Weather Helmed

an adventure in renewing the spirit and living the dream…on a sailboat

Weather Helmed

On Poor Eyesight & a Lesson from my Dad

October 30th, 2009 · 1 Comment · Introspection, Life Lessons, Loss of a Parent, Thoughts on Family

Last night, I pulled into the local gas station to fill up the car.  As I’m removing the gas cap, a young boy dressed in an over-sized basketball jersey and holding a large box, approached me.  “Excuse me ma’am,” he begins, his voice already dragging with obligation and boredom. “My name is Jamar and I’m trying to raise money for…” blah blah blah.  I looked down at the large box he was holding and my eyes were drawn to the words in bold:  “$8.00 per item.”  First of all, WHO is letting their child (I would say he was maybe 9 or 10?) hang out at a dimly lit gas station at 7:30 at night?   (I convinced myself his mom must have been the cashier.)  Second,  EIGHT DOLLARS??!?!!?  Honestly, I don’t even know what he was selling, but, seriously, EIGHT DOLLARS??

Anyway, I didn’t buy anything.  I couldn’t have bought anything because I didn’t have any cash on me, but I also didn’t buy anything because it never crossed my mind to actually entertain his request.  I’m so used to people here constantly asking for things – money, food, beer, cigarettes, pot – that I always say, “Sorry, not today” simply out of habit.  Even on BART, people go around trying to sell various things, asking for old tickets, or begging for spare change.  I’ve trained myself to avoid eye contact, tune out their supplications, and just automatically respond with a sympathetic nod and “No thanks” when addressed directly.  I mean, someone could offer me a million dollars and I would probably just give a quick, insincere smile and say, “Not interested.”

The thing about all these requests is you can see in their eyes that they KNOW you’re going to say no.  For them it’s like the request has become automatic, too.  It’s a very strange, yet ancient and somehow still accepted societal ritual we have – the obligatory request, the obligatory apologetic no.  Neither of us gets any joy out of the exchange and we both are left feeling a little slighted – one that we were denied, the other that we were petitioned.
On my drive home, I thought about this little boy at the gas station and promised myself that I would never ever make my kids do that “door-to-door” sales stuff unless they really really wanted to.  As a child, I HATED doing that and I think the only time I ever did it, I knocked on 4 doors then turned around and ran home.  I think expecting children to raise money that way is akin to torture.  There’s just something about the entire excruciating experience, and it’s not simply the fact that almost everybody says no…
But, my dad always said yes.

I had forgotten that until last night.  As my thoughts were gearing up to protect my yet-to-be conceived children from the horrors of fundraising, my memory suddenly freeze-framed on an image of my dad standing in our doorway, talking to a young kid who was selling candy bars.  No matter what they were selling (with maybe the exception of magazine subscriptions), my dad always bought something.  It became a joke in the family –  my dad:  such a sucker, can’t ever turn a kid away.  I even remember coming home one afternoon and finding a boy sitting on our couch with his candy box on his lap talking to my dad about who knows what.  If it was hot, my dad would offer the kids a coke while he decided what he would buy.  He was always interested in what they were selling and why they were selling it and did they like their school and were they a good soccer player and did they get good grades…  He realized that the value of his dollar was nothing compared to the look on their faces when he said, “Yes, I’ll take one.”

The power of this memory shocked me.  I could feel my dad’s disappointment at my response to the little boy – like I had somehow missed or forgotten a very important life lesson my dad had tried to teach me.

Sometimes I feel like living in the Bay Area has made me an awful person.  That these years of fighting to get on crowded bus lines, and wandering dirty stench-filled streets, and sitting in traffic, and dealing with all these urban impatient, angry and judgmental, dismissive people has made *me* impatient and angry and judgmental and dismissive.  But, if San Francisco is a microcosm of the world (as some declare), then what does it say about me that this bad attitude – this negative, selfish, tunnel-visioned persona – is my response?  Maybe it’s not what the city has made me, but worse, it’s just who I’ve become.

It wouldn’t be so telling, perhaps, if the situation were different.  But, I now feel ashamed that I didn’t at least give the kid a chance to give his spiel – I didn’t even LISTEN.  I can’t tell you what he was selling or where he was from or what the money was for (or even that his name was Jamar – I just made that up).  When I saw him, if I even *saw* him at all, I simply replaced his face with the dozen other faces that had approached me that day, also wanting something, and I said no.

But, this boy is just a kid.  Just a kid who is sitting on the curb at a gas station at 7:30 on a Thursday night, trying to sell stuff so he can raise enough money to do that something that is important to him.

And I didn’t even look him in the eye.

I should know better than that.  I should BE better than that.

Sorry Dad.


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