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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

Experiments in Kindness, Part 2 of ?

October 25th, 2016 (04:09 pm)

Well, my lunchtime kindness experiment didn't go very well. I went down to Burger King to find a woman standing at the counter, ripping the clerk a new one because her sundaes had come without hot fudge. She was clearly strung out as hell, with leathery skin stretched drum-tight over her skull but still marked with wrinkles like razor-cuts in clay, and I do not know what her drug of choice is but I know neither her appearance or her manner suggested sobriety. She was fit to be tied because she had paid $1.29 each for two sundaes, and the clerk had given her two cups of plain ice cream and was telling her that the hot fudge cost extra. "That's not a sundae, that's ice cream," she kept saying, reasonably enough, and then she'd lean over the counter to try to poke the picture of the sundaes on the screen and she'd yell "That's FALSE ADVERTISING!" The poor clerk, who is not at fault for Burger King's sundae-toppings policy, kept reiterating again and again that it would cost more for the hot fudge, and the woman was yelling, and everyone in line was shifting from foot to foot and looking in other directions, and oh.

So I dug what change I had out of my purse and laid it on the counter next to the woman. I happen to agree with her that a cup of plain ice cream is not a sundae*, but more than that, I mostly wanted her to just leave the clerk alone. I figured I was doing them both a favor. "I think that should cover the hot fudge," I said.

She glanced down at it, said, "Aw, thank you, sweetie," and pocketed it. Then she resumed fighting with the clerk.


Well, you win some, you lose some. I just contributed 87 cents toward her next bag of whatever, and I hope it doesn't kill her. She eventually left with her two cups of plain ice cream, and life moved on.

I knew from the start of this that naivete was going to be a big stumbling block in my attempts to be kinder to people, and nowhere is that likely to be more evident than in my attempts to treat homeless people and drug addicts, who flock around the block where I work by the dozens, like ordinary human beings and not crafty con artists who are always looking to take advantage of you and who, if you give them money, are going to immediately use it to overdose. I have a cousin who works with addicts for a living and man does she ream me out for giving money to homeless people. I have taken what she says more to heart than I meant to, and so in recent months I've taken to buying little gift certificates to Burger King and giving those out to panhandlers,*** figuring it would be a hassle to try to trade those for money or drugs or anything else and so the odds are good they'll just use them to eat. I like to think that's a good balance between naivete and cruel skepticism. But every so often I do something like I just did today, and sometimes it goes stupid, like it did today. I'm not really sure what the moral of the story is, but I'll file it away. Maybe by the end of a month and change I'll have an answer.

*I just got into a thing with JP Licks because they are out of hot fudge, whipped cream, or both half the times I go there. I wrote a letter of complaint about that and the fact that they were playing obscene Chris Brown music really loud the last time I went there, and then I realized that I had become A Person Who Writes Complaint Letters to Proprietors of Ice Cream Parlors and I had an internal crisis. Point is, I too feel it is an important point of principle that a sundae is not a sundae without *at least* one wet topping.
**Why does Microsoft's version of the crying-laughing emoji look like an emoji wearing streaky face paint at a football game?
***Actually they happen to have had a couple of promotions where they gave away tickets for free food -- one of them a promotion where a dollar gets you a scratch-off ticket and scratching it reveals what free food item you get, and the other just a "give us $1 and we'll give you a booklet of coupons for free food" thing, both of them benefiting the Jimmy Fund. I LOVED that because it meant I could buy a bunch of them to give out to homeless people and even if they didn't use them or bartered them or someshit I was still donating to the Jimmy Fund. But now both those promotions are over and I only have one coupon book left so I don't know what I do next.


Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: October 26th, 2016 05:55 pm (UTC)

I emailed JP Licks to ask when they were branching out of the Boston area, ideally into the UK because I think their ice cream is SO GOOD. Unfortunately they're concentrating on MA for now but they did offer to load my cow card with a free sundae for next time I was in the area...

Homeless people is a difficult one. There's a campaign in my town not to donate to people begging because a lot of times they're actually not in need and just scamming. The policy is that it's better to donate directly to the charity instead as they'll see it goes to people who do need it. It's tricky.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 27th, 2016 01:42 am (UTC)

Oh, did they? That was nice. They do have good ice cream. (Now I'm hungry.)

I know that giving money to homeless people who are scammers and/or addicts is ultimately, leaving everyone else out of it, a shitty thing to do to them. But it's hard to find good substitutes that will help the people who do need help, because they're out there too. It's doubly tricky to find a charity that will help because a good percentage of homeless people won't go to shelters due to fear of violence or theft of what little they have, and soup kitchens just don't have very good food sometimes. My job is right across from Boston Common, where tons of homeless people stay, and I don't want to turn my back on people in need. But I also don't want to fund drug abuse, or give money to scammers. I was all excited that my Burger King certificates had fixed the situation but now I'm one shy of being all out. I'll have to figure out a plan for what to do from here, because I encounter so many homeless people on a daily basis.

Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: October 27th, 2016 06:30 pm (UTC)

It was very nice of them. I really wish I'd been able to use it. They have great ice cream, they are the standard by which I judge all others now!

Do you not have anything like the Big Issue there? I'm trying to remember and failing. It's a magazine that homeless people sell so they're getting an income. It also means they can be classed as self-employed and able to claim housing benefits which obviously is incredibly beneficial. It's also good because it's an official charity and it's a good way of knowing that you're helping someone directly, without just thinking they're scamming or addicts. It'd be a shame if there's nothing like that in the US. I remember Boston Common, it must be incredibly hard to walk past that every day. Could you get in touch with the branch of BK that you've been using and explain what it is what you want to do and ask how they can help you accomplish it?

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 28th, 2016 04:00 pm (UTC)

There is something called Spare Change Newspaper here, and I buy it sometimes and have actually been meaning to volunteer to copy-edit for them since the last issue I got said they were looking for copyeditors, but I am bad at follow-through. I'm just going to do that when I finish this comment, so I won't forget. Spare Change has been plagued a bit by scammers who get a hold of a couple copies, put them on top of a pile of free newspapers grabbed from train stations, and then give purchasers the free newspaper and skedaddle before they realize. And it sounds like Big Issue is more of an institution; I think Spare Change's aims are roughly the same but I don't think it's been as successful. Still a good thing to support though.

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