Anyway, my brother and I decided to go out and see how the central Pennsylvanians would react to my project.  Frankly, it was not as easy as you would think to give away $10 here.  We went to a pharmacy and approached three people.  All of whom said no to participating in the Year of Giving.  One didn’t even want to talk to me.  Another took the web address and said he would check out the website.  The store manager declined saying that there were others more deserving of the money than he.

So we left and headed across the street to a video rental store.  Since they were open we thought we would try to find someone who was working on Christmas Eve and give them the $10.  We walked in the store and immediately found Matt behind the counter.

A white 27 year old physics grad student at Penn State, Matt is originally from Boston.  He said he plans to concentrate his studies on Newtonian physics and would really be happy if someone would recommend him for the MacArthur Fellowship – aka the Genius Award which is given out each year to 20-40 people in the US of any age and working in any field who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”  While you are at it, you can recommend me too!  Aside from the recognition, you get a cool $500,000.

Matt said he didn’t have much planned for the end of the year.  As a Buddhist he said he would not be celebrating much except for New Year’s Eve, which he planned to have a few drinks.  St. Patrick’s Day, he said, was really his favorite holiday.

So the big question.  What is he going to do with his $10?  Matt plans to buy some Marlboro Menthol Lights in the short 72mm hard packs.  I had no idea that there were so many options with cigarettes.  Now, I can honestly tell you that this is the first time in my life that I have ever given money to someone to buy cigarettes.  I am vehemently opposed to smoking.  Just a note to those who do smoke this type…check out this review of them on rateitall.com.  I don’t know if the info there is true or not, but there is a claim there that those specific cigarettes have “a ‘salt’ (not like the kind you eat) in them that allows the nicotine to be absorbed by the very sensitive skin in you tongue, cheeks, throat, etc.”  Matt, I have a great suggestion for a New Year’s resolution for you :).  You can do it!  BTW, congrats to my friend Aimee who just celebrated one month without smoking.

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Today was a hectic day.  I had to run a bunch of errands.  On top of that I had a job interview, theatre rehearsal, and then I had to drive to my dad’s place in Pennsylvania. 

I ended up waiting to give away my $10 until I got on the road.  I cut it close too…I found my recipient at 11:35pm.  I stopped at a gas station / convenience store in Thurmont, MD.  I went in and saw two employees in their late 20s or early 30s and asked them if either would be interested in participating.  The guy who was mopping the floor originally said he would participate.  I asked him for his name and I think he got spooked and he said that maybe I wanted to ask his coworker.  I did, and Jack accepted my $10.

Originally, from Prince George’s County, MD, Jack lives in Thurmont now.  In addition to working at the convenience store, he is also an artist.  He likes designing tattoos too.  I asked him how many he had and he replied, “Just a couple.”  

I was in a hurry and these guys were working, so I didn’t want to bother them.  Jack said he was going to buy some scratch-off Maryland Lottery tickets with the $10.  I have faith that he is going to get some money too!  He said he won $13 earlier that day and once won $500. 

Jack, let us know if you ended up winning anything with the scratch-off tickets you bought?

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Well….yesterday something happened that I hadn’t prepared myself for.

I tried unsuccessfully to give the $10 to a woman with a small child leaving the Takoma Park Metro.

Later, I boarded the Metro around 10pm and decided to approach a man sitting by himself to see if he would accept my $10.  Kevin, a 50-year-old African-American father and grandfather, was a bit suspicious when I explained what I was doing.

He pondered over it for a few seconds and then said “sure.”  There was a benevolence about him that I initially detected but which later was further revealed.   He explained how he tries to incorporate “giving” into his daily life.  He thanked his mother for instilling those values in him.  He mentioned that he had just given some food to someone this week who was asking for help.

Kevin told me that he was going to give the money to someone else.  I explained that that was exactly one of the intended consequences of my work; to inspire others to give.

He and I talked about why people give or don’t give.  We both agreed that when it comes to giving to a panhandler for example, that it is often less based on a conscious decision and more based on a feeling that you have at that moment.  Maybe it’s how they approach you or something they say that triggers you to give.  Of course there is the exception of those who always give or never give.

The train pulled into the station and Kevin stood up and expressed his thanks and offered me his hand.  I shook his hand only to find he had palmed the $10 and given it back to me.  He quickly went to the door and said, “I told you I was going to give it to someone who deserved it…I just did!”

Well…Kevin, I was not expecting this.  I was kind of shocked.  I didn’t know how to react.  Before I could really move, he was gone.  A woman who was in the car, Josephine, had been watching what was going on and came and sat down next to me.  Unaware of how much she had overheard or seen, I explained what I was doing.  She was very nice and I would have really liked to have spoken with her more, however, I myself had to get off at the next stop.  During our brief encounter she did tell me about an article about an altruistic gentlemen from Montana named Ben Kennedy that was in yesterday’s New York Post.  It’s worth a read.  I wish I could have encountered him and learned how he would have used my $10.

Anyway, back to the story.  So there I was on the escalator out of the Metro.  I still had my $10 and I was left with the question of whether I should keep it or not.  I say that people can do anything they want to with the money.  His choice was to give it to me.  I still felt like I should give it to somebody else. What do you think I should do in these situations?

I could have given it to Josephine.  But now she was gone too.  I headed on foot through the slushy streets a few blocks east.  I was headed to the apartment of my friends Chris and Karrin who had traveled to Omaha to spend Christmas with Karrin’s family.  I was going to pick up their dog Ruben for the night and take him to Little Rascals dog kennel the following day.  Ruben was a lot of fun…such a well-behaved dog, made me want to get one.

Just as I arrived at their apartment, I found a potential recipient.  Betsy was from DC, well Iowa originally, but has been here for “a really long time.”  A white woman about 30, Betsy works at a well-known coffee establishment.  She has an MBA and worked the corporate world for a while but has chosen to take a break from all of that.  She was rather fascinating.  She said she stopped for me because she thought I was a lost tourist.

I asked her what some good coffee joints were in the area, and she quickly brewed up some answers.  In addition to her own establishment, she highly recommended Buzz in Alexandria, Swing’s by the World Bank, and Baked and Wired in Georgetown.  Acording to Betsy, Buzz has phenomenal baked goods as well.

Betsy accepted my $10 and said she was going to go to the mini mart and buy a couple of Totino’s frozen pizzas.  She confessed that she probably eats pizza at least 2-3 times a week.

I gave Betsy the web address and told her to check it out.  We exchanged holiday pleasantries and went on our ways.  Off to pick up Ruben!

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Davie manages a smile despite the ice sickles that have formed in his beard.

Today’s recipient embodies the very spirit of the mission that I set out to serve.  I hope that you enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed meeting with Davie.

I had mixed emotions about heading out today to find a recipient due to the eight inches (and counting) of snow that has fallen.  Daniela and I decided to venture out and see who we would find.  The first person we approached declined to participate, she said she was very skeptical of any type of “offer” that she receives from people that she does not know.

A few minutes later we saw a Street Sense vendor.  Street Sense is a newspaper which serves as a vehicle for elevating voices and public debate on issues relating to poverty while also creating economic opportunities for people who are experiencing homelessness in the community.  David, a Scottish lad from Glasgow in his twenties who came here to pursue the “American dream,” was sporting an ice sickle laden beard.   I explained what I was doing and he agreed to accept my $10.

I could probably write a year’s worth of blogging just on Davie.  What an interesting person he is.  He left Glasgow back in the spring and arrived in Baltimore and made his way to California.  Then he decided to make his way back east.  With virtually no money, he managed most of his journey by bus, hitchhiking, walking, and whatever else you could imagine.  He arrived in DC in early October and is living on the streets near 14th and H.  Davie is joining the US military to go serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Aside from paying fairly well, there is a program that you receive US citizenship if you complete so many years of service, I believe Davie told me it was four years.  He hopes to depart in a few weeks.

I asked Davie what he was going to do with the $10 and he said he was going to put it toward a bus ticket to NYC to complete some things he needs to enlist and go abroad.

As I said, I could go on about Davie…but will just make a brief list of the interesting things I have learned about him.

  • Davie spent almost five years in the Légion Etrangère (French Foreign Legion).  As part of his training, he spent 6 months in French Guiana for jungle training.
  • Davie’s grandfather served in Heinrich Himmler’s Sicherheitsdienst, the nazi intelligence organization.
  • Davie has no family that he knows of.  He has two brothers that were more than 20 years older than him that he doesn’t know very well and has not seen or heard from in years.  His parents were killed in a highway accident and he explained his uncle was killed as a result of sectarian violence in Glasgow.  Davie, a catholic and self-confessed former hooligan, was injured in sectarian violence.  His leg was slashed with an ax years ago.
  • Davie admittedly said that he refused to interact with Protestants in his homeland almost all of his life; however, rather recently he overcame some of his feelings and established some relationships with some Protestants in Glasgow.
  • As those of you who are aware the fierce sectarianism that exists in Glasgow, you might guess that he is a die-hard Celtic (this is soccer, not the NBA!) fan.  Their “enemies” are the Rangers.  He let me know there was a match between the two clubs on January 3 and advised of the severe violence that was sure to occur.
  • Davie use to follow the Celtic team around Europe…occasionally being ejected, arrested, or sent home.  There was a certain amount of passion that Davie exhuberates when he speaks about the Celtic club.  He reminisced about his youth days when the anticipation of physically attacking the other club’s fans would burn inside him.  I use the word “passion”, but it was clear that his passion took the form of rage and violence.
  • He not only sells Street Sense, but is a published author for them.  He has three 3 articles published in the December 9-22nd issue, including a poem.  One of his articles talks about what a typical day is like for a homeless person in DC and there is even a picture of David there.  He is a good writer and I strongly encourage everyone in the DC area to pick up a copy of this issue!  For those of you not in DC, it should be available online in February.  They have a delay so that they do not lose sales of the print version.
  • Davie does not panhandle.  He doesn’t believe in that.  He feels that you should earn your money legitimately.
  • Including my $10, he said that he has $23 to his name.
  • Davie has been beat up and mugged several times in the US.
  • His favorite spot in the US is Montana.  He loved the scenery and the crystal clear water coming down the mountainside.  His least favorite place was Albuquerque, New Mexico where he was mugged several times in one evening!
  • He is ineligible for the US Air Force due to his tattoo on his neck.
  • Sometimes Davie sells single cigarettes on the street just to get some money to get by.
  • He does not drink or do drugs…well, he smirked and admitted in his rather mild Scottish accent that he has a beer every 2 months or so to “keep the kidney stones away!”  Back in his youth, he said he was quite a mess and spent some time in juvenile detention centers.

I feel like I could go on forever….but I have to bring this to a temporary closing for now.  We were chatting in front of a Starbucks that had closed do to the weather.  There was something sharply ironic in standing with a man who has $23 to his name and watch dozens of Washingtonians nudge by us only to see that the Starbucks was closed and hear them grumble that they can not get their $5 Skinny Hazelnut Latte with soy milk.

Snow blanketed the DC area

We finally stopped our chat, as it was very cold and the snow was making my little 5” x 3” notebook nearly illegible.  I wish everyone out there could spend time with Davie.  He is an eccentric fellow who reminds me a little of Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) in his abandonment of material goods in exchange for his exploration of the US.  I got his email address and begged him to keep me posted on how things go.  He uses the internet at the public library, which was unfortunately closed today due to the snow storm.  I hope he comments here for you all to get a taste of who this very interesting young man is.  I will keep you posted on his adventures as well.

UPDATE Jan. 25, 2010: You can see a video update with Davie on Facebook.

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Day 2 – Paulina

Today I spent most of the day trying to get Year Of Giving up and running.  This blogging software is pretty user-friendly, however, like many things some tasks have somehow taken longer than expected.

So today I went searching along the U Street corridor of DC.  I first approached a woman who was waiting for the bus.  Just as I started to speak with her the 96 bus headed toward McLean Gardens rolled up and she slipped away.  I thought about just jumping on the bus…but I had no idea where McLean Gardens was and didn’t quite have time to do exploring this afternoon.  Strike 1.

My second attempt turned out to be a failure as well.  A nice woman who would have probably been very appreciative had we been able to communicate.  She spoke French, I tried some spanish and portuguese and even a few words in French, but she wasn’t impressed with my French skills.  Strike 2.

My third and ultimately successful attempt came at about 4:30 pm.  I spotted Paulina, a tiny hispanic woman in her 50s, crossing the street with one hand holding a tattered bag and the other clutched tightly around the small hand of three-year-old Dominic.  Our conversation quickly turned to Spanish (phew, that language I have covered) and I explained what I was doing.  She was a little timid but ultimately accepted the $10.

No more than I had put the money in her hand, she proudly told me that she was going to give the money to the church.  I think Dominic, although a little confused, was a bit disappointed with the decision :).  I was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t hesitate a bit with her altruistic decision.

Paulina politely thanked me and said that God would take of me.  I thanked her, smiled, and said good-bye.

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So yesterday I started the Year of Giving. My first day of a year-long journey into exploring the act of giving and the meaning of altruism.  I chose December 15th as the starting date.  It marked three years since my mother died from heart disease.  She was one of the most generous people that I have ever known; rarely ever doing things for herself…with the exception of getting her hair done, which she really liked.  She always thought of others first and certainly serves as an inspiration to me.

I had a rather busy day yesterday, ironic for someone who is unemployed right now.  In the morning I went to the gym, tried unsuccessfully to get an actual human being from the unemployment office on the phone, and did some job searching.  Before I knew it it was noon.  I grabbed a quick lunch and hustled down to a meeting.  As I navigated my way down Connecticut, I wondered if I would see someone that I would feel compelled to give my first $10 to.  I was running late and decided to do it afterwards.

After the meeting I had about a half hour to find the first person of my Year of Giving!  I decided to check out Dupont Circle…I met a guy there named Jerry once (more on him some other day) and thought he would be a good recipient of my first $10.  He wasn’t there, but I did see a man sitting by himself who looked really lonely…so I approached him.  Now I had to figure out what I was going to say.  I think I said something like, “Hi…can I sit down here.  [long uncomfortable pause then while I figured out what the heck to say next] Then I just kind of blurted out, “I would like to know if I could give you $10.” He asked me to repeat what I had said.  I did, then he looked at me funny and got up and left.  Strike one.

I then started walking South where I spotted a man standing by the bus stop on Connecticut Ave.  He appeared to be in his 60s.  I don’t know what drew me to him, but I thought I would make my second attempt.  I was a bit nervous and asked him which bus came by that stop.  Then I explained that I was starting a year-long project to give $10 to someone every day and that I wanted to give my $10 for today to him.  The gentleman, I later found out that his name was Ed, responded without hesitation that he could not accept my offer and that there were many people more deserving of the money than him.  This was precisely one of the things that I hoped would happen.  That people would think of others before themselves!  And although I was thrilled that this happened, I still needed to find someone and I was running out of time before I needed to go and pick some friends up and give them a ride to Silver Spring.  So strike two!

Knox braves the cold to make a few dollars shining shoes.

Then I spotted a man on the corner of 21st and P with a small bench and some shoe shine equipment.  I approached Knox, a black gentleman bundled in winter clothes with just the knot of his neck-tie sticking out of his jacket.  He later told me he was 50 years old, he looked much younger.  I asked him if he would accept my $10.  He hesitated and then agreed.  He struggled to come up with an answer when I asked him what he was going to do with my $10.  The alcohol that enveloped each of his words gave me a hint though of where it might go.  I explained that I was not going to judge him on what he chose to do with the money, that it was his and up to him what he wanted to do with it.

We chatted for a while…he spoke of the struggles that he has had and his attempts at staying sober.  “I’m about 50/50,” he said when I asked how his sobriety was.  He said he occasionally goes to AA meetings, but admitted that there had been times he had got himself some eggnog before the meetings.  Eggnog!  What?!  The last thing I would think of that a guy who wanted to get his alcohol fix for the day would want is eggnog!  I laughed…and he assured me that the eggnog was good.  He told me that he was probably going to buy some eggnog with the money.  Oh well.

I explained what I was doing.  He smiled at one moment and said, “maybe some of your readers want a shoe shine!”  Please visit Knox at the corner of 21st and P if you need a good shoe shine or want to know anything about eggnog.

I had to get going.  Before I left, I took a picture of Knox in front of his shoe shine stool and wished him well.  I told him to stay healthy and he said he would try…and warned me of the dangers of eating chocolate bars and “peanut chews.”

UPDATE: February 23, 2011

I caught up with Knox in 2011 – click here to read the update with him and see how he is doing.

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