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Random act of kindness: FAIL

7 Aug

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While I was in Chicago for work last week, I met up with a friend for breakfast one day before the office opened. We agreed to meet at Do-Rite Donuts because it was close to my hotel AND had gluten-free and vegan options. (I don’t even want to know what they use to make a donut that doesn’t contain flour or eggs – I assume tree bark.)

Because I’m mildly OCD (and – more realistically – because she had to take a combination of trains and busses, whereas I only had to walk around the corner), I arrived 10 minutes before she did. I decided to grab a donut and hold a table for us outside since the place seemed fairly busy.

The donut selection was overwhelming, and it became even harder to focus when a homeless man shuffled into the place, slowly panhandling his way along the line leading up to the small counter. Everyone looked uncomfortable, so when he got to me, I said, “I won’t give you money, but I’ll buy you a donut if you’d like one.”

The cashiers heard me and we exchanged a look while they patiently waited for him to point to a donut. (Of course he chose a premium gluten-free flavor.) Then he leaned across the counter and tried to get them to bring him a cup of milk (which they said they didn’t have) and started asking about what else they had back there that he could eat. I felt a bit callous, denying a homeless person food, but I also don’t like being taken advantage of, so I reset expectations with him quickly. “No – sorry. I’ll buy you a donut, but that’s all. Let’s go.”

I paid and left, heading outside to claim a table. He, however, remained inside, presumably asking someone else for something. He must not have been successful, because he emerged a few minutes later, holding the donut I’d bought him. Looking at him, I allowed myself the small feel-good moment that comes with performing a random act of kindness, thinking that maybe we could fix all the world’s problems if we each just help each other out a bit more.

And then I watched as he walked to the curb and threw the donut on the ground. He stumbled around it for a bit, and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to pick it up or what, but he resolved my curiosity by drawing back his foot and kicking it, sending it sailing out into the rush hour traffic. Without a backwards glance, he shuffled down the block.

I guess he decided gluten-free was some bullshit.

Small town living: cruising?

26 Mar
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Kind of like this, but with crappier cars and less reason. 

The other day I was wishing a childhood friend a happy birthday on Facebook. “Happy Birthday, old man!” I wrote. “Hop in your car and go cruise the McDonald’s to feel young again!”

As soon as the words came out, I cracked up. They struck me as absurd – not only imagining my 42 year-old friend attempting this, but also because the entire concept of “cruising” seemed so ridiculous.

Unless you’re from a small town, you probably have (at best) only a vague notion of what cruising entails. I know this because – after cracking myself up with my Facebook post – I asked Alan if cruising was a thing in Northern Virginia when he was a kid.

He gave me a blank look. “What kind of cruising?”

Which basically was the confirmation I needed that cruising was not, in fact, a universal THING.

After I explained it, he asked if we also hung out at sock hops, then returned to the book he was reading. (I think he’s suppressing his jealousy.) 

If, like Alan, you grew up in a semi-urban area where cruising wasn’t a thing, I’ll offer a quick description: Cruising was the main Friday/Saturday night activity for high schoolers in our small town. It involved hopping in a friend’s car – usually with a few other people – and driving a repeated loop of town, waving at other kids doing the same thing, and occasionally stopping at McDonald’s to have an actual conversation with someone.

There’s really no way to describe it that makes it sound even remotely as fulfilling as it somehow was. And if it’s something you’ve never experienced, it probably sounds both weird AND boring.

I say that because as an adult who is now living carless in a large city, the idea even strikes ME as ludicrous. The environmentalist in me also cringes thinking about the gas that we wasted, going exactly no where.

And before you ask: No, we did NOT tip cows for sport. That’s tacky. We were too busy tp’ing each other’s houses for that.

 

I reserved a hotel room – and almost left with a television?

4 Jan

2015 Pithypants.com

Alan and I spend Christmas apart each year, so we celebrate on New Year’s Eve instead. Depending on the timing, we like to make a long weekend of it and get away. This year he had his kids for the weekend, so we needed to limit our celebration to just Thursday night. Add to the equation the fact that some dumbass thought it would be a good idea to schedule the Cotton Bowl (in which our beloved Spartans were playing) on New Year’s Eve, so we a bit perplexed about how to celebrate.

What to do, what to do?

Actually, I decided this was the perfect set-up for an easy Christmas present. Since neither of us own a television, and since every bar that might broadcast the game was likely to have either a cover charge or be filled with rowdy party goers, the answer was clear: STAYCATION.

I did a bit of searching and found that – much to my surprise – most hotels in the DC area were running serious discounts on New Year’s Eve. Apparently we don’t have quite the same draw as Times Square. (Who knew?) PERFECT.

So when we wrapped work Thursday afternoon, we checked into a hotel for the night. We took a quick walk to a nearby grocery store for some wine and nibbles, then returned to the hotel for a swim and a spell in the steam room before the game. As 8pm approached, we donned his-and-her Spartan shirts and settled in to watch what would be a very disappointing game. (If you are the only person in the US who didn’t watch it, Alabama throttled the Spartans, 38-0.)

Needless to say, I was asleep LONG before the clock struck midnight.

The next day we made our way downstairs for breakfast, which was included with our stay. It was a leisurely meal, the kind with multiple coffee refills.

Alan had an omelette, and as he stood by that station of the buffet, I could hear him chatting with the chef.

“Where are you visiting from?” the chef asked.

“We’re local,” Alan explained, “We just don’t have a television and wanted to see the Cotton Bowl last night.”

“Oh,” was all the guy said as he handed Alan his plate.

Back at our table, once Alan sat down, I said, “I bet they’re all scratching their heads right now.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because they’re thinking, ‘How can you afford to stay here if you can’t afford a television?'”

We then proceeded to debate the idea and eventually decided that my interpretation of the conversation was crazy, because pretty much everyone in the United States who wants a television, has a television. Right?

Later, as we were wrapping up our meal, the waiter stopped by to drop off the check. I peeked. The total was outrageous.

“Sorry,” I said, “This should be comped for us. We had the bed and breakfast package.”

“Oh,” he said, “I’m sorry. I got confused! When he,” pointing to Alan, “said you were local, I thought you just came here for breakfast.”

“No,” I explained. “We spent the night here so we could watch the Cotton Bowl. We don’t have a television at home and wanted to watch the Spartans play.”

He looked at me, and I could see his wheels turning. Then, after a short pause, he said, “You know, I have an extra television. I’ve been thinking of getting rid of it…”

I stopped him, not sure where he was going with it. “Oh no – we don’t have a television by choice! We don’t want one.”

Silence.

He didn’t know what to make of us.

After some consideration, he tried a different angle. “You know you can jailbreak your phone so you can watch television on it? There are videos on YouTube that show you how. People used to pay me to do that for them, but now anyone can figure it out on YouTube. You know YouTube?”

We assured him we did, and only after we asked enough questions to satisfy him, did he walk away to adjust our check.

I turned to Alan. “Wait. Exactly what was on offer there? Do you think he was about to try to sell us a television?”

Alan nodded. “Oh definitely. And even worse? He thinks we don’t even know what YouTube is.”

Sigh. So much for a creative Christmas present. Maybe next year I’ll just get Alan a television. I happen to know where I can get a good deal on one…

Thanksgiving – let’s make it more than a day!

28 Nov

We rise by lifting others quote

I have so much I’m grateful for. I can’t even begin to list it all for fear of either sounding boastful or – maybe more frightening – accidentally cursing it. Suffice it to say that at night when I reflect on all my blessings, I fall asleep before I finish the list. THANK YOU.

That said, Thanksgiving drives me a bit nuts. Given its name, you’d think it’s about giving thanks. But based on the media, it tends more often to be about: A) Gorging yourself repeatedly until your pants don’t fit, B) A day off work – two if you’re lucky, C) A jumpstart on Christmas shopping, and D) NFL games.

The only thing on that list that excites me is B, so it’s not really a holiday that prompts me to do backflips – despite my attempt to cultivate gratitude in my daily life.

This year, I attempted to shift the focus in my small corner of the world. On Thanksgiving Eve, I shared this post with my Facebook friends.

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 6.08.43 AMI’ve seen your daily posts of gratitude and they’re lovely. And I know that tomorrow we’ll all reflect on what we’re thankful for and realize that we are – on the whole – abundantly fortunate.

While you’re feeling the love tomorrow, might I suggest that you consider paying it forward? Thank someone who doesn’t hear it enough; make a donation (big or small) to a cause you’re thankful exists; perform a random act of kindness for a stranger who might need a reason to be thankful.

And if you DO something, please share it. We hear enough negative stories in the news – I’d like to hear about people’s hearts growing three sizes in a day! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

So this Thanksgiving morning I woke up early to deliver on my own request. I knew exactly how I wanted to pay it forward this year…

Earlier this month I posted about Cecil –  the eternally cheerful concierge at my office. When I asked what he was doing for Thanksgiving, he replied with his usual smile, “Working!”

“You’ll be HERE on Thanksgiving? That stinks! Will you at least get some turkey when you’re done with work?” I asked.

“You can be assured I will certainly get some into my claws,” he replied. (And yes, that’s actually how he talks. He also calls us his “cherished tenants.”)

Cecil usually arrives at work sometime between 7-8am, so I wrote out an anonymous thank you card, inserted some cash for a Christmas splurge, and made it to my office at 6:45 Thanksgiving morning to give it to the night guard to relay to Cecil when he arrived. While I didn’t get to see his expression, I can only hope that this random act of kindness cheered his holiday and made it a bit more tenable to be on his feet and away from his family all day.

And I’m hoping that the 50 friends who “liked” my post all ended up taking action of their own to pay it forward. From the initial comments, it sounds like some senior citizens in Montana will be receiving care packages from a group of thoughtful nurses, a woman in Michigan was delighted to have her Thanksgiving groceries purchased by a stranger, and someone in New York has a Secret Santa taking care of them.

In the wake of the senseless killings in Paris (and so many other places), when we have governors screaming about closing our borders to refugees, these are the stories I want to hear – stories that speak to love for humanity, and a mindset of abundance and compassion. Let’s let Good get a bit more of the spotlight.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Lunch Break Overload

16 Nov

I usually eat lunch at my desk, hunched over my keyboard. Bad habit, I know, but my days often don’t even hold time for bathroom breaks, so the idea of having 30 minutes of solitude to dine seems rather far-fetched. (Maybe there’s a new year’s resolution in there?) 

Friday, however, I was forced to venture outside my building to pick up food because I hadn’t brought anything from home. I was in a hurry (ten minutes between calls) so the best option was Pret-A-Manger, since they are located right below my building and have pre-made soups/sandwiches that allow me to just grab and go.

While my break to pick up food was only ten minutes, it still provided enough space to switch gears, make some observations and think about something other than work for a brief spell. Here’s where my head went…

As I walked through our building’s lobby, I saw that our concierge, Frank, had a vase of flowers bearing a sign that said, “Happy World Kindness Day, Cecil!” I stopped briefly to compliment them on the flowers. “Those are beautiful, Frank. But why do they say Cecil?”

Frank – who seems to be eternally cheerful, despite his chronic limp that makes me imagine he was mangled in an industrial accident of some sort before moving to the US – smiled and said, “Cecil is my name.”

“Then why do we call you Frank?” I asked, puzzled.

“That I do not know. Frank is my last name,” he told me.

Hmmm. For almost three years, we’ve been greeting him by his last name? And he’s cheerfully wished us – “his cherished tenants” – a wonderful day anyway? Yeesh. “I’m sorry, Cecil! From here on out, we’ll use your first name, OK?”

“That does sound like a splendid plan,” he answered, smiling.

I was still scratching my head as I walked out and saw a homeless man rattling his cup for change. I looked around and noticed that most people walked past wearing earbuds, not even hearing the coins he shook. I found myself wondering how iPhones and earbuds have changed pandhandling.

And because I’d been working on sales training at work, my mind jumped to the increasing challenge salespeople face in connecting with buyers via the phone. “Interesting,” I thought. “As technology becomes more advanced, it’s harder for both salespeople and beggars to reach their prospects. Hmmmm…”

Before leaping to the conclusion that many salespeople could be classified as salaried beggars, I found myself in Pret-A-Manger, where I grabbed a small tomato-feta soup and was out the door two minutes later. This prompted me to create a quick list of what I love about Pret-A-Manger:

  • The packaging (it’s minimal and recyclable)
  • The efficiency of the purchase (just grab and go)
  • The convenience of the location near my office
  • The fact that they control the napkin distribution and don’t offer them automatically (which I assume significantly reduces waste since most people grab fistfuls of napkins that they subsequently throw away, unused, when left to their own devices)

Do you notice what’s missing from that list of what I love about Pret-A-Manger? Um, yeah – the FOOD. Whoever determines their menu has a love affair with mayonnaise, thus ruining everything but the tomato-feta soup for me.

I momentarily got excited last year when they introduced bacon mac and cheese – until I tried it and realized it contained cauliflower lumps. WHAT? I’m not a pre-schooler who hates vegetables – please don’t sneak them into my food, screwing with the texture and ruining my go-to comfort food.

Actually, on second thought, maybe their menu planner is a mom from Ohio. I’ll keep my eyes out for new casserole options that feature CheezWhiz and condensed cream of mushroom soup as ingredients.

Without realizing it, I was back at my desk, hunched over my tomato soup, answering the phone for my next call, and amazed by how much ground my mind covered in such a short walk. Maybe there’s something to be said for stepping away from your desk…