Friday, December 19, 2008

Random Act of Kindness Thwarted

In my first ever post on this blog, I wrote that I thought the practice of picking up someone's tab (at McDonald's, a gas station, a grocery store, wherever) could too easily be interpreted as insulting and raise suspicion where I live - NYC. And I still believe that.

However, I had a rare opportunity to make someone's evening a little easier last night. I was picking up my take-out order at a local diner, and a woman (clearly a regular) stopped in to pick up a cup of tea with honey for her throat. She opened her wallet and realized she didn't have any cash, and the diner has a $10 minimum for debit cards. I tapped her on the shoulder and said "Merry Christmas", then turned to the cashier and told him to put it on my tab. Her jaw dropped - for a brief moment, I rendered a fellow New Yorker speechless...well, for a moment, she started going on about how she had every intention to perpetuate the gesture, how wonderful I was, etc. until the manager came over to see what the mild ruckus was, and chimes in "Your tea is on the house - what are friends for? You're here all the time."

I guess I set a little something in motion there, and it didn't cost anybody anything...well, maybe a few pennies to the diner for a teabag and honey packets.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Darn...pre-spent ThaiForGood $$

A massage therapist booked a ThaiForGood massage with me for her birthday about a month beforehand. She picked my brain for info about training up in the style, what kind of market there is for it, promised a "big tip" for my advice....and then cancelled by email the day before. I'm really not into counting chickens before they hatch, but I really thought this one would happen because it was a birthday self-treat. I guess she just wanted information? That was kind of mean. Foolishly(?), I "adopted" two families' kids for Secret Santa in addition to the one quoted in an earlier post, and shopped as if I'd already earned the money.

I think part of the reason there has been a lack of interest in my offer is that craiglist, where I advertise it, started charging $5 to post in the Erotic Services category, so all of the shady massage parlors have been inundating the Therapeutic page with their similarly-priced "massages" - though that $50 is just the desk fee and doesn't include what they're really there to buy. Ugh, what a disgusting industry to be confused with!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Playing Santa is a heartbreaker

In my last post, I quoted a craigslist ad posted by a woman trying to give her kids a Christmas. Well, on Friday morning, she showed up with her three adorable kids to pick up the box of goodies - arts & crafts supplies, plus a game of Clue - in my lobby. She started crying, in a tears-only, no-sobbing kind of way, and I may have gotten more than a little choked up myself. Here I'd spent the whole week freaking out about my lease renewal and lack of business, and meeting this little family gave me back some perspective.

Saturday, I took the train home to visit my mom and told her about the experience. When we got up in the morning, she was still curled up under the blanket when she said "I can't stop thinking about that mom and her kids". So we went shopping for another batch of presents for them...she really wanted to give them the ingredients for a nice Christmas breakfast (she's a huge fan of all breakfast food), but that just wasn't going to work logistically. Instead, we put together a very motherly care package amongst the toys - cold medicine, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, cake mix and candles for the next birthday in the family, dishwashing liquid and new sponges, odd things like that in addition to Twister, Uno, Hanna Montana bits, Krazy straws.

Years of living in Manhattan have made me averse to allowing new people into my life, and I normally would have avoided this type of situation in case it resulted in frequent requests for money or support. As a fledgling attempt to overcome my minor paranoia, it is so far working like a dream. I'm more likely to give when not being pushed, and I really do like knowing whose life I'm improving in some small way. I also caught an undercurrent during the brief meeting in my lobby that I was some kind of proof to her abused children that good people do exist. I wasn't looking for know, I don't think I really thought through what I was doing at all. I just wanted the feelgood of giving someone a Christmas, but it has turned out to be so much more than that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Playing Santa

Like just about everyone out there, I'm spending a bit less on Christmas. Well, sort of...I blew $570 back in August on a ticket to Aspen because if I didn't, I'd be spending the holiday alone in my apartment with my Christmas tree and the televised yule log. All because Mom scored a free ticket after being voluntarily bumped from a flight in July and immediately booked a peak season ticket before United hit their limit of freebies for that week. I'm shocked I got away with just $570 for a ticket that normally goes for twice that. I'm only going for 5 days though, because I suffer terribly from altitude sickness that doesn't go away after 48 hours the way it does for most people.

I normally spend $400-500 on my family, but this year I'm only parting with $300 + regifted $100 Pottery Barn card. I would like to "split the difference" and spend some of the saved money being Santa to a needy family. So, while figuring out where to donate my gift-wrapping skills, I stumbled across this request on the Craigslist Volunteer page:

Xmas???please help my children have one
Hello, I am writing this because my children and I lived in hell to the point they were molested by their father, we finaly we have a secure home but we can not have contact with our family that know dad, there is a order of protection involved and these are the only people who would help us, yes we recive public assistance but it just isn't enough after the bills 120.00 twice a month that just covers the light bill, and thankgod for section 8 the rent is paid, I am lined up to start work in a week but I am not sure I will have a check before christmas, anything used toys anything would be a blessing.
Since the mom states that she'd be happy with used toys, this passed my "is this a scam" test easily because (a) even charities don't want used toys, and (b) they have no resale value. So I emailed her for the ages and genders of her kids: boy 12, girl 10, boy 8. She's trying to send me a photo, but she's having trouble with that. They live on Staten Island, but pass through my neighborhood every week on their way to family therapy. I have an unused, still-in-plastic Scrabble game for starters. And I'll bet they could use some of my huge money-making Duracell haul from CVS too. The rest, well, we'll see how the wishlist turns out...I'm thinking artsy-craftsy stuff for the youngest, hair doo-dads for the girl, and maybe a hoodie for the older boy in case I get no guidelines.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Another Interesting Delivery to HYS

Last night I stuffed a wheelie bag with toiletries, batteries, milk, grapefruit and bananas and rolled it on down to the Homeless Youth Services / Sylvia's Place shelter. They hadn't put out a wish list in about 3 weeks, but I scrolled through some of their older lists that mention ongoing needs - like eggs, milk and fruit now that the Food Bank has cut those items out due to lack of funds. This morning, a new wish list appeared on their Yahoo Groups message board, and it made me smile - they're completely out of deodorant...or more accurately, they were when the list was first being assembled, because I dropped off 4 brand new solids last night (shout-out to CVS for their nearly-free deals on Right Guard, Soft & Dri, and Sure last month!).

Now, when I make these drops, there's usually the regular staff member and maybe a volunteer or two (or are they just long-term guests at the shelter who help out?), plus anywhere from 15 to 50 teenagers hanging around just dancing, talking, making out behind the door, watching TV and keeping warm. I don't want to be a bother to their stretched staff, so I just pull out the goodies and sort them into food v. non-food so that things don't spoil, then I dash off feeling slightly embarrassed. Not sure why. Am I embarrassed because, relatively speaking, I have so much more than they do and yet I'm giving so little? Maybe, but I think I'd be more embarrassed if I got, well, thanked.

Last night on my way out, there were about 5 older teenagers lingering just outside the door, and the neighborhood is kind of empty. One of them asked my name, so I told them as I dashed off. I'm not entirely sure what I'm afraid of... well, maybe I have some idea. I don't want to be asked for money, I don't want giving my name to become an excuse to be "walked home" - I went to Fordham in the Bronx in the late 80s, and the cafeteria staff used to feed off our middle-class guilt and youthful idealism to get invited to our parties and walk off with our electronics, leather, cash, etc. I worked in the security office, I know exactly what went on.

And yet I'm very contrary: just this past weekend, as I contemplated the possibility of moving to a new apartment, I thought about asking the woman who runs the shelter if she'd recommend one or two of the boys for a couple of hours' paid work helping me move. Because if I do move, it will be like 2 blocks down the road - do I even need a truck?? In midtown Manhattan, it would just get ticketed five times in three hours anyway, ouch.

I wonder if I'll ever make sense to myself.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Could it be a Wrapportunity??

For the first time in my 5 years of living in this building, someone has organized a toy drive for Christmas on behalf of The Children's Aid Society. Unwrapped gifts are requested, and I'm thinking "well SOMEONE has to wrap them...why not me??" So tomorrow I'll bug the truly wonderful day shift doorman (who knows I have a wrapping fetish) for details and see if I can get in on this treasure trove of gifts desperately in need of pretty paper and curly ribbon!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving Giving

A few days before Thanksgiving, I contacted Homeless Youth Services about their request for prepared food for the holiday - I didn't want to bring something they make on premises or that lots of other people bring, but I'm not a great cook. I make great mashed potatoes, but that's such a staple that they wouldn't want it. Kate at HYS picked ye olde string bean casserole from my tiny list, which made me laugh because it's the biggest no-brainer recipe out there. So on Tuesday night, I prepared 10-15 servings' worth and planned to bring them first thing Thursday morning after putting my sister on a bus to the airport, since the shelter is near Port Authority.

Unfortunately, I woke up at 5am on Thanksgiving with the most abominable stomach pain, and spent the next 15 hours curled up on the bathroom floor. I don't remember ever being that sick. And there I was, with a larder packed with string bean casserole prepared and sealed long before I got sick, 2 dozen eggs and 6 lbs of bananas (apparently the food bank's cutbacks include milk, eggs and fresh fruit) for runaway teenagers. At 8:30pm, on my way to Penn Station with a pocketful of plastic bags to get sick in if needed, I had the taxi detour to the shelter to make the drop. I'm very glad I did...the shelter was packed out, and it looked like either dinner hadn't been served yet or it was the second seating. My dish might indeed have made it to the table in time! If not, I'm sure it did the following day.

Odd tidbit...I had told the cabbie that I was stopping at a homeless shelter, and he was greatly confused when we pulled up to see a few of the teenagers outside making out. He asked me "what kind of shelter is THAT??". It made me realize something...for homeless people, teenagers are pretty "normal". Sorry if that sounds judgmental, but most homeless adults that I run into either have substance abuse problems or mental health issues, both of which make me really uncomfortable. I'm not proud of feeling this way, but I haven't been able to change it - and I have tried more than a few times since the age of 14. As for the teenagers, they were rolling with the punches pretty well, just doing what kids their age do but in a different environment. Some of them even go on to vocational training and community college, so this organization must be doing something right, right?